Views on the 2018 New York State Geospatial Landscape

There’s probably enough below for a couple blog posts but I ended up throwing everything in together and stirring it up – so to speak.  The language on Part 189 (tax mapping) could be a post by itself.  Kind of all over the place, even revisiting some topics I’ve touched on before as part of eSpatiallyNewYork.  Part wish list and part commentary.  Ten items. More or less.

  1. Promoting NYS Local and Regional Government GIS Development:  This is a frequent mantra of mine and with the  constant advancements in computing and geospatial technologies it’s worth considering on a regular basis.   And most certainly as part of this year’s wish list. Opportunities abound across the Empire State to help local and regional governments  jumpstart and/or solidify their GIS program.   For example, funding is available through the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation focusing on infrastructure systems much of which is managed at the local level.  Or the large amounts of funding being made available as part of Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative through the NYS Office of the Attorney Genera  And the detailed inter-government discussions on the new Shared Services Initiative  which includes funding as part of the adopted FY2018 state budget.  GIS is the shared services technology. And regional GIS programs as part of the New York State Regional Economic Development Councils or by extension the New York State Economic Development Council?   GIS tools are at the foundation of economic development.   Not perfect fits,  but funding opportunities do exist in these program areas.

At the core of local and regional GIS programs is powerful server technology (local and hosted) that not only has the capabilities to support multi-government day-to-day business functions  but also provides the framework to publish geospatial content via map services.  Call it what you want Open Data, government transparency, or data sharing  but it is within this context that state agencies, nonprofits, academia, as well as  business and industry all have access to local data.  Let’s have 2018 statewide focused discussions on extending local and regional GIS capacity based on cost effective and server-based multi-government initiatives.

  1. Building GIS Association Legislative Capacity: While the Association has grown in so many positive ways over the past decade, the challenge continues for the organization to have its presence and mission heard in Albany’s governing hallways.  It is no small effort – organizationally and financially  to build this capacity.  Many similar professional organizations have full-time staff and Executive Directors whose job is to create awareness among elected officials, secure funding, and promote/influence legislation on behalf of the membership.    But currently the Association’s legislative efforts are in the hands of member volunteers.  And while Legislative Committee volunteers were able to coordinate a “Map Day” last May in Albany to introduce the Association to elected officials, the Association has yet to establish itself on the same playing field of recognition with other statewide geospatial heavyweights such as the New York State Society of Professional Engineering, New York State E911 Coordinators, and the lobbying efforts of large New York State based geospatial businesses.  Complicating the equation are Association members who hold licenses or certifications in other professions (i.e, engineering, surveying, photogrammetry, landscape architecture, AICP,  etc) and find themselves in a quandary as to support the Association’s agenda or the profession/discipline which holds their license.  To some degree, this issue manifest itself as part of the discussion with the Geospatial Data Act of 2017 which initially had lines of support drawn heavily along professional affiliation.  The Association must keep up the good effort and find a way to compete on the Albany stage.  Let’s hope the Legislative Committee can build upon its 2017 accomplishments and make further inroads in 2018.
  1. New York State Geospatial Data Act of 2018:   Not really,  but it DOES sounds great – right?   Close our eyes and make believe there is a state-equivalent of the much hyped (Albany) federal National Geospatial Data Act (NGDA) of 2017.   Just think of it:   A process across the Empire State in place to magically aggregate our local government tax-payer funded geospatial data assets into National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).  Newly appointed and designated state agencies responsible for providing support (similar to the designated federal agencies)  to make our geospatial contributions consistent with the federal data themes and standards as outlined in Section 6 and 7 of the proposed NGDA legislation.  Ultimately being made available via the GeoPlatform.   

Granted many national geospatial organizations now support the legislation (having changed their position on the Act since it was first introduced now that language was dropped focusing on data procurement)  but the fact of the matter is that little case has been made as to how, what, or why the NGDA means to local governments here in New York State.     Federal agencies have little capacity or interest to consume and integrate large-scale data assets developed at the local level. Thus, yup, leaving  this on some level to state government intervention.   Perhaps locals can bypass it all and just contribute directly to the GeoPlatform.

Of course, NGDA 2017 is “feel good” – we’re all on board to support broad GIS/geospatial ideals and concepts.  And I do at a high level, but there is still a huge disconnect – financially and pragmatically – how  our local investments are integrated and made available as part of the  17 designated National Geospatial Data Assets.  The justification really hasn’t been made.  And addresses were the last federal data theme added in August 2016?

