Preservation Rightsizing Network

Legacy Cities + Historic Places

Tag: data

GIS at the National Trust

By Reina Chano Murray

Historic preservation deals intrinsically with place: each of the historic resources we love can be marked to a location on our planet. As preservationists, we’re often concerned with 1) knowing exactly where these resources exist, and 2) not only preserving but understanding how they interact with or may be affected by their surroundings. This makes geographic information systems (GIS) a great resource for our field, since it allows us to create, manage, visualize, and analyze spatial data.

The National Trust’s foray into GIS began when its research division, the Preservation Green Lab (PGL), began working to make the case that older buildings contribute in significant, quantifiable ways to our lives. That successful effort resulted in the 2014 publication Older, Smaller, Better, which used big data and spatial analytics to find statistically significant links between blocks of older, smaller, mixed-age buildings, and various economic, social and demographic indicators. Since the 2014 study, the National Trust has worked to enhance the scope of its GIS work.

As the National Trust’s GIS project manager, my job is to provide GIS-related technical assistance to projects and demonstrate the applicability of GIS to historic preservation. We are also working to provide more GIS-related resources to the wider preservation community while creating best practices for working with GIS data in preservation.

A few examples of how we’ve used GIS recently to inform the preservation work of the National Trust and our partners:

Viewshed Renderings for Charleston, SC Harbor

A new terminal is being considered in Charleston, SC, which has the potential to significantly increase both the number and the size of cruise ships coming through Charleston’s harbor. I was asked to find a way to visually communicate the potential impact larger cruise ships would have on the historically significant viewsheds of Charleston’s historic district.

We used a combination of open source and proprietary GIS software (including SketchUp, Google Earth Pro, LASTools, and ArcGIS Desktop) to create a video that takes the viewer around to various vantage points in Charleston. In the video, superimposed 3D models of possible cruise ships in the harbor are shown, allowing us to visually demonstrate how these larger ships overshadow the height of the carefully preserved buildings in Charleston’s historic district. This video and the documentation it provided has resulted in the Army Corps of Engineers significantly increasing the area of potential effect (APE) of the new terminal, which affords us more opportunities to make sure the new terminal is developed responsibly in a way that limits its impact to this national historic landmark district.

<div style=”position:relative;height:0;padding-bottom:56.25%”><iframe src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/0lDNerZFTQY?ecver=2″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ style=”position:absolute;width:100%;height:100%;left:0″ allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

 

Atlas of Reurbanism

The Atlas of Reurbanism is PGL’s follow-up to Older, Smaller, Better. We’ve expanded on our initial analysis to offer baseline building and block information for 50 major cities across the country. We needed to create a methodology that would help us crunch a significant amount of data on this many cities in a timely fashion, and to create an interactive way for users to explore these datasets on their own.

Here too, we used a combination of open-source and proprietary GIS software such as PostgreSQL, PostGIS, ArcGIS for Server, and ArcGIS Online. In addition to a summary report released in November 2016, we are releasing city-specific fact sheets and web applications on a rolling basis.

 

In Progress

We have and will continue to add more examples of GIS-related work to our ArcGIS Online Organizational account, which you can check out at nthp.maps.arcgis.com.

Other things in the works include:

  • A partnership with University of Minnesota Media Lab and Esri (a leading GIS software provider) to put together a training platform called Earth Xplorers that teaches secondary school students about geography, GIS, and historic preservation.
  • Updated historic tax credit project maps for each state, congressional district, and certain cities to help advocates educate and lobby their representatives. These will  be completed in June.
  • Educational content in the form of webinars and blog posts to help historic preservationists to learn how to use GIS to not only analyze information and make informed decisions, but to also communicate widely about their work. The National Trust recently hosted our first GIS workshop on ArcGIS Online in February, and we are planning to release additional content over the coming months.
  • A tech track at our PastForward conference in November! Sign up for conference updates from the National Trust to get more details on this.

