GIS Provides New View Of Berlin

BERLIN – A new set of maps generated by GIS (Geographic Information Systems) graduate student Jim Garrity for his Master’s degree will allow Berlin to use mapping data in a way it never has before.

“You have a lot of data not being used already sitting in storage,” Garrity reported to the Berlin Mayor Council this week.

Garrity, a Master’s degree student in GIS and Public Administration and a planner for Worcester County, sat down with staff this winter to determine what the town needs from a GIS system, and then to create deliverable maps to help the town use its information.

For ease of use, and at no cost, Garrity selected the Google Earth mapping interface as the map data viewer for the town. Users can zoom in from a map of the entire country to individual Berlin streets and lots.

Staff and elected officials can then overlay information on the maps, such as asking the viewer to outline all the vacant lots in town, the historic district or town zoning.

“Google Earth is well known now,” Garrity said. “We were able to take advantage of that free viewer and add local data.”

One set of data is already in use.

“The sewer and water folks are taking advantage of this already,” said Garrity. “This is data you already had.”

Data that can also be accessed this way includes maps of electrical lines, storm water management infrastructure, floodplains, and hydric soils.

“We’re talking about a more intuitive way to see your town,” Garrity said.

Individual property information, like tax map, parcel, and lot numbers may also be accessed.

Garrity said he was looking for a way to map the data that was fun for users, and free. “We wanted people to use it,” he said.

He formed three goals for the project: to answer questions unanswerable before; to manage data more intuitively; and to find a way for staff to visualize the town more effectively.

To achieve these goals, Garrity pursued auto-mapping, selection of the best and most useful data for a professional set of standard maps and staff training.

According to Garrity, the approach he took with the town is almost cutting edge in the GIS world, where many towns and entities purchase the technology, but have not assessed how they want to use it and for what purpose. In Berlin, the first element of the project was needs assessment, before getting to the data and technology.

Some future work on the town’s GIS capability will be necessary. Data must be kept up to date, but Garrity said the town does not need to hire a new employee for the task, instead bringing in a consultant intermittently.

“The mapping is phenomenal,” said Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary.

The program is accessible to all staff.

“It’s very easy. I can’t tell you how great it’s been to work with,” said Bambary. “Everyone has this on their computer.”

Grants coordinator Mary Bohlen has already used the new set-up to create marked maps for grant applications, Bambary said.

While the town has invested in GIS programs and technology in the past, few have been able to make use of it.

“It looks like we’re going to be finding out its potential for some time, maybe forever,” said interim Mayor Gee Williams.