GEOSPATIAL REVOLUTION: Cities, businesses and a healthy future

More than half the world’s population is now urban. Geographic information and maps are helping city governments become more democratic and participatory.


Portland invests in geospatial technology because it saves money, improves services and the relationship with the citizens. With “Portland Maps”, the population has access to crime, transportation, property and many other maps. With “Transit Tracker” and “PDX Bus”, citizens know the real-time location of the buses and the arrival times. There is also information and even photos about crosswalks and disability access for example. With the app “PDX Reporter”, citizens can locate and report graffiti. The public administration, suddenly, got eyes and ears on the streets with real time and geographically coded feedback. With no labor costs.


The Department of Planning and Sustainability does long-range planning to inform future investments and also to address the economic development, housing, environmental issues, etc. None of this could be done without GIS.

Thanks to LIDAR technology, there are a 3D building model for the whole city. That’s possible because the whole region now has LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) data. A remote sensing system that uses pulsed laser light to capture the exact location or shape of a distant object in 3 dimensions. Now shadow analysis can be done using GIS to calculate if proposed buildings shadows impact parks. Portland says you can’t build anything that’s gonna block the view of the mountain from up on the hills. With GIS we’re even able to do sightline evaluation to prove if proposed construction would block or not the view of the mountain. And that makes people happy!

Portland’s has set a goal that 90% of all citizens will live within walking distance of most of the things the needs by 2025. There are all sorts of things that can be answered now. The mayor thinks these investments improve the way they perform their work as a city government. It just makes good business sense!


Geospatial technology allowed the global carrier UPS to turn data into knowledge. When you have 60,000 drivers, if you can just reduce one mile per driver per day, that’s more than 20 million miles a year. That’s tires that aren’t being wasted, 2 million gallons of fuel, and 20,000 metric tons of carbon not going into the air. UPS spends about a billion dollars a year on technology to make that happen.

Some packages have to be delivered by 08:30, some by 10:30, some by noon. There are also pickups in the afternoon and other special orders. Mathematicians and operational researchers, by using the data from the geospatial technologies, use analytics and create algorithms to take this huge amount of alternatives and turn that into the best route for the day.

When a package enters UPS, they print a label that tells them what car it goes into, where in the car it goes, and what order the driver is going to deliver. Then the data is moved into the driver’s handheld computer.

The little device has a GPS chip inside of it that communicates each delivery made. In the center, all drivers are monitored in real time. If a customer calls and asks for an “on-demand pick-up”, they are able to look what driver is the better one to give it to. It goes automatically into that driver’s handheld computer, to be accepted or sent back. UPS has moved from being a trucking company that has technology to a technology company that just happens to have trucks.


In Pennsylvania, many neighborhoods had alarming rates of obesity-related conditions like heart disease and diabetes. The city had fewer supermarkets per person than almost anywhere in America! In 2004, Pennsylvania initiated what is now a $120 million grant and loan program to finance fresh food retailers in underserved communities. With GIS maps, problems in the community were described to stakeholders. Where the supermarkets were and weren’t, where the people were and weren’t, where there is poverty and diet-related disease, and then, “voila”! There’s the space that needs to be targeted.

New people and new organizations are building applications we’ve never thought of before. Geography is now all about technology that’s gonna help make your life better!

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GIS for business


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