Supporting these new trends is an old technology that has taken on renewed importance in recent years. Geographic information systems (GIS) -- computer systems that can store, manipulate and analyze spatial or geographical information -- have been around since the 1970s, but as these powerful mapping tools have become cheaper and easier to use, they have also become more widespread and beneficial. Cities now use them to analyze financial decisions to increase performance, support public safety, improve public transit, run social service activities and, increasingly, engage citizens about their city’s governance.
Augusta, Ga., won an award for its well-designed and easy-to-use transit maps. Sugar Land, Texas, uses GIS to support economic development and, as part of its citizen engagement efforts, to highlight its capital improvement projects. GIS is now used citywide by 92 percent of the survey respondents. That’s significant because GIS has long been considered a specialized (and expensive) technology primarily for city planning and environmental projects.
Cities continue to invest in core technologies, such as security, data centers, networks and IT staff. With budgets tight in many jurisdictions, city leaders will have to prioritize carefully what’s important when it comes to digital services. Despite the ongoing fiscal constraints, cities continue to find creative ways to use technology -- both new and old -- that brings government and citizens closer together, while improving the overall value of its work.