Local government and mapping have a long history together. The creation of a city or village requires a geographic expression of its corporate limits. Although this textual expression may be useful for the legal profession, the more common presentation of this boundary is a map. Most Americans can visually identify the border of the United States of America. This boundary is made up of thousands of legal documents describing its geometry. A simple map however can easily depict its geography.
Local government is made up of many of these same types of expressions. Property subdivision, parcel ownership, rights-of-way, easements, zoning districts, TIF districts, sanitary districts, school districts, garbage pickup days and many more. In addition, cities and villages provide dozens of services to its customers, residents and businesses. The customer, infrastructure and system that deliver the service have geographic expressions as well. The customer is an address, the infrastructure are the roads, sidewalks, pipes, manholes, bridges, and the system is the routes, service areas and work management. Everything that local government does is related to a location.
Local government understands the correlation between its mission and mapping. A visit to any city or village department will uncover maps of varied size, content, and accuracy. Maps are the tools of local government and without them very little could be accomplished efficiently. These paper, mylar and vellum records document not only what exists but in many cases what came before them. They provide in many cases a history of the community as it grew as well as a consumable visual form for the users.
Although maps are important to local government, they also have an Achilles heal. They are typically not well organized. Departments often create their own maps for their own purposes. It is not uncommon to find multiple address maps throughout an organization. In addition, keeping these manual records up to date is very difficult. Many organizations, not just local government, were struggling with this map dilemma. The first computerized mapping system in the world was created by Roger F. Tomlinson in the 1960s. Dr. Tomlinson initiated, planned and directed the development of the Canada Geographic Information System. This project created the foundation for much of the innovation that makes up a modern geographic information system (GIS). Today this technology is prolific in nearly all government agencies.
Local government has benefitted directly by this technology. Not only can they continue their traditional mapping to support their customers and services, they can do it more efficiently now. By automating mapping, departments can easily share information without duplication. In addition, many public mandates including NPDES, GASB34 and Phase II E-9-1-1 require automated mapping. Without a coordinated GIS, communities again run the risk of having multiple mapping programs by department.
It appears that the long history of local government and mapping will continue. The difference is we are no longer doing it on paper. It is done with advanced computers and technology.