Geospatial Business Spotlight: Topographics, LLC

Company Name:                              Topographics, LLC

Location:                                          Saratoga Springs, New York


Number of Employees:                   3

Established:                                    2016

Topographics  provides maps and mapping solutions for a wide variety of clients throughout New York and the United States. Evolved from JIMAPCO, Inc, a long time and well recognized New York State based cartographic and mapping company, the Topographics cartographic team has over 100 years of combined experience providing printed maps, digital files, and most recently interactive mapping applications.  Their client portfolio includes a variety of municipalities, chambers of commerce, educational, religious, and medical organizations, as well as a vast assortment of business clients across the Empire State.

Products and Services


Using their expertise in graphics and print production, Topographics provides printed folded maps, laminated wall and tourism maps, atlas books, and other hard-copy products for hundreds of customers. Hardcopy products are published using Adobe Illustrator. Selected New York State examples include:

Data obtained from the New York State GIS Clearinghouse provided the foundation to create this statewide elevation model map for a major upstate university.

Product for Adworkshop, which does marketing and communications for Greene County and other organizations in the Catskills.

A section of the Town of Islip (Long Island) hardcopy map. The map contains OpenSource content (OpenStreetMap), features obtained from Suffolk County GIS, and other data sources.

Additionally, Paul Hein, one of the principals at Topographics has an impressive personal portfolio of cartographic products available for viewing and purchase at This is a map of the Finger Lakes Region showing elevation contours and shaded relief. Each contour interval is colored with a different shade presenting the area as an abstract map. Take a look.

Online and Mobile

Beyond hard-copy, Topographics  provides digital files used for tourism promotion, sales and marketing, realty operations, way-finding, and business development, among others. Their online maps are interactive applications displaying information ranging from business locations to recreational trails. They most often implement the Leaflet or OpenLayers open source JavaScript libraries and make use of Mapbox and Mapzen services for the styling of OpenStreetMap and custom data as well as providing geocoding and directions. Other platforms include Avenza Web Author and the Google Maps and MapQuest API.  Ilustrative examples include:

This is one of my favorites: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany interactive map showing facilities and services within the Diocese. The application includes hundreds of Diocese related facilities and properties which can be turned off/on with the Categories button.

The Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau interactive map presents hundreds of visitor resources and opportunities for those in the city or planning a visit. Using our mobile-friendly technology, users can see their current location, locate nearby resources, see walking and biking trails, and find recreational resources.

The following examples are interactive maps for both the Washington County Tourism and the Village of Chatham (Columbia County).  Click on either image to be rerouted to the actual online map viewer.

The Topographics Crown Maple Farm (Dutchess County) map below is available as a hardcopy map and also runs on the Avenza Mobile Map App so it can be “used on the trail” with a smartphone.  User’s can also record their track (their movement) including elevation. User’s can also plot points on the map and assign attributes to the points, including photos. For the Crown Maple Map, Topographics had the owner of the property actually walk the trails using a preliminary map they created for the app to capture histracks. The owner emailed the X,Y’s back to Topographics to be incorporated into the final product. Topographics has created similar maps for other clients all over the world using the Avenza app.


Far from just a traditional hardcopy cartographic mapping company, Topographics uses and combines many industry leading Open Source software components in producing and publishing their products and services to their clients.   Be informative and nice to see Topographics presenting at future New York State GIS events and conferences.

For more information on Topographics, LLC products and services:

Contact:                        Paul Hein
                                      Topographics, LLC


Orbitist: Storytelling on the Western Front

It’s always refreshing discovering new startups and firms mixing geospatial concepts with other technology and media platforms.  Not necessarily true geospatial firms which we’ve come to label as such, but clearly operating on the fringe and providing selected products and services mainstream geospatial consultants market and provide.  One such relatively new firm is Orbitist based out of Fredonia, New York.

