By Trevor Underwood
Student in Community GIS, Spring 2022
As a student in Community GIS, taught by Dr. Shannon, I’ve been faced with various readings and opportunities surrounding-of course-community GIS. Through exposure to the practices and ideas that have been taught, my approach to mapping (from idea conception to completion) has evolved. By education I’m an ecology major, and most of my experience mapping up until this course had been in mapping ecological phenomena like population dynamics, habitat ranges, and ecosystem boundaries. While those mapping focuses may seem different to the Linnentown storymap and Athens 1958 maps we’ve mapped throughout this course, I think there’s a bounty of approaches to mapping that could stand to be adopted in my niche of GIS.
In this blog post, I want to talk about how I would have applied what I know now to past projects I’ve worked on; specifically, as a fisheries technician for the United States Forest Service (USFS) in Oregon. I want to focus on this experience because of the importance of the projects I did there, but also because of the community-project interactions that were present. There’s one specific project I was a part of that I think, if I had known what I know now, could have been handled differently by both myself and those in charge of the project.
One of the largest things that struck me during my time in Oregon was the importance of PR. The public’s perception of the USFS in Tiller where I was working was polarized; some people loved you and others hated you. For some, the Forest Service was doing important work that would end up benefitting the public, for others, the forest service was a clandestine organization that was trespassing on “their land”.
Our project I was a part of was doing snorkel surveys for the Umpqua Chub, a state-threatened fish species. We would get in wetsuits and hop in rivers/streams at public access points like bridge crossings, boat launches, and roadside pull-offs and record the number of fish we saw along with the coordinates to map later. People would come up to us during/after the surveys and ask what we were doing. After we gave them an answer as to what the surveys were for and why we were doing them, most people would respond with a friendly “cool!” or “that’s neat”, but sometimes people would say we had no business being there and, in a few instances, would harass us.
I think if the Forest Service had involved the communities around where we were doing surveys more, we would not only have been on better terms with those communities, but would also see a higher degree of approval for that specific project. In this course we talked about community involvement in GIS, and broke down a figure (Arnstein’s ladder) showing different levels of this type of involvement. In a federally sponsored project, including citizens in a research project to the degree of letting them do GIS analysis would be difficult, but at least getting to the higher rung of “partnership” from “informant” on Arnstein’s ladder would have been satisfactory. In my experience there, the people that engaged in harassment seemed to feel undermined when being informed about what we were doing, maybe feeling as though they were being treated as unintelligent.
Building a trust between the groups doing research and the communities in which the research is being done is mutually beneficial, and something I’ll always reflect on when performing work like that again. That shared vulnerability makes for a stronger flow of ideas, and a better product. In our Linnentown storymap project, the experiences and feedback of resident Hattie Whitehead were directly incorporated into the final product. Our project aimed at telling the story of Linnentown, both how it was, and how it’s been erased by The University of Georgia Urban Renewal Project. I was able to benefit from learning from a first-account of the story we were trying to tell. Getting to see and hear about her experiences and having feedback directly from her was extremely helpful, and largely the basis of the depth of quality for our finished product. There wasn’t any preconceived animosity between the parties working on the Linnentown storymap project like there was between the USFS and communities in Oregon, but just the action of communication and transparency like in the project our class worked on are enough to build a foundation of trust. This class has challenged me to think beyond a cartographic result; rather, it’s encouraged me to think of the process of reaching that result.
By Phillip Jones
Student in Community GIS, Spring 2022
Imagine you were tasked with creating a map of your hometown. How would you go about doing this? You may start with popular roads, neighborhoods, and parks. Then, you may throw in some popular landmarks like the city hall, schools, and libraries. This may seem like a straightforward and fact-oriented task. However, you can’t possibly map everything in the town, as this would be overwhelming for the reader and impossible for you do to by memory. You may find yourself choosing landmarks that are most important to you. You may also find that the overall impression of your map reflects your perception of your hometown. The map may be dreary or dull if that is your perception of the town, or it may be brightly lit and exciting if you have fond memories of your childhood.
