Holiday on the Square with GIS


Special event mapping occurs throughout the year in Des Plaines. City sponsored events involve a lot of moving parts and many departments working together for a common goal. It can be a struggle to keep everyone on the same page, but almost all event information and planning is geographically centered. This common features aides in smooth event planning and execution.

The holiday tree lighting ceremony is an annual event that takes in downtown Des Plaines. This year it’s happening on December 6. It’s a family event and the city works closely with the local schools to involve students. This year the event is featuring Christmas trees decorated by students with hand crafted ornaments, musical performances, roasted chestnuts, hot beverages, canned food drive and of course Santa arriving on the Des Plaines Fire Engine.

With all of these activities going on and especially with the large number of students attending the event, safety is a top priority. With maps provided to the emergency management staff and volunteers before the event, they know the exact location activates as well as where the emergency access points are. If an incident were to occur staff will be able to respond swiftly and without delay.

GIS Supports Community Resource Center


The Village of Woodridge provides services to residents in need of education and support through their Community Resource Center. This center, which is supported mainly by the Woodridge Police Department, provides after school and summer programs for students, parenting support, ESL classes, and computer learning classes to residents. To assess the effectiveness of the Community Resource Center’s youth after school and summer programs, GIS was used to provide supporting materials for Village Board review.

GIS was used to create a map showing the distribution of student residences. Since many of the students live in multi-family buildings, the locations were color-graded to identify places where multiple students live. In addition, graphs were created using GIS data that displayed the socioeconomic characteristics for the students enrolled in the programs, which will be used to review the Center’s current service levels. This map and the associated graphs were included in a memo to the Village Board that details the attendance, programming, and staffing for the after school and summer programs. Maps and visual aids that are created using GIS provide a clear and concise view of data that may be difficult to interpret otherwise.

Village in the Forest Uses GIS to Conduct a Public Tree Census


The Village of Riverside is known as the Village in the Forest and is a National Landmark known for its natural conservation design boasting more parks per capita than any community in America and is nicknamed the Village in the Forest. Tree and tree management are an integral part of the natural landscape design of the village. With the infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer; tree inventory management has become more important than ever for the village. In the summer of 2013, the village forestry department conducted a census of village managed trees. With the assistance of GIS this census was able to be completed using village forestry staff as opposed to having to hire a contractor at an additional cost to the village. GIS was able to provide staff in the field with mapping data of already inventoried trees as well as other base data such as buildings for locating new trees. Along with assisting with the collection process, GIS also is being used to store and manage changes to the inventory. Having the tree inventory managed by staff helps to save the village money and it also allows the village to take ownership over one of its most important assets, it’s trees.

Using GIS to Support Community Development Block Grants

Blog_UsingGIStoSupportCommunityDevelopmentBlockGrants.pngThe Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is a federal block grant, a grant with only general provisions, which can be used to fund a variety of local community development projects. Des Plaines qualifies as an Entitlement Community meaning they are a larger city and they receive their own funding rather than having it administered at the state or county level. All program activities aim to benefit low and moderate income persons, prevent or eliminate blight, meet a need having particular urgency.

In order for CDBG funds to benefit low to moderate income persons the funds must be spent in census tracts where at least 51% of the beneficiaries must be low and moderate income. These census tracts are determined by HUD. There are instances when funds can be spent outside of the designated census tracts, but you much support your case and justify why the funds will serve their intended purpose.

Des Plaines has invested lots of CDBG funding in the South Central area of the city. A blighted area in the South Central area was identified as a priority to improve. The site was just outside of two low to moderate income tracts. Therefore the CDBG administrator needed to provide evidence to gain approval to use the funds. By utilizing GIS the administrator was able to provide HUD a map showing the location of past CDBG projects, qualifying census tracts, and housing density and their proximity to the potential project location. The map helped strengthen the City’s proposal and provided a clearer image of the project’s goals.

Digital Terrain Modeling

Blog_DigitalTerrainModeling.pngThe Village of Northbrook, IL has recently contracted an engineering consultant to perform a hydraulic analysis of the Village’s water system. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was called upon to provide the consultant with all data pertaining to the water system including mains, hydrants, laterals, and valves. In order to provide the Village with highest quality analysis, the consultant required a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) in order to calculate pressures within the water system. A DTM is a digital model or representation of the Earth’s surface which provides elevation information.

The Village of Northbrook did not have a DTM to provide the consultant, nor the time or money to have one created by conventional means, which involves having an airplane fly over an area and record elevation points using lasers. GIS was able to use contour (elevation) data that the Village had previously gathered to create a DTM with acceptable accuracy for the project. The model depicts the higher elevations in red and lower elevations in green. The extreme high and low elevation values in the village, including roadways, bodies of water, and hills, can easily be viewed in the DTM.

Using GIS technology, the Village was able to provide the engineering consultant with the best available data. In return, the Village will get the best available results of the hydraulic analysis to help improve the overall performance of the water system.

GIS Incorporates Recapture Agreements into MapOffice

Blog_GISIncorporatesRecaptureAgreementsintoMapOffice.pngThe City of Highland Park previously kept all recapture agreements on file and in EDENS with no real spatial association. This meant that a city employee could look up an agreement through EDENS but to view the paper copy would need to locate it in a file drawer from Engineering. This system becomes cumbersome and is where GIS can the solution. The City came up with a plan to incorporate all recapture agreement documents in GIS and ultimately in MapOffice™ to be viewed by staff. This would include all of the information for the agreements that are in EDENS as well as links to the scanned agreements themselves.

Using GIS, all information from EDENS was documented in attribute data and spatially located based on PIN’s. From there, all documents were scanned in and documented in GIS to create a link in MapOffice™. Now, City staff has the ability to view all recapture agreements and the scanned document in one location, MapOffice™.

Without the use of GIS, staff would still be looking up information in two locations without a spatially identified location. By placing this information in GIS, staff reduces the amount of time spent retrieving information.

Assessing historical variance information using GIS

Blog_AssessinghistoricalvarianceinformationusingGIS.png​Zoning variances are a frequent request by a community’s residents, so it is important to be able to access historical variances to verify whether or not the request was submitted in a previous year. Since none of the variance information was available digitally, staff in the Community Preservation and Development department would have to browse through an old file cabinet looking at typed-up index cards describing the variance. Searching for these records would add to the time that a resident would spend waiting to go through the zoning variance application process. GIS was chosen to improve the ability of accessing these historical records.

The Community, Preservation, and Development department provided to GIS a newly created Excel spreadsheet that contains all variances dating back to 1980. Within this sheet, all the necessary information that was found on the old index cards was copied over. This spreadsheet was then connected to the city’s GIS MapOffice Advanced program. Now, all the user has to do is search by an address and any historical variances at that property or in the neighborhood surrounding it will be viewable with all pertinent information available. There is also a time option available when making the query, so any given time period, whether it is a month or a particular year, can be viewed at the click of a mouse. By having this new data connection available through GIS, it reduces the amount of time the community staff spends looking up historical information, expediting the zoning variance application process.