Orbitist is led by Nick Gunner who has been filming and directing video productions since 2007 when he began pursuing his Bachelor of Science Degree in TV/Digital Film, Audio/Radio production, and Earth Science at the State University of New York at Fredonia. During that time, Nick started building content management systems and digital mapping technology which he continued while serving four years as the university’s New Media Manager.   On the side, he continued to pursue freelance work as a public radio producer, freelance documentary filmmaker, and web developer. In the Summer of 2015, Nick launched Orbitist LLC as part of the Fredonia Technology Incubator with the idea of using digital storytelling and technology to make important information as accessible as possible.

Initial Work

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute (RTPI) of Natural History was Orbitist’s first client.   In the Summer of 2015 they commissioned a short documentary on the Chadakoin River in Jamestown, as well as map three tours about various natural history topics.  Representative examples of RTPI products can be viewed on YouTube and the bottom three links on this Orbitist web page.  During this same time period – and ongoing today – Orbitist also performed work for the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau.

Other recent products and services include:

A Story Map documenting the Winter 1929 Tewksbury boat and bridge crash on the Buffalo River resulting in the flooding of a 18 neighborhood blocks in South Buffalo.

This Story Map uses a variety of multimedia which pinpoints cultural and historical features from different Spanish-speaking countries, including architectural feats, traditional dances, and tipping customs, among others. Each map utilizes Spanish phrases with English translations to bridge the gap between languages.

Software Suite

Relying on the experience he gained building systems for the last 10 years, software products used at Orbitist reflects Nick’s commitment to combining content management with interactive mapping – much of which is accomplished by integrating and combining leading Open Source components.   Currently the Orbitist mapping platform is a simple content management system which associates posts (internally called “points”) with latitude/longitude values.  The Orbitist team often uses Mapbox GL as a primary front-end mapping library but behind that everything in their system is API-driven, meaning story maps are created top of products such as Leaflet and Google Maps.  They also use Carto as a stand-alone product for building real-time analytics maps.  All combined, the Orbitist “system” also manages images and a variety of data (icon type, time of day, external links, etc.) and provides access to YouTube, Vimeo, and even Facebook for video hosting. GitHub is leveraged to host static web projects. Continue reading

Jonathan Levy: Cartography Remixed

Jonathan Levy is yet another geospatial enthusiast I have made contact with via the burgeoning GeoNYC Meetup group. It’s a small world indeed as Jonathan and I share some common interests including music, sports, and time spent in one of my most favorite spaces: Idaho. His path down the cartographic road might be considered a bit different than the conventionally trained geospatial professional.  However, what is coming out the other end today is a wide range of interesting cartographic products and services.  Enough for an interesting dialog and blog post – including some interesting personal stuff on the side.  Enjoy.

Jonathan Levy grew up in the Durham and Chapel Hill areas of North Carolina spending lots of time running around in the outdoors.  His dad was a huge fan of National Geographic exposing Jonathan to both the beauty and vastness of the publication’s cartographic products and at the same time taking him camping and trail hiking around  in the Appalachian Mountains.  In his teens, he completed an Outward Bound course which introduced him to orienteering and using maps for navigation and survival.

After graduation from high school, Jonathan attended Brandeis University majoring in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies with a minor in Environmental Studies focusing on conservation biology and environmental politics.  After finishing his undergraduate work he traveled to Grenada, West Indies, to teach environmental/social science to children with Dr. Dessima Williams.   Afterwards, he worked for Polaroid’s Corporate Environmental Department in Boston, MA for nine months before heading to Salmon, Idaho as part of the Student Conservation Association working with the U.S. Forest Service in the Frank Church Wilderness Noxious Weed Inventory program.  It was here he was introduced to Global Positioning System (GPS) data collection concepts and GIS software to make maps of field guides of rare plant species in the wilderness area.

Completing his internship work in Idaho in 2002, Jonathan was  given a grant towards graduate study at at Hunter College in New York City in the MA program specializing in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)  and Media during which time he was able to intern at the United Nations and the New York City Office of Emergency Management.  He received his Masters from Hunter College in 2005.

Getting Started

His first job out of Hunter College was with the NY State Legislative Task Force for Demographic Reapportionment which Jonathan notes “was very GIS heavy and really interesting”.  At this point he began picking up freelance work on the graphics side of things with, and Not For Tourists – the latter of which was has continued to be a successful long term contract.

