Examining Changes in Your Local Community with GIS

Just outside of our Esri office in Colorado, a large condominium complex just broke ground. To the spatial thinker, its construction invites consideration of scale, change, and geography. On a local scale, the hilltop site in Broomfield was chosen because of the excellent views its residents will have of the Colorado Front Range, which were formerly enjoyed by my colleagues on the north end of our building. Regionally, construction occurs here as part of population growth fuelled by the combination of high-tech industries, including GIS, and amenities such as the nearby universities and the mountains, making Colorado one of the fastest growing states over the past 30 years. 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. Therefore, this year’s Geography Awareness Week theme of “The Adventure in Your Community” is quite relevant, and community changes can be examined spatially by using a Geographic Information System (GIS).

One way to do this is to start examining regional scale changes by comparing historical to recent Landsat imagery by using the Change Matters website. At a local scale, use ArcGIS Online and add three types of basemaps: Bing imagery, the ArcGIS Online imagery, and the USGS topographic maps layer. Toggle the layers on and off and/or make them semi-transparent so that you can compare and contrast them. These three sources were created on different dates, with the USGS topographic maps usually being the oldest, and thus they provide an easy and powerful way to examine changes in local communities. Another way to analyze change is through demographic shifts. Open the “USA Demographics for Schools” map in ArcGIS Online, and study the amount and location of population change from 2000 to 2010, and the median age, income, ethnicity, and neighborhood lifestyle indices for your neighborhood. Collaborate with other educators and students or youth clubs across your city or across the country and compare your community’s characteristics with those. Why do differences exist?

Where do you suppose this neighborhood is? What clues exist that help you determine its location? Go outside and take pictures and videos around your local community. Write text about 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, after the construction is completed. Link these photographs, videos, and text to points on your maps in ArcGIS Online. 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?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Tom Baker

About Tom Baker

Tom Baker is an Esri Education Manager, specializing in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, teacher education, and educational research. He regularly publishes and presents on geospatial technologies across education.
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