A “citizens’ hub” that connects “everything” is exactly what IT Director Chris McClure wants to create for the town of North Andover, Massachusetts. He is generating this hub to link diverse concerns - everything from crash incidents, to assessor’s info, to floodplain locations, to dog licenses. Central to his grand plan is MapGeo, the mapping platform connecting civic departments with residents and local businesses. With over 1000 views per month (and over 400 unique visits of over seven minutes), MapGeo is changing how the town of North Andover works.
In 1646, with the idea of creating an inland plantation, Reverend John Woodbridge and residents from Andover, England settled on land centered in what is now North Andover. Today, the town, with a population of just under 30,000, is considered a suburb of Boston.
Inside the departments in North Andover, “We are creating a common central hub for sharing information among people who may not typically have reasons to talk with each other,” McClure explained.
“One of the cool things about GIS and, of course MapGeo, is that it really starts to help people process info visually and see the relationships between things that they might not connect. It let’s you see trends, correlations that you might not get from looking at a spreadsheet.”
MapGeo combines mapping with multiple layers of different town data and resource information in a single system. Using familiar map presentations, residents and professionals can navigate to find specific information. A related benefit is that viewing unrelated but geographically organized data can reveal unexpected patterns and relationships. It offers a type of data mining otherwise unavailable to communities.
McClure’s quest to link “everything” is taking shape on many fronts. “We are working on some interesting projects where we’ve scanned every land reference in town and we connect that to our MapGeo for real-time links to documents. We’ve integrated our public safety systems with police, fire and emergency management. With MapGeo we have situational awareness information.”
He said that because they offer building plans, notes, aerial photos, mapping components, MapGeo has become a popular tool for businesses and homeowners. “The challenge we have as a government is that people are so busy they don’t have the time to be waiting days for information. We have a duty to keep people aware of our capacity and capability.”
In the past, the process to obtain property records was time and resource consuming. Homeowners or builders would have to visit the town offices to make a records request. According to McClure, in some cases, it might be a couple of days to get the needed information. “The records were in the basement. We needed to pull them out, check them and make copies. Now, town employees at our counter just say, ‘Go to the website’.” Town personnel have seen immediate results. It is time saving and cost efficient for staff, homeowners and builders. Since North Andover’s MapGeo data gets over 1000 views per month. That could mean a reduction of over 50 calls a day for a typical 20-day work month.
North Andover has a northern boundary defined by the Merrimack River. The Shawsheen River meanders along the town’s western edge and the 564-acre Lake Cochichewick is central to the downtown area. Several reservation and conservation areas surround the lake. The town is also home to portions of Harold Parker State Park, Boxford State Forest and the Charles W. Ward Reservation. With geography like that it is no wonder North Andover’s motto is, “A Town for All Seasons.” And, no wonder conservation is a huge consideration for the town.
The town’s Conservation Commission conducts hundreds of inspections for building permit applications and monitors ongoing permitted projects.
Amy Maxter, North Andover’s Conservation Administrator, commented that her department uses MapGeo on a daily basis to gather data on wetlands, floodplains, and historical changes to the landscape and properties. She said, “The Conservation Department uses MapGeo numerous times a day. It is a quick first reference to determine if wetlands are on a site.” She added that having historical aerials helps track changes on a particular plot of land. And, MapGeo alerts her department to possible environmental impacts.
Chris McClure explained, “We’re looking at creative ways to look at conservation and protect wetlands. Part of this study is tracking storm water and run off.” Maxter said, “With MapGeo we have data on wetlands, floodplains and a history of change to the landscape. And, because the public can use MapGeo, it cuts down on office inquiries.”
North Andover’s Chief Assessor, David M. Hynes agrees with Maxter, “The fact that tax payers are using the system is great and they can get a lot of their questions answered by a review of the properties on-line with MapGeo while having access to property record cards at the same time. MapGeo lets us crosscheck mapping with town maps and review wetland boundaries of individual parcels.” Hynes said that with so many local layers the people have parcel information at their fingertips. “One of the most interesting uses of MapGeo is allowing the taxpayer to do abutter lists.”
MapGeo is making inroads in many other North Andover departments as well. McClure said, “Recently, we started working on a sidewalk study. We can look at existing sidewalks and check their status. We look at bus routes. Then we can correlate sidewalks, routes, traffic accidents plus location and other data of intersections.
“We are also cataloging town facilities including a project with Recreation. We’re mapping all the athletic fields, not just where they are but how they’re being used. We record usage even by time of day and time of year.”
Not to be forgotten, North Andover’s canine population has been given the MapGeo treatment. Town employees use MapGeo to keep dog licenses up to date and even to list each dog’s home address.
“No doubt, everyone in North Andover is benefiting from our database. MapGeo gives them a complete picture – right down to a calendar so that they don’t miss their trash day,” said McClure.