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Background

The state of Michigan, USA, comprises 83 counties, subdivided further into 1,242 townships, 274 cities, and 259 villages.  The townships, cities, and villages are collectively called “local units of government” (LUGs), and perform vital administrative as well as land-use planning functions.  These range in population from less than 100 to 713,777 (City of Detroit, 2010 Census).

Services provided to their constituents by the local units of government include, but are not limited to:
  • Planning, zoning, and property tax assessment/collection
  • Police and emergency management services
  • Management of public assets and infrastructure
  • Water, sewer,and other utilities
  • Elections and political representation at the LUG level
To deliver their mandated duties and services to the public, local units of government:
  • often assume the onus of local land-use planning
  • depend on volunteer citizen groups to advise elected officials in planning, park and asset management, etc.
  • often do not have access to planning resources such as GIS and web-based mapping, which are the bases for informed decision-making by the taxpaying public in these LUGs. 
LUGs in highly-populated, wealthy urbanized areas employ professional, full-time planning and GIS professionals.  LUGs in the less populated rural areas typically do not.  Limited resources and in-house capabilities of rural LUGs prevent them from easily producing and distributing maps and other needed geospatial information products.  They are also much less able to exploit web-based mapping for information dissemination.

To address this situation, participants from selected LUGs and a non-government organization (NGO), spanning three rural northern Michigan counties, worked together with a graduate student from Pennsylvania State University (PSU)'s MGIS Program to:
  1. establish basic, in-house desktop GIS capabilities, employing open-source GIS tools to produce geospatial information products;
  2. deploy web-based mapping applications based on these products, created using open-source tools and/or publicly-available mapping API's (such as Google Maps), and
  3. develop sustainable methods  to easily maintain and update these information products.
Following subsections briefly discuss open-source software in general and open-source geospatial software used in this project, open web mapping, and early attempts at establishing a "sustainable" framework for open-source township GIS.

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