Reina Chano Murray is GIS project manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

 

About this series

Follow along this month as we learn how others are using data to support, improve, and create good preservation practices. The Action Agenda prioritizes data collection and analysis to support key efforts of legacy city preservation:

Action Item 3: Use data to support and improve good practices.

Preservationists need data that goes beyond the facts of buildings, styles, and architects. Good data and layered multidisciplinary analysis can inform strategic decision-making on the ground, prioritize limited funds, support coalition-building with organizations in allied fields, direct preservationists in refining practices and tools in challenging legacy city contexts, and shape effective advocacy efforts. In particular, rigorous analysis should examine how reinvesting in older and historic buildings and neighborhoods compares to demolition with regard to social, economic, and environmental outcomes such as community stability, foreclosures, and property values.

The Democratization of GIS Technology

By Dan Watts

Geographic information systems (GIS) are an invaluable part of the practice of historic preservation. By harnessing the power of geospatial data, preservationists, planners, and community members can more effectively manage change, protect historic resources, and engage the public in efforts to create better communities.

GIS has long been a part of preservation planning and has been used extensively on everything from building surveys and inventories to the cataloging of architectural styles or building materials. But because of cost, use was traditionally limited to governments or organizations with budgets large enough to purchase the necessary licenses and hardware. As a result, the full analytical power of GIS was often experienced only by a small group of experts, while the public saw static end results such as printed maps.

However, the last several years have produced a wealth of easily available open-source and technically robust GIS platforms that have transformed the ways in which the public experiences and interacts with GIS technology. If I had to pick one word to describe the transformation, it would be accessibility. This revolution in accessibility is probably best embodied in the potential of web GIS. Simply defined, web GIS is a combination of internet and GIS technology made widely accessible through a web browser interface.

Web GIS has vastly democratized access to GIS’s analytical power from virtually anywhere and with little or no cost to end users through web mapping applications. These applications often have the capability to make available many of the same analytical tools as desktop GIS, enabling users to examine data in new ways.

In 2016, the Washington DC Office of Planning released an interactive web application, HistoryQuest DC, which provides information on more than 120,000 buildings within the District of Columbia. The information is presented in an easily understood format and the application also contains analytical tools that enable users to query or sort the data behind scenes. Consider the alternative of sifting through a 120,000+ record database!

HistoryQuest DC, courtesy of the Washington DC Office of Planning

At the same time, web mapping applications are also challenging the traditional ways in which data is displayed and interacted with. In early 2017, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission launched a 3D web mapping application as part of a public outreach effort following the designation of a new historic district in upper Manhattan. The application allows users to freely navigate the 3D environment of the Morningside Heights neighborhood and in doing so gain a more complete and nuanced understanding of the buildings that make up the historic district and the context in which it’s located.

Morningside Heights Historic District Explorer, courtesy of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

I believe that, in many ways, we’re seeing the future of GIS unfolding in front of us. The democratization of geospatial technology almost certainly means that the future of GIS in preservation planning will be one of greater access to information as well as increasing access to tools, especially those that are open-source. This will enable an ever-larger group of people to work with data in the geospatial environment. The case studies referenced above are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how GIS accessibility will affect preservation planning and I look forward to innovations to come.

Dan Watts is a preservationist and data aficionado and works as a GIS Administrator at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

About this series

Follow along this month as we learn how others are using data to support, improve, and create good preservation practices. The Action Agenda prioritizes data collection and analysis to support key efforts of legacy city preservation:

Action Item 3: Use data to support and improve good practices.

Preservationists need data that goes beyond the facts of buildings, styles, and architects. Good data and layered multidisciplinary analysis can inform strategic decision-making on the ground, prioritize limited funds, support coalition-building with organizations in allied fields, direct preservationists in refining practices and tools in challenging legacy city contexts, and shape effective advocacy efforts. In particular, rigorous analysis should examine how reinvesting in older and historic buildings and neighborhoods compares to demolition with regard to social, economic, and environmental outcomes such as community stability, foreclosures, and property values.

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