Land Use Change in Your Own Backyard

What sort of changes has your neighborhood, the area around your school or university campus, or even your own backyard seen over the past few years? Outside our Esri office in Colorado, a large condominium complex has been under construction for a year. Its construction invites consideration of scale, change, and geography. In my neighborhood and in yours, GIS provides an excellent toolkit to examine changes and the reasons for them.

For centuries, communities changed very little, and indeed, some communities today undergo very little change. Yet in most communities, changes in infrastructure, total population, and the makeup of that population are commonplace. In my neighborhood, the hilltop site was chosen because of the excellent views its residents will have of the Colorado Front Range. These, incidentally, were formerly enjoyed by my colleagues on the north end of our building! Regionally, construction reflects population growth fuelled by the combination of high-tech industries, including GIS, and amenities such as nearby universities, the mountains, and the climate, making Colorado one of the fastest growing states over the past half century.

One way to do this is to examine imagery in ArcGIS Online and add three types of basemaps: Bing maps aerials, the ArcGIS Online imagery, and the USGS topographic maps layer. These sources were created on different dates and thus provide an easy and rich data source with which to examine changes in local communities. Revisit a changing area often and capture and save the updated images as I did here. Toggle the layers on and off and/or adjust the transparency so that you can compare and contrast them. Combine this to population change data that is easily added in ArcGIS Online.


Our Esri office in Colorado in the south-central portion of this image is noticeable for its blue-ish roof. Note the open space to the north of our building.


Construction has begun, but note that in addition, a large office building now appears to the north of the east-west street.


Construction proceeds. What other changes do you detect? What time of day were these images taken? What time of year were these images taken? What clues help you answer these questions?

Go outside and take pictures and videos around your local community. Write and sketch what you see. Revisit the same sites during different weather events and in different seasons, or in the case of my Esri neighborhood in Colorado, as construction progresses. Link these photographs, videos, and text to points on your ArcGIS Online maps. What changes are occurring, and why? What will your community look like and be like in 5 years? In 20 years? What can you do to influence your community in a positive way?

I invite you to use ArcGIS Online beginning with these simple but powerful ways.

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Joseph Kerski

About Joseph Kerski

Joseph Kerski is a geographer who believes that spatial analysis through digital mapping can transform education and society through better decision-making using the geographic perspective. He serves on the Esri education team and is active in GIS communication and outreach, creates GIS-based curriculum, conducts research in the effectiveness of GIS in education, teaches online and face-to-face courses on spatial thinking and analysis, and fosters partnerships to support GIS in formal and informal education at all levels, internationally. He is the co-author of Spatial Mathematics, The Essentials of the Environment, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, and other books. Follow him on Twitter @josephkerski
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  1. pveisze08 says:

    Excellent article. Shared with students of Data Acquisition in GIS (Geog 350), American River College.