Maps often give the impression of being concrete and factually correct. However, like any other form of media, they are narratives being proposed by their authors. In our Community GIS course, we have been introduced to theoretical frameworks that help us question the intention behind a map: Who created this map? Who is the intended audience? What biases may the author be influenced by? What narrative does this media promote? What voices are missing from this map? Ultimately, we have learned to be wary of the predominant narrative of maps, as they may be reflective of the loudest and most powerful.
Most recently in our Community GIS course, we have finished a project about the Linnentown neighborhood in Athens, Georgia. Linnentown was a Black neighborhood along Baxter Street that was destroyed by UGA and the City of Athens in the 1960s through a federal Urban Renewal grant. All houses in the urban renewal area were torn down and all residents were displaced. In their place, UGA built three large dormitories and a parking lot to house freshman UGA students. Through their power, the city and the university characterized the neighborhood as run down and a “slum” to justify displacing a proud and close-knit Black community.
Because of the efforts of first descendants of Linnentown and organizations such as the Linnentown Project, the neighborhood’s story has been told, and steps have been made to acknowledge the harms done and provide reparations. To support their efforts, the Spring 2022 UGA Community GIS class has created an ArcGIS Storymap to support the Linnentown Project and first descendants of the neighborhood to bring memories of the neighborhood to life. The Storymap synthesizes first-hand accounts from first descendants Ms. Hattie Whitehead and Mr. Bobby Crook, archived records from the UGA Special Collections Library, and research by UGA professors to tell the story of the Linnentown community, its erasure, and the resistance of its residents to their removal. For example, through a guided video tour, Ms. Whitehead and Mr. Crook share their memories of the neighborhood, which is a sharp juxtaposition from what the area looks like today. It also the process of UGA acquiring properties in the area, aerial imagery displaying the destruction and replacement of the Linnentown community, and evidence of the resident’s resistance to being displaced. The Storymap culminates with a timeline of advocates’ efforts to demand redress and resources on how to become involved.
In Community GIS, we have learned that there is no one correct way to describe an area. Instead, many perspectives can all coexist at the same time. However, the perspective of the area around Baxter and Finley Street as just freshman dorms is incomplete and is an injustice to the community of people in Linnentown that were displaced from this area. Using digital storytelling technology, we can share memories, identify important landmarks, and explain how Athens and UGA used their institutional power to transform these areas at the expense of the Linnentown community. Doing so will not bring back what was lost, but this tragic history must be exposed. It is never too late to hold institutions and people to account for their actions, as doing so will communicate that the unjust destruction of people’s homes is unacceptable and prevent it from happening again in the future.
By Will Harrison
Student in Community GIS, Spring 2022
The process of georeferencing is very important and useful in many different disciplines of geography. Georeferencing is the process of giving a raster image a geographic reference by overlaying that image to the same geographic reference on the basemap so that the two images align. To do this, you will need to open up a geographic software. I’m going to be using ArcGIS Pro as an example.
Once you start a new project, you will see a basemap of the world in front of you. The first thing you want to do is change the projection to a more precise projection. I have changed mine to NAD 1983 UTM Zone 16, because I am dealing with georeferencing within Georgia, which is in zone 16. I would also recommend you change the basemap under the map tab if you are dealing with buildings or parking lots. If you are just dealing with streets, keep it on the topographic basemap.
Next, you need to find the raster image. A raster image is a graphic that represents a two dimensional image as a grid of pixels. I am choosing a JPEG campus map of the University of North Georgia. I put the JPEG in the same folder as my ArcGIS project, so when I click add data, I know where to find it. Once it is added, your basemap won’t change. If I go to the UNG campus on the basemap, it will not be there, because the JPEG has no geographic reference.