So wish #3 is for a New York State Geospatial Data Act of 2018 to provide a framework (no pun intended, of course) so the statewide community can contribute to the goals of the NGDA!

  1. Increased Engagement with Other Professions and Organizations: It was good to see the New York State Association of Professional Land Surveyors (NYAPLS) exhibit at the state GIS Conference in Lake Placid last October.  And while there were other vendors representing additional trades and industries, overall attendance was very homogenous with well over half of the attendees from government and academia with the later being over represented with students and numerous single-day attendees.  Though it’s no surprise government attendees represented a majority of the registrants – mirroring the GIS Association’s membership profile – it is worth taking note of the limited representation of other relevant professions engaged in geospatial technology across the Empire State such as assessors, utilities, fleet management systems, economic development, K-12 programs, local police and fire department programs. Also the almost complete absence of public health and human services personnel and/or presentations and increasingly one of my geospatial pet peeves given the enormity of health and human services budgets in New York State county governments.    While above attendee data may not be exactly right (albeit I am working from the published 2017 NYGeoCon Attendee Roster)  it does paint a picture of the statewide GIS community still struggling to uniquely differentiate itself from other professional organizations which are continuing to build their own geospatial networks and agendas.   Furthermore, the attendee list does not include any staff from the New York legislature (senate or assembly), New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), New York Association of Towns, New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials or any professional organization front office.  Here’s to the cup being half full and hoping and wishing for increased outreach and connections in 2018 to Empire State technical, scientific, professional and administrative organizations.
  1. Geospatial Advisory Committee (GAC): My therapist told me not to go here.  So I won’t.
  1. Revisiting Part 189: There are very few of us still around in New York State GIS community that know the Office of Real Property Services (now Office of Real Property Tax Services) was in ESRI’s first group of clients.  If I remember correctly within the first 50 worldwide.  And host to one of the state’s first GIS meetings in the mid-1980s when their offices were at 16 Sheridan Ave. downtown Albany.   How the Empire State GIS landscape might be different today had this state office developed the political support and vision (it certainly had excellent technical GIS resources) to champion cadastral and tax mapping reform as digital cartography and mapping matured in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  Laying the groundwork to usher in local government tax mapping into the digital age.  But it was not meant to be.   A slow demise over many years, the excellent GIS presence in ORPS eventually eroded and became essentially non-existent.  Back in the day tax map reform was also frequently discussed as part of the Coordinating Body and the Cadastral Working Group.   During this time period, the concept of making changes to the New York State tax mapping requirements was referred to generically as “changes to Part 189”.

 New York State tax maps today are still governed by  the Assessment Improvement Law (Laws of 1970, Chapter 957) requiring local governments to prepare and maintain tax maps in accordance with standards established by the State Board of Equalization and Assessment.  This same law prescribes that the State Board shall also develop rules and regulations (9 NYCRR Part 189) for the preparation and maintenance of these tax maps and assigns important duties to the municipalities in New York State related to tax map preparation and maintenance.  New York State still has a hardcopy tax map standard and regulation.  Nothing digital.   No statewide digital tax map maintenance (or reporting) requirements – though nearly all counties maintain the tax parcel geometry in digital format.     And while the state GPO continues to try and  assemble a statewide parcel dataset,  its more than likely never going to happen unless digital maintenance and reporting standards are institutionalized.  Kudos to the counties which make digital data available as part of the state program but at the same time other counties have every right to continue to do as they chose.  Furthermore,  it’s my bet, based on the current NYS laws and regulations,  the collective statewide assessor community isn’t going to feel any overwhelming commitment any time soon to contribute to and help build a statewide digital tax parcel database.  There is simply no incentive.

But it just so happens it might be a good time to revisit the Part 189 doctrine.  ORPTS is in the process of a massive overhaul of its flagship RPS software and along with this there may be a willingness to start the discussion.  Maybe not.  But it seems if there was a time to try and put in motion an effort to change this nearly 50-year old law it could be now.  Additionally the ranks of the statewide assessors has changed significantly over the past decade bringing with it a much better understanding of the benefits of managing and publishing digital data.  Of course there will be no buy-in by County assessors if the change is perceived as a means to require digital tax parcel submission to the state.  Such a concept would be DOA.  But instead, a new digital standard that would still leave counties independent (as they do today and very much reflected in the statewide tax parcel availability map) to make  their data available where and how as they wish.  And also along the way of reengineering Part 189, there is an opportunity to further educate and demonstrate to the assessor community the benefits of web map services.  Advocating counties to publish their digital tax parcel data as a service which many NYS counties now have the capacity to do so.  A statewide framework of county web map services is much more efficient than the current effort and has the added benefit of driving consumers to county web portals for more local data and added web service metrics.