Along the way he has continued to expand his use of the ESRI software particularly with regard to the spatial/network analyst extensions as well as becoming proficient in QGIS and Carto. Because he extends his cartographic product beyond the what is available with GIS software, Jonathan uses Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for graphics processing, texturing and post production. For 3D renderings he uses Cinema 4D, After Effects, and Sketchfab.

Sample Cartographic Products

Lower Manhattan Buildings:

This 3D rendering of buildings in Lower Manhattan show the years in which they were built from 1700 to the present. The gradations of dark orange to light orange correspond to the newest to the oldest buildings. The data used to create this map came from NYC Open Data.

Environs Map Series:

This series is a way of sharing Jonathan’s life experiences of favorite places and spaces in his  life through map renderings and illustrations.  It is his personal experience of specific places and the personal “visions” of that space.  He gets requests to produce custom maps for friends, family and clients who want their town or neighborhood mapped in this style. He’s currently working on a Valentine’s day gift for a client who wants a map of Roncolo di Quattro Castella in this style.  These images are created using: Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, scanned textures and GIS data.

Jonathan notes: “I love seeing Long Island City from across the East River. The Pepsi and Long Island City signs are featured prominently although here I’ve replaced them with my sister and brother in law’s names in lieu of their recent marriage.”


Jonathan notes this was a “fun” project. Using some fancy internal tools Airbnb developed, Jonathan helped map out neighborhood boundaries in 20+ cities across the U.S – including New York City.   It involved lots of research and involvement with city planners, residents and/or a combination thereof to get a feel for the individual city.

Sample of one NYC neighborhood maps – Chinatown – Jonathan researched and created for Airbnb helping users better define which areas and neighbors they are looking for lodging and accommodations.

Montauk 3D:

This was a personal project that was inspired by his time this past summer learning to surf in Montauk. He was struck by the interesting topography of the area. He took digital elevation model (DEM)  data, exaggerated the contours in Cinema 4D for effect, created custom topographic palettes and created a website that uses Sketchfab’s API to switch out textures on the 3D surface. Link to website:  (Note:  Sketchfab recommends WebGL to display 3D content in real-time  which is a standard in most modern browsers.  Check your browser for compatibility at

Amped Topography of Montauk: If you know the Montauk landscape and locations of specific geographic features (i.e., Lake Montauk and the Lighthouse – chances are you would find these renderings of the area very interesting – and different.

Loud Noise/Noise Complaints:

Jonathan also enjoys scrapping data from public web sites to develop maps and visuals.  While living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Jonathan created a Party/Loud Music Complaints map based on 311 data obtained from New York City’s Open Data Portal. These maps include and reflect his interest in rendering the “personality” of geospatial data through design choices – as illustrated in this map/web map – including a dark background, a purplish nighttime color palate and star animated Gifs.  Indeed an interesting map from a person who loves loud music and spends his spare time playing in a metal band!

Built with OpenStreetMap, this interactive map allows users to pan around Manhattan to see which NYC zip code has the largest number of noise complaints as filed through 311.

The Other Stuff

Jonathan always finds his legal mapping client work interesting as it requires mapping and data development to such a fine level of detail.  Often such work involves boundary disputes requiring the review of historical deeds and historic photogrammetry to determine boundary line changes. Looking forward he continues working with Sketchfab in context of mapping in the 3D space.  He supports Sketchfab because it is “accessible, light and has a community for sharing 3D models with annotation”.

As a one person shop, Jonathan does not have a large marketing and public relations budget and as such all of  his business development is  word-of-mouth.  He’s recently created an interactive presentation for a close friend and chef/owner Will Horowitz (Duck’s Eatery / Harry & Ida’s) which he presented at the Food on the Edge conference in Ireland. He’s working on an online platform, Common Scraps, which addresses the issue food waste.   As an extension he has produced some animated maps that show how food scraps can be saved and reused in an exchange system between local farms/suppliers and restaurants.

Jonathan covers a lot of ground and styles in his work which is more detailed and described on his website. Take a look, and if you are really lucky you might find him playing at a local club down the street with his band Autowreck.  Go check them out.

