Frogtown Neighborhood Association
(FNA) has generated a geographic information systems (GIS) map of the 5,500-household district to help it more dynamically engage the community.
The local Flat Rock Geographics
helped it build the digital map, which was released in November following a couple of years of development, according to Tait Danielson Castillo, who leads the neighborhood group. “It’s about efficiency and organizing,” he says.
The map, which was made possible through a $20,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation
, allows FNA to quickly connect with people within a specific geographic area, including everything from information about who’s interested in gardening topics to crime statistics.
Most of the databases that neighborhood groups use are searchable only by person. “What we never thought about was how to categorize people based on interest and place of residence,” says Danielson Castillo.
The GIS map helps the organization get to the bottom of questions such as, “How many people would like to garden within 1,000 feet? How many water sources are nearby? How many vacant lots are within 1,000 feet?”
Some of the information has been manually entered in with the help of portable GPS devices, while other data may come from the city or county.
Danielson Castillo explains that it’s not about data mining, but freeing up time to make meaningful face-to-face connections. “It’s about the follow-up after we get people connected to the neighborhood organizations,” he says. “The system is only as powerful as the relationships that we build.”
Already, the system has had an impact. For example, when the city realigned the sewer system on Thomas Avenue, FNA used the map to connect with non-native English speakers, which helped avoid a potentially disastrous situation.
Within a 24-hour period, Danielson Castillo was able to contact the street’s residents directly, sending translators where needed.
“The best system is still the phone or direct verbal contact. That’s still what we’re shooting for,” he says, adding that although social media are useful “We’re digressing in some ways, returning back to our roots and using technology at its best.”
The project’s next phase will involve maps that the public can use to learn more about current events, developments, public art projects, or the area’s history.
“We’re 90 percent sure that nobody else has used [the technology] this way,” he says. “No one else we know is using this on the community level.”
Source: Tait Danielson Castillo, director, Frogtown Neighborhood Association
Writer: Anna Pratt