Tax parcel data is no doubt very valuable and important to both government and business and there is no better way than to publish the tax parcel data than via web map services.   And the decade old 2008 Statewide Strategic Plan priority of building a statewide tax parcel neither resonates nor makes the business case for County governments to simply buy-in.  There are lots of hurdles, but here is to the concept the Part 189 issue can be revisited on neutral grounds in 2018 for the benefit of all digital tax parcel consumers. 

  1. Embrace the Outliers: A Google search defines an outlier as “a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system.”  And there are lots of GIS outliers across the Empire State.  Used to be as GIS technology was evolving the user community almost had to attend conferences and user group meetings to follow the state-of-the-art.  To meet hardware and software vendors and see/test drive the latest advancements.   But not anymore.  2018 is all about Do-it-Yourself (DIY) GIS.  Individuals, civic geohackers, and start-ups outside the mainstream.  Leveraging online products, data, and systems to do it themselves and go alone.  Lots of open source, social media to broadcast their efforts and working contracts with organizations which often do not have the resources to work with the larger GIS firms. By example, Meetups are increasingly a space where one can find geospatial outliers across the state.  There all kinds of Meetups in the GIS/geospatial space:  GIS, drones, open data/open source, data visualization, AutoCAD, and the list goes on.  It is in these gatherings where you’ll often hear a completely different type of GIS discussion.  People asking “why” and “how” and “who” in contexts one probably does not hear in the GIS mainstream.  A completely different viewpoint and rational.  Refreshingly off from the normal GIS speak and think.   Exactly what the New York State GIS landscape can use.  Still not convinced?  Find a NYS hackathon coming close to you soon.  Make it a commitment to attend a geospatial meeting in 2018 in a space or venue that is different.  Not the norm.  A one-off.  You won’t be disappointed.
  1. 2018 GISP Certification Survey: You know its coming.  Trolling  the New York State GIS listservs soon. Same as last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.   Reminding me of a favorite Beatles song Eleanor Rigby:  “Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear…..”.  The 2018 remix “…….collecting data for a presentation that ……”.  Unless survey sponsors want to deploy its SWAT team to meet with the various New York State licensing authorities to discuss the requirements and worthiness of GISP being recognized as one of the Occupations Licensed or Certified by New York State, just assume the whole discussion is off the grid in the Empire State.  The last GISP Certification requirement/benefit I saw was for a job posting in Boise.   Just change the date from last year’s GISP Certification survey and reuse the 2017 results. Or 2016.
  1. Free Form GIS: Along the think of the GIS outliers, New York State is home to several academic institutions with cutting-edge computer science programs. SUNY includes several such as the  nationally recognized program at Stony Brook while Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) programs have long been recognized for their research and development into computer graphics, gaming, data visualization, and imaging.   And don’t forget the S. Military Academy at West Point.  And less we forget the influence of the Center for Technology in Governement (CTG) at SUNY Albany that played in shaping some of our founding  statewide studies and documents.  

For a bunch of reasons (availability of data, cost of software, training, business needs, available staffing, etc) statewide government programs have been slow on the uptake in building 3D (both indoor and outdoor) and data visualization models and here’s to the idea the GIS community reach out to these various institutions of higher education and give us a hand in this space.   Maybe the Association sponsor a  regional meeting and a GIS hackathon at the same place.  Throw in some planimetrics and elevation data, parcels, demographics, environmental datasets, buildings and interiors, and the kitchen sink and see what comes out the other end.  Run the data through software programs we normally don’t use on a day-to-day basis and visualize geospatial in a completely different view.  Proprietary or open source – doesn’t matter.  And plenty for each of us to take back to the office knowing more of what is possible outside of the box we normally work in.  Make it happen in 2018 –  it will be worth the price of admission.

  1. Some of the Rest: Drones – uber cool stuff having a huge impact on the geospatial industry albeit I’d submit an Association-type sponsored webinar involving government attorneys would be helpful (county and city?) providing an overview of the current/know legal issues of drone use and development;  GIS Strategic Plan – this was my “Oh, no” moment at Lake Placid when I heard GAC was reviewing a Strategic Plan.    Certainly they were not making reference to the now decade old 2008 Statewide GIS Strategic Plan?   But probably something better.   An updated GIS Strategic Plan framed by and for the State GIS Program Office and rubber stamped by GAC.  Apply a little lipstick and take it on the road as the 2018 Statewide GIS Strategic Plan.   Can’t wait;  Woodstock 2019 – who is in charge of the exploratory committee looking into having the 2019 State GIS Conference to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock festival in Bethel, NY?   Count me in on the committee as planning for this needs to start this year!  Statewide geospatial data portals – so which one now:  NYS GIS Clearinghouse,   Open Data NY, or the GeoPlatform?

