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Why Geography Matters More Than Ever Before

In today’s world, geography matters more than ever before. Our ability to understand how our actions impact location is essential to building safer and more resilient communities. Mastering geography is the key to gain insights to deliver improved services. It’s helping government see environmental impacts, analyze demographics and gain knowledge of the context and content of data sets.

Because of this, I can’t help but be excited to see all the interesting developments that are occurring in regards to GIS technology. When leveraged with other technology solutions, such as cloud computing, GIS has become a powerful tool to transform decision making within your agency.

For instance, with the cloud, web mapping has become easier than ever before – driving more opportunities for users to develop compelling web maps and bring their data to life. Just look at the examples from Esri’s Story Maps – where individuals can share insights on everything from the best communities to live in, telling histories most important stories, or understanding impact from a natural disaster. These Story Maps show how geography is a foundation for understanding our world – and will only continue to gain in importance.

But the integrative nature of GIS extends well beyond cloud. By combining mobile and GIS technologies, workers in remote and field locations can connect with colleagues across the globe, and create dynamic maps. These maps have been done to do everything from mitigate the impacts of crisis by providing relief, to monitoring programs to improve efficiency.

Although these initiatives are important to recognize, the real power of GIS mapping is the ability to build resiliency in government. Below, I share three of my favorite climate change examples from Esri’s website, and I’d encourage you to check out them all here.

Shoreline Change History

“Louisiana's Gulf of Mexico shoreline is losing land. Over the past century, the erosion rate has progressively increased, threatening the health of coastal Louisiana. Through use of historical maps, satellite imagery, and aerial photography, experts mapped the patterns and rates of shoreline change”. View case study

Ozone Precursor Monitoring

“This map shows the spatial relationship between major nitrogen oxides (NOx) stationary emission sources, ambient ozone concentrations, ambient NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOC) precursor concentrations, population density, and 24-hour wind back trajectories on high ozone concentration days in Houston, Texas.” View case study

Impact of Sea Level Rise

“Southern Florida was examined to exhibit the effects of sea level rise on human and animal populations. Inundation of southern Florida's coastlines and Broward County were modeled using a USGS seamless DEM with a vertical exaggeration of 100 to bring out the visual effect.” View case study

These three case studies show that the role of the public servant is constantly evolving. For public servants today, geography is an essential piece of the puzzle to drive innovation in government. Nearly every government process or program has a geographic component. With new technology emerging, we now have the ability to understand geography in ways that previous generations of public sector workers could never imagine.

But even with the changes that new technologies are bringing us, there is still one truth that has held true throughout time: the foundation of what it means to be a public servant. I believe that the citizens of Athens, through the Athenian Oath, said it best nearly 2,000 years ago:

"We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice. We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many. We will revere and obey the City's laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught. We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public's sense of civic duty. Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

The Athenian Oath still remains the foundation of public service. To improve the way we think about government services, it’s essential that we grasp the importance of geography, and tie location to our decision making process. Through the use of geography and understanding our role to our communities, we can ‘transmit something greater and more beautiful’ to future generations.

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When 
Esri was founded in 1969, it realized even then that geographic information system (GIS) technology could make a difference in society. GIS helps people to solve problems at local, regional, national, and global scales. Access maps and apps at ArcGIS.com. Be sure to check out all the
 GIS resources produced by Esri and GovLoop.

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