On the left of your screen, you can see the JPEG underneath the contents section. Right click on the JPEG and click “zoom to layer” to find your raster image. If you zoom in or out, you can see it is in a random spot. My image is in the Galapagos Islands. So, now you need to put it in the right spot.
Under the imagery tab, click the “georeference” button to get started. There should be a box indicating so in the top right of your basemap. Then under the georeference tab, click “add control points” to identify a specific point on the raster image. It should show a red square where you clicked. There should also be a dashed line following your cursor. You need to then zoom into where that exact point is on the basemap. It will then show a red circle with an “x” through it to symbolize the completed control point created. Street intersections or building corners are a good reference to use.
Once you do this, the map should now be in the same general area, except now your raster image is covering your basemap. To get around this, go to the appearance tab at the top. Mess around with the transparency of the image. This way, you can see both images at once. The more control points you create, the more accurate it will be. Trying to add control points on opposite sides of the imagery helps to place it more accurately, quicker.
In just three control points, most of my map is placed correctly. If you go back and forth between transparencies, you can see how accurate it is. The buildings, parking lots, and roads will start to align perfectly. If they aren’t lining up, try looking at your control point. If there is not one created near where it is not aligned, try and create one. If there is a control point near and it is still not lined up, you may want to see if a feature has changed over time.
Once again, this can be useful in many different geographic ways. The use of control points, for example, is used by a surveyor on AutoCAD. AutoCAD is another geographic program. The surveyor needs control points to geographically reference himself in the real world to put points on a job site. In our class, we just use it to reference a boundary line JPEG that doesn’t have geographic information attached to it, but it is a relatively simple process if you’d like to do it yourself.
By Molly Dunn
Student in Community GIS, Spring 2022
GIS has the ability to tell a powerful story by legitimizing the perspective of an individual or group that has struggled to be taken seriously. In Sarah Elwood’s book Qualitative GIS, she says “many of the powerful actors and institutions whom they seek to influence treat GIS-based data and maps as illustrations of what is real or true about a place, and as evidence of an expert (and therefore, legitimate) portrayal of that place” (Chapter 4: “Multiple Representations, Significations And Epistemologies In Community-Based GIS”, page 70). Throughout my time in our Community GIS class, I have learned the importance of making maps with caution and consideration, especially when they will be used to persuade or provoke.
For the past few weeks, my class has been working on an informational StoryMap (a collection of public, multimedia web maps) about Linnentown, a Black community erased by UGA and the City of Athens to build dorm buildings in the 1960s. From the beginning steps of the project, it was evident that we had an important task to complete. We were not working with simulation data or practice labs. We were working with real stories, from real people, about real places. As the project developed and I heard more from Hattie Whitehead, a resident of Linnentown, I began to see the impact that our StoryMap could potentially have in aiding her mission to bring redress to the people who lived there. The importance of being cautious with each choice we made throughout the project was clear. In one of our meetings, she told us that when brainstorming the book she recently wrote about her experience, she wanted to compile the data together before she wrote and published it. It was then that I understood the point that Sarah Elwood was making - there is power in a visual representation with data behind it. It can be the tipping point that allows a movement or a story to be recognized as legitimate.
One of the ways that a map can be made with consideration is by capturing the emotion in the place it is portraying. In Meghan Kelly’s article “Mapping Syrian Refugee Border Crossings: A Feminist Approach,” she walks the readers through the development of her map of Amal’s story, a man living through the conflict in Syria. She chooses symbology that alludes to the ways that he experienced the borders - for example, how difficult it could truly be to move from one place to another. This kind of information can be difficult to show through maps, but if done correctly it can add an entirely new layer that is meaningful and informational. She was able to transform his story into an immersive piece that showed the way he experienced life in Syria. She prioritized his voice over her own, a skill that makes a map center around individual experience within a physical place. We were able to use this in our own StoryMap by continuously meeting with Hattie Whitehead and others working towards Linnentown’s redress. We used their feedback and suggestions to ensure that the story we were telling was helpful, accurate, and focused.