Much, much more going on statewide and I’m just scratching the surface.  Most importantly in 2018 let’s subvert the dominant and existing NYS GIS paradigm and begin to set a new agenda.

10 (Almost) Questions: Todd Fabozzi

Todd Fabozzi is an urbanist, writer, teacher and drummer. During his twenty-two-year career as a regional planner he has been an advocate for cities and sustainable design. He has lectured extensively on suburban sprawl and its consequences and has been involved in numerous urban planning, climate action planning, and watershed protection studies. Todd is an expert on the use of Geographic Information Systems and has taught a course on GIS at UAlbany for the past thirteen years. Todd has also published two books of poems and anti-poems. He lives in the city of Saratoga Springs, NY.

I caught up with Todd at NYGeoCon for a short discussion on life and GIS….

eSpatiallynewyork:  How long have you been with the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC)?

Todd:  I’ve been a professional urbanist for the past twenty-two years, twenty of which have been with CDRPC.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What’s one of the best examples of how GIS is used in your organization?

Todd:  I was charged with building the Commission’s GIS back in 1996. One of the first products from that effort was a regional atlas, which we published in oversized hard copy format (this was still pretty much pre-internet). The maps portrayed a whole variety of characteristics at the regional scale, giving the public a bird’s eye view of the spatial patterns of the Capital District for the first time. In addition to applying GIS in most of our program areas, I continue to create, update and publish regional maps (see www.cdrpc.org). I think understanding regional demographic, environmental and land use patterns is central to regional planning and GIS is the best tool for doing so.

eSpatiallynewyork: What professional associations or groups are you affiliated with?

Todd: Over the years I’ve tried out the American Planning Association, the Association of American Geographers, Progressive Planners Network, Congress for New Urbanism, and the NYS GIS Association. I also served for nine years on the NYS GeoSpatial Advisory Council. While for the most part I support the work of these groups, I’m currently unaffiliated (though with CNU and NYSGISA, it’s simply because I haven’t gotten around to renewing). I have to say though that in general I’m not a joiner, perhaps the anarchist in me keeps me at arm’s length from groups and group think.

eSpatiallynewyork:  If you had an extra $50K in your budget, what would you do with it?

Todd:  If it was a yearly allocation I would establish two part-time paid internship positions. CDRPC has been working on a climate and energy issues over the past few years and there are some interesting ways that GIS can be applied. So for example, a good intern project might be to identify (by analyzing the utility zones, solar orientation, area requirements, land uses and zoning laws) the places where community distributed solar might be feasible (community distributed solar allows one to receive solar energy from an offsite location).

eSpatiallynewyork:  Biggest professional accomplishment?

Todd:  Using GIS, imagery analysis and photography to document and portray sprawl and urban decline in the Capital District and through over two hundred presentations inciting a regional conversation on these issues back when it was politically and professionally risky to do so. This was the same presentation I made at the first NYS GeoSpatial Summit in 2006. http://www.nysgis.net/nygeosummit/year/2006/speakers.htm

eSpatiallynewyork:  What do you think of GISP certification?

Todd:  I don’t. I’m not concerned with merit badges. I’d rather let mapping do the talking.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Open Source or ESRI?

Todd:  We’re an ESRI shop but I’m open to whatever works best in a given situation…and the lower the cost the better.

eSpatiallynewyork:   If you could change one thing here in New York that you feel would make GIS more widely used, or more appreciated and understood – what would that be?

Todd:  Start teaching kids how to use GIS as part of the middle and high school curriculum.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What advice would you give to the next generation of individuals starting a career in GIS here in New York State?

Todd:  I’ve been teaching an Intro to GIS course at UAlbany for the past thirteen years and I think I counted seven different people at the most recent NYGeoCon that had taken my course and were now working professionally in NYS using GIS, which is satisfying. I reinforce to my students that GIS is a tool for something else, so get knowledgeable about something else, and then use GIS to help.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Any thoughts on the future of government GIS in the State of New York?