Though take some ear plugs and hold on.

Contact:  Jonathan Levy @


Finger Lakes Trail Conference: The Reach of Digital Mapping

As a hiker myself, I first visited the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) website in search of information about the trail system with little knowledge of the incredible structure the organization has in place for creating and publishing hardcopy and digital maps. Thus, the genesis of this article and an overview of how FLTC makes all of the digital content come together.


Established in 1962, the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) mission is to “… to build, protect, enhance, and promote a continuous footpath across New York State. Forever!”  With administrative offices near the Mt. Morris Dam Visitor Center in Mt. Morris, New York, FLTC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which works in cooperation with its members and various organizations to develop and maintain the premier hiking trail system in New York.   The Finger Lakes Trail System includes the main Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) from the Pennsylvania-New York border in Allegany State Park to the Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve. The main FLT is 580 miles long. There are six branch trails and 29 loop trails and spur trails that extend from the main FLT. These branch, loop and spur trails currently total 412 miles. Including the Main Trail and all branch, loop, and side trails, the Finger Lakes Trail System offers 1,000 miles of hiking.    Today, more than 1,400 individual and family memberships currently support the FLTC  of which approximately one fourth actively volunteer to operate the organization and its programs.  The sale of maps and GPS track data help  build and maintain the trail system.

FLTC also recognizes Sponsors which are individuals or organizations which formally accept responsibility for maintaining a length of trail in the FLT System and Affiliates which are hiking clubs and Scout troops that operate their own local hiking program and sponsor (maintain) their section of the trail system. The FLTC is a Partner of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) and cooperates with that organization and the National Park Service in maintaining and promoting that portion of the FLT that carries the North Country National Scenic Trail.  The FLTC is also a member of the Great Eastern Trail Association (GETA) and is constructing a branch trail of the FLT system (the Crystal Hills Trail) that will carry the New York portion of the Great Eastern Trail.

The Finger Lakes Trail System main trail from its eastern terminus in the Catskills to Allegany State Park in western New York State. From their interactive web application this image also show outlines of section maps which provide detail at larger scales.

Mapping and Cartography

Since the early 2000s with advancements in GPS technology and digital data collection, trail mapping responsibilities within the FLTC have been increasingly assigned to the Trail System Management program within the organization.   Within this structure, the mapping of new and/or changes to trails fall on the responsibilities of volunteers trained in use of  GPS devices – either their own Garmin device or an FLTC-owned Garmin Montana.  FLTC maintains  detailed specifications on what GPS devices are acceptable and how they are to be configured.  The GPX file from the walk is emailed to the mapping team which is currently under the direction of Greg Farnham and Jo Taylor).    Following a very detailed process document, the mapping team uses Garmin Basecamp to edit the official, unfiltered GPX track, which is referred to as the “trail centerline”.    There is adequate iteration with the person who walked the trail and the  Regional Trail Coordinator (RTC) overseeing that section of the trail where the data is being collected to ensure an accurate rendition of the (trail) data has been collected.  Regional Trail Coordinators and other FLTC administrative positions are highlighted on the organizational chart on their website. Continue reading

The Blue Highways of GIS: Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

The Bard College Field Station is located on the Hudson River near Tivoli South Bay and on the mouth of the Saw Kill. Its location affords research and teaching access to freshwater tidal marshes, swamps and shallows, perennial and intermittent streams, young and old deciduous and coniferous forests, old and mowed fields, and other habitats. A library, herbarium, laboratories, classroom, and offices are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and environmental researchers by prior arrangement. Also based at the field station are laboratories and offices of Hudsonia Ltd., an environmental research institute. The Field Station is owned by the College and operated with support from  Hudsonia and other public and private funding sources.

Founded in 1981, Hudsonia is a not-for-profit institute for research, education, and technical assistance in the environmental sciences. Staff scientists, applying long experience in regional ecology and natural history, collect and analyze data and recommend measures to reduce or mitigate impacts of land development on the local environment. While biological sciences and research is at the foundation of the Hudsonia mission, geospatial technology provides tools which are used extensively throughout its programs.

