Since I began my internship at Vertices, articulating to friends and family exactly what GIS is has been one of the most persistent challenges. Even the spell checker for this entry fails to recognize “GIS” as a proper acronym (note: NASA, NRA, EPA, TEA-21, FHA have all passed that threshold). In a great article in Miller-McCune this week, the importance of GIS is expressed simply, and profoundly: “seeing is believing.”
A few months ago I read American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Massey and Denton. Hypersegregation is a concept they introduce to explain the experience and ghettoization of African Americans. The term is deeply reliant on spatial considerations, but the study uses tables of statistics and graphs to describe conditions across the nation. The information is certainly compelling, but isn’t easily related to the uninitiated. The Miller-McCune article says “people are jaded with statistics, and even more jaded with pie charts and graphs.” Information is increasingly reduced to soundbites, and lengthy treatises on social inequities are difficult to grasp and shamefully easy to dismiss. GIS provides easily assimilated information, layered over the places real people live.
The democratization of GIS usually refers to its more widespread use due to lower costs and fewer barriers to learning the technology. But the article highlights how Democracy itself can be aided by empowering communities with this tool. The article linked the Healthy City project of Los Angeles that designed a GIS interface that aims to do just that. I’ve included a quick map that took less than five minutes to create.
Article from Miller-McCune
Carl Kunda, VERTICES intern