Todd:  There’s not much that state and local governments do that doesn’t have a spatial component, so the more we integrate GIS into government operations the more efficient those operations will be. I’ve heard you sing the gospel of web services for data delivery and I get that and think that is largely the direction things will head. Web-accessible GIS for basic tasks will also continue to proliferate, though there will still be a role for the desktop user with the full suite of tools at their disposal. I saw a presentation at the recent NYGeoCon about the City of Rochester’s various GIS applications that I found quite inspiring and think they’re setting an example of how GIS can be used in local government.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What would you be doing if you weren’t working with CDRPC?

Todd:  Assuming I was retired and didn’t have to earn a living I’d be playing my drums, writing, and traveling.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Your band is in the studio working on its 11th album – what can you tell us about it? 

Todd: Well, as some of my planning and GIS colleagues know, I’m also a professional drummer, and over the past eighteen years I’ve been the conga player for a twelve-piece original salsa band called Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra. It’s a fun alternative to the office. We get to make people smile and dance, which isn’t something urban planning usually accomplishes. We did a ten-day tour of Shanghai, China this past March, which was a high point for us. And as you noted, we are currently in the studio working on our 11th album. We’ve been in the early rounds of the Latin Grammy’s with a few of our past records. Maybe this will be the one in which we nail it? For anyone interested in the band see: www.alextorres.com.

Reflections on NYGeoCon 2013

The 2013 New York State GIS conference was held November 12-13, 2013 in Saratoga Springs, New York.  Organized by the NYS GIS Association, this is the first year the state conference has been rebranded as NYGeoCon which will be held alternating years with the Geospatial Summit.  With conference registration topping 300, including students, single day attendees, and vendors, the two-day event included a wide range of topics including nearly 30 individual presentations and a dozen workshops/panel discussions.    Among the many topics offered –  mobile technology, shared services, and open data themes – were common conversation points throughout the conference.  The conference also included special efforts to involve college students and contained an Education Tract highlighting statewide higher education GIS instructors.  Conference vendor support was equally impressive with 19 companies exhibiting during the course of the conference.

Beyond the normal opening day conference welcome by out-going NYS GIS Association President Al Leidner and the usual “State of the State” presentation by NYS GIO Bill Johnson, the conference began in earnest with an impressive keynote presentation by Jack Levis who is known to many as “the United Parcel Service (UPS) guy” in the Penn State Public Broadcasting production The Geospatial Revolution.  Levis has keynoted at other GIS/location-based conferences over the past several months presenting the company business message about how UPS used to be a trucking company that used technology, but is now a technology company that happens to use trucks.  His presentation focused on how UPS uses data (much of which is mobile gathered) to support enterprise descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive analytics in helping build and refine the UPS delivery model.  Interestingly, Levis feels, in general, much of the available digital street center line files (public/commercial) still need updating and improvement.  It was an excellent presentation which had a major underlying geospatial component.  Levis fielded several questions from the audience after the presentation.  Both the conference welcome and Levis presentation are available for viewing on the conference homepage.

The annual business meeting of the NYS GIS Association, which was held at lunch on the second day of the conference, demonstrated the tremendous growth of the Association as an independent, professional voice and presence in statewide geospatial programs.  The nearly hour-long meeting included several committee reports (Membership, Communications, Conference, Legislative, Private Sector, Education, Regional Groups, and Professional Development) as well as general discussion on issues such as GISP certification, types of membership (professional/associate, etc.) and collective efforts for continued growth and influence across the state.  One of the more impressive statistics taken from the meeting was that nearly one-third of the nearly 500 members of the Association are from the private sector.  A very encouraging number which suggests, for now, that New York State geospatial business and industry representatives are  supporting the underlying efforts and long-term goals of the Association.  The business meeting also included the introduction of incoming President Julie Tolar (Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority) and President-Elect Susan Nixson (City of Ithaca), as well as three new Board members:  Rich Quodomine (NYS DOT), Julia O’Brien (FEMA Region 2) and Mickey Dietrich (Tug Hill Commission).

Looking forward, the Association will hopefully continue to align its professional and conference efforts with like-minded statewide professional organizations which leverage geospatial technologies.  Overall, the 2013 event should be considered a success given ongoing struggles in attendance at similar geospatial conferences in the Northeast.  One of the few speed bumps the conference hit was placing the ESRI Sponsor Workshop – against other ongoing presentations – in the very last time slot of the conference which resulted in woefully poor attendance.  As a conference Platinum Sponsor, ESRI was deserving of much better placement on the agenda.

Kudos to the NYS GIS Association conference committee in organizing the successful 2013 NYGeoCon.  We look forward to the 2014 Geospatial Summit.