Leading the GIS mapping efforts with Hudsonia is Gretchen Stevens who has been with the organization for 24 years. Receiving her B.S. in Environmental Conservation from the University of New Hampshire, Gretchen is a botanist and is self-taught in using GIS software with Hudsonia which has standardized on the ESRI platform. She is Director of Hudsonia’s Biodiversity Resources Center and has over 34 years’ experience in remote sensing, habitat assessments, habitat mapping, rare plant surveys, and other field biology in the Northeast. She manages the GIS laboratory at Hudsonia, curates the Bard College Field Station Herbarium, and supervises the Habitat Mapping and Biodiversity Education programs.

Over the past 13 years Gretchen has led and produced a significant amount of GIS work in the lower Hudson River Valley for the benefit  of local governments and organizations which would otherwise have been unable to take advantage of geospatial technology. Of particular focus in her work has been the use of GIS to support detailed mapping of ecologically significant habitats throughout towns in Dutchess and Ulster counties, as well as selected watersheds and stream corridors in Orange County (Trout Brook and Woodbury Creek), Schoharie, Albany, and Greene Counties (Catskill Creek) and Fishkill Creek in Dutchess County.

Hudsonia’s approach to most of their habitat mapping efforts has been similar by combining desktop ArcGIS tools, including the analysis of common data layers such as bedrock and surficial geology data, topography, and soils, with the interpretation of color infrared aerial photography to predict the occurrence of ecologically significant habitats. Gretchen notes:

 “These projects involve lots of detailed, hands-on remote sensing analysis and lots of field work – both of those aspects help to distinguish the final products from most other maps in the public domain. By “hands-on” I mean that we do not rely on mapping software to interpret our spatial data such as geology, topography, soils, and aerial imagery. We visually pore over the spatial data ourselves to arrive at our habitat predictions, and then digitize the boundaries ourselves (click-click-click) onscreen. And then we visit as many areas as possible to answer our questions.”

Illustrative to the high quality of work, many of Hudsonia’s GIS products are incorporated into local master plans, open space plans, and local land use policies. For example, in Dutchess County, the towns of Amenia, Clinton, Hyde Park, Rhinebeck, and Woodstock in Ulster County, have incorporated Hudsonia’s habitat mapping information into local comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, and/or review procedures for land development projects. Conservation Advisory Councils (CAC) in the towns of Beekman and Rhinebeck have been using Hudsonia’s GIS mapping data and habitat reports to make presentations to Planning Boards about biodiversity concerns associated with proposed projects.

Town of Clinton Significant Habitats

Town of Clinton Significant Habitat Mapping

The Woodstock habitat map, augmented by many other publicaly available geospatial datasets, has enabled the Woodstock Land Conservancy to prepare a Strategic Conservation Plan (completed in 2013) for their service area, which includes Woodstock and neighboring towns. Hudsonia is also helping the Town of Ancram prepare a Natural Resources Conservation Plan which includes a series of 20 GIS maps depicting such elements as bedrock and surficial geology, elevations, farmland soils, aquifers, unusual habitats, and conservation priorities throughout the town.

Ancram Habitat Mapping

Town of Ancram Significant Habitat Mapping

2014 is year three of a five-year collaboration with biologist Jason Tesauro on a project that uses grazing dairy cows to restore habitat for the bog turtle (an Endangered species in New York) at a site in Dutchess County. The project includes the radio tracking of turtles and monitoring the vegetation changes. Hudsonia biologists and interns collect GPS data while tracking turtles and use  ArcGIS Tracking Analyst to create maps showing the movements of each turtle through the tracking season, overlaid on an orthophoto image. Cool stuff.