The point I want to make is that the work of people in GIS is important. It can inform people about issues that they were unaware of and inspire change based on their new knowledge. It can also provide evidence of reality to powerful people that have the resources to aid causes and fix problems. This is one of the first times that I have worked on a project with “real” data and the goal of being shared - the skills that I learned in classes prior to this only equipped me with technical skills. Community GIS requires the creator to be open-minded and adaptable. It is practical, it is effective, and it is real. It can back up the perspective of someone who may have gone a long time without it being taken seriously. In 2019, I went to the ESRI User Conference - an event hosted by the Environmental Systems Research Institute, a GIS company. They were launching a new campaign called “See What Others Can’t,” to promote the usefulness and potential of GIS. This phrase encompasses what I have learned in this class: when you can turn existing information into a compelling illustration, you are able to elicit worthwhile conversation and crucial change.
By Matt Cassada
Student in Community GIS, Spring 2022
When we initially started the 1958 Athens Census Mapping Project, I had initially a good idea of what I wanted to do since I noticed two distinct features with the Athens Census Mapping Data: population of the entire area along with businesses around the area. Next, I considered the timing of when this mapping took place which was in 1958. During this time, segregation was still a lingering issue across the Deep South, and this was true in both major urban and rural areas. Finally, I noticed that this mapping data also included major businesses around the Athens area and this included pretty much everything that was a business: federal businesses, food, entertainment, religious groups, and many more.
With these central ideas already placed for me, I decided upon the following observations:
With this plan, I decided to then form my central question/argument for the project which is: "Based on the location/concentration of either colored or non-colored owned businesses, does the population distribution of colored and non-colored residents seem different across Athens-Clark county area? Do you also see a population distribution difference based on if the particular resident was either a colored or non-colored resident? Is their a particular business that could be made out where we see the strongest correlation and is their one with the lowest correlation in relation to Athens population data and business location’s?"
With these questions in place, I then progressed into making my own maps. We all started with a excel/point data of the Athens 1958 Census Data, which we got thanks to cleaning out the initial data. I knew that I had to create two initial data sets just for the residents of the area I made two different point data sets, one for colored residents and one for non-colored residents. This proved to be easy since each resident is listed out if they are colored or non-colored residents. I then inputted the point data into ArcGIS and I then signaling out/deleting the data that was needed for each point set. Thus, when I did this, I ended up with two different point data sets for both colored and non-colored residents.
Initially, you do see some distribution differences in the point data. First, we see that the non-colored residents are more spread out across the Athens area and they are not as centralized. This is different for colored residents who were more centralized near downtown Athens and east of Athens. Colored residents were also less dispersed and more organized compared to non-colored residents. They we more organized in that they were more grouped together.
When it came to making the business points, I must first start off and say that given that data wasn't 100% complete. We still had some business points that were not complete and plenty of businesses that were not registered in the excel data. But I still pressed on with my maps since I still had just about over 300-400 businesses I could look at.
To make the point sets for the businesses, I first needed to make some distinctions between businesses. Since I wanted to look at what kind of businesses had the greatest correlation for residents, I needed to focus businesses out of each point data set and give them their own distinction. After looking through each business, I noticed four different business categories:
With these distinctions in place, I implemented the same overall process I did when it came for the residents in Athens. I cross referenced the points that were businesses and centered on those. I then went through each point individually to look at what category they would fall under based on the distinctions I made. I then repeated this process for all four different business categories.
Finally, when it came to patterns that I noticed with the businesses and its correspondence to residents, the one business I noticed that had the most central concentration was near religious businesses, like churches. The one business that had the least appeared to be food businesses, with very little shown correlation between the two for either resident.
In conclusion, this mapping project proved to be insightful to me. As someone who has never lived in Athens, its interesting to see how the demographics and businesses across the city has changed since the late 1950’s. This project showed not only how residential demographics has changed, but also how businesses across downtown Athens have shifted: from more of a rural area to a more college-themed town.