Bog Turtle mapping and tracking in Dutchess County

Praise for Hudsonia’s GIS work at the local level is widespread. “The Woodstock Planning Board has adopted the Hudsonia map as our official town map and the planning board uses the map on the big screen at all our meetings so the public can see what issues the planning board is looking at” offers Peter Cross, a member of the Woodstock Planning Board, “I use the Hudsonia biodiversity map all the time as part of my work as the Woodstock Wetlands and Watercourse Inspector.” Across the Hudson River in Rhinebeck, Michael Trimble, current chair of the Town of Rhinebeck Planning Board, and Interim Zoning Enforcement Officer notes “Gretchen and Hudsonia do remarkable work and our area has benefited from their efforts.” Additionally, Cliff Schwark, Chairman of the Town of Beekman CAC replies “My best description of Gretchen Stevens is that she is a true professional in her field, an excellent educator, always helpful and a pleasure to work with. The results of their work were excellent, on time, and at cost and have proven to be valuable to the Town of Beekman.” In the Town of Clinton, Norene Coller comments “We are very fortunate in Dutchess County to have an organization with the knowledge of native species and difficult to observe small habitats as well as GIS capabilities to help communities make important land-use decisions”.

While she and her colleagues at Hudsonia have made presentations on their GIS-based work at venues such as the NYS Wetlands Forum, the Northeast Natural History Conference, and the Association of American Geographers – there has been limited interaction with the larger and existing statewide GIS community. Nonetheless, she remains a dedicated member of the statewide geospatial community who works meticulously with little notoriety beyond the Hudson Valley communities she serves.

Gretchen and her work with Hudsonia illustrates the role of similar nonprofits which fill a geospatial role providing support to conservation agencies and smaller, more rural governments typical of the mid-Hudson River communities where they work, often with organizations with very limited, if any, technical staff and largely being supported through grant funds and private foundations.

Gretchen summarizes  “Our GIS capability has enabled us to gather and analyze huge amounts of physical and biological data, and has greatly advanced our understanding of the Hudson Valley ecological landscape. In addition to expanding our research on the known and likely occurrences of rare plants and animals and their habitats, GIS has allowed us to convey a giant body of information about significant habitats to landowners, land trusts, and municipal and state agencies who can put it right to use in protecting the most sensitive areas.”

Just another person working the smaller venues across the Empire State.   Thinking Globally, Acting Locally.   Number 177 under “S” on the NYS Clearinghouse Who’s Who in GIS Listing by Alphabetical.

Gretchen Stevens and others along the Blue Highways of GIS.

Thanks for reading and see you down the road.

GIS on Campus

Home to one of the three original university programs associated with creation of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) in 1988  – University of Buffalo, University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of  Maine –  New York State universities and colleges have long contributed to building the statewide GIS knowledge base and training students for professional careers in both government and industry.

While the statewide geospatial academic landscape has changed dramatically since creation of NCGIA, GIS concepts continue to be offered and integrated into many research and academic programs across the state including both the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems.  And beyond the traditional geography programs, GIS concepts can also be found as part of many state and private universities in a growing number of environmental science, civil engineering, health, and computer science program curriculums.

A cursory review of GIS academic and research efforts across the Empire State includes:

Academic Programs:  Four-year programs in geography are available at eight SUNY schools with a bachelor degree in GIS being offered only at SUNY Cortland.  An Associate Degree is available at Cayuga Community College and Erie Community College offering a GIS Specialist Certificate Program.  Graduate programs in the SUNY system are available at SUNY Buffalo, Albany, and Binghamton with Buffalo offering a PhD program.  Masters programs are also available in the CUNY system at both Hunter College and Lehman College.

Educational offerings at other statewide schools include masters and doctoral degrees at Syracuse University School of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and a growing number of geospatial/geoscience offerings at several private liberal arts schools including, but not limited to Hamilton College, St. Lawrence College (Certificate Program),  Hobart and William Smith College, and Sienna College. Pace University (Pleasantville, NY) professor Dr. Peggy Minus has received recognition as one of the first GIS academics to offer a massive open online course (MOOC).

Research and Outreach:  Geospatial research work at SUNY institutions include Dr. Tao Tang at Buffalo State working with 3D visualization and  public health issues, Dr. Chris Renschler, SUNY Buffalo leading the Landscape-based Environmental System & Analysis Modeling (LESAM) lab,  Dr. James Mower at SUNY Albany, Dr. Jim Kernan at SUNY Geneseo,  Dr. Wendy Miller at SUNY Cortland using GIS in a Central New York economic analysis, Dr. Ann Deakin at SUNY Fredonia working with GIS students in supporting a local not-for-profit focused fighting poverty and infrastructure management at Chautauqua Institution, and  Dr. Ryan Taylor at Purchase College focusing on GIS applications in Water Resources Assessment and Wetlands Assessment in southeastern New York State.   Any summary on the contributions of SUNY system geographic programs towards development of the statewide GIS effort would be remiss without making reference to the long time contributions of Eileen Allen, GIS Support Specialist in the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Notable geospatial research programs associated with Hunter and Lehman Colleges include The Institute for Sustainable Cities and the Center for Advanced Research of Spatial Information (CARSI). Current efforts at Hunter College focus on transportation research, spatial statistics, geospatial semantics, and volunteered geographic information (VGI) while selected Lehman College research includes Climate Change and Public Health in Coastal Urban Areas, urban agriculture, and Risk Terrain Modeling of the Bronx – and effort to measure quality of life conditions and potential mental and physical health stressors in the local environment.

Close by at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN),  researchers are working on a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to develop a Hudson River Flood Hazard Decision Support System.  The project will ultimately create an easy to use, free, online mapping tool to let users assess the impacts of flood inundation posed by sea level rise, storm surge, and rain events on communities bordering the lower Hudson River.

Research and academic work from long standing research institutions such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) continue to blur the boundaries between geospatial reality and fantasy with advancements in computer graphics and visualization.  Note Brian Tomaszewski’s work with ArcGIS as a gaming environment for measuring disaster response spatial thinking. Here’s the link to the Summer 2013 ArcUser article on his research.    Geospatial concepts can easily be found elsewhere at these institutions in engineering and computer science programs.

Academic Degrees and Research in the Future 

There is no question the industry is witnessing major changes in how organizations build and maintain GIS capacity:  More and easier access to online content, free and easy to use viewers, cloud solutions (hardware, software, data), shorter development schedules in bringing applications into production, and basic GIS functions being integrated and offered as part of most off-the-shelf software programs.  While there will always be a selected need for cartographers, map makers,  and desktop users, is the larger geospatial job market becoming more software developer oriented?  Of the recent debate on the regional GIS listservs and blogs discussing which software skill sets, academic degrees, or professional certifications (i.e., GISP, ESRI, etc.), which are thought to be important in the GIS career path, refer to a 2012 post on the issue by Justin Holman entitled “Spatial is Indeed Special….. but GIS Software Skills will Soon be Obsolete”.  And whether or not it is more a factor of a weaken U.S. economy, government downsizing, or in fact,  changing skill sets that are defining the new GIS job market (or an individual career path)  – GIS student graduation / employment metrics are numbers the NYS GIS  and academic community need to pay close attention to.  While I was fortunate enough to recently post – though yet to fill – an entry-level GIS position here at Westchester County GIS,  it’s been one of the few full-time GIS positions listed in New York State during 2013 as advertised on the NYS GIS Association job posting page.

And what about academic GIS research?  There is plenty of it around on our college campuses,  much of which is being funded from government grants or self-funded through individual programs.  Greater buy-in and financial support from industry and business – particularly  businesses with the big statewide “geospatial” presence – such as ESRI, AutoDesk, Google, Pictometry, IMPACT, Transfinder, IBM, ConEd, Verizon, Pitney-Bowes, and several New York health care conglomerates – can be helpful to focus on applied research efforts developing products and applications for municipalities, schools, community organizations, not-for-profits, small businesses, public utilities, and tribal governments to support day-to-day business functions – in New York State.   In keeping with similar NYS government consolidation efforts, research to validate GIS shared services models would be of significant statewide benefit.  And perhaps the most important and timely research effort may be to investigate and determine what factors really are reshaping the industry in context of job creation and employment opportunities for New York State college graduates.  One way or another, such findings can be used to identify what, if any, changes need to be made in academic curriculums and degree programs statewide.

Editor Note:  Many thanks to Dr. Ann Deakin @ SUNY Fredonia for contributions on SUNY system summaries and related article content