Enhancements to NYCityMap
New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications
United States

The Problem

Since 2006, New York City’s interactive online map portal, NYCityMap, has been an invaluable resource for New Yorkers including City employees and other interested individuals to get timely information about the City. Although the current version of the mapping application provides a single access point to many of the numerous City location-based applications and services, a few years ago that was not the case. Users now have a more complete view of City services, transportation options, and building and neighborhood data by providing the locations of schools, day care centers, senior centers, libraries, hospitals, subways, and more, as well as links to Web sites for these facilities. The mapping application can be navigated either by entering a specific address or simply using zoom and scroll tools, similar to other online map applications.

In 2009, DoITT’s Geographic Information Systems Unit recognized significant challenges with NYCityMap. Although the map worked adequately, the underlying technology and architecture needed a re-thinking and needed to be reinvented. The application was hobbled by a singular focus of purpose without the possibility of reuse or extensibility. DoITT correctly recognized that if continued, an inordinate amount of resources would be required to meet future City mapping needs. As previously mentioned, the application was not easy to extend; and adding additional data sets from City agencies was labor intensive and time consuming. Even updating the base map images used as the underlying map of the application proved too difficult and problematic. Given the environment, some agencies were passive and therefore less than enthusiastic about providing new data sets choosing instead to develop their own applications, adding significant cost to the City in terms of real dollars and lost opportunity in application reusability. A new solution needed to be developed for NYCityMap that would enhance the Bloomberg Administrations efforts towards transparency and efficiency by making City data available and contribute to the rapid development of Web applications by other city agencies. As a result, a hybrid solution using open source and in-house written software was developed and implemented that was intended to meet the needs of today and well into the future.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The initiative was to reinvent the technology behind NYCityMap to make it extendable and re-useable, so that it could accommodate the explosion of additional City agency data sets and foster the rapid development of more targeted agency applications. NYCityMap 2.0 is based on a reusable framework called Webmap. Webmap uses GeoServer, an open source, standards-compliant software server, to publish geospatial data from multiple sources, in multiple formats from within City government. In addition, WebMap utilizes GeoWebCache, a java map cache application that is used for rendering large vector data sets as image caches to improve overall performance. Lastly, the Dojo Toolkit is leveraged, which provides JavaScript tools for creating rich, interactive Web applications. Using open source software and City staff helped reduce the overall cost of the effort directly saving money on licensing costs and indirectly through increased overall efficiencies by the development and use of standards-compliant reusable software.

As a result of this effort, and in recognition that the use of a geographic interface was a useful way to view data, not only did the amount of City data and information on NYCityMap expand greatly, but also the number of agency applications built using the Webmap framework increased. For users, who know have the ability view City data in a more usable format, the benefit was greater consistency across the mapping applications developed by NYC. This is due to the fact that a common base map cache and set of tools provide a similar look and feel across all NYC agency mapping applications making it easier for the public to navigate through these applications.

For example, the Webmap framework supports the Street Conditions Observation Unit, dubbed NYC*SCOUT, which comprises inspectors in the Mayor’s Office of Operations. Citizens can click on locations in NYC*SCOUT and view reports on problems like graffiti or potholes, when the complaints were filed, which city departments will handle them, and whether the problem has been resolved. The framework also supported NYCStat Stimulus Tracker, which allows the public to view maps of where in the City federal stimulus dollars are allocated. For other agencies, DoITT built domain-specific City map implementations. For example, ZoLa (the Zoning and Land Use Application) is the Department of City Planning's web-based Geographic Information Systems application that provides the public with up-to-date zoning and related information for New York City. Similarly, in February, 2011, the City launched an interactive map allowing anybody to view ‘311’ complaints that have been filed in the last year but remain unresolved, or that have been resolved in the last five days. Users can search the site to see complaints in 15 categories, like noise and public safety, and can search the complaints by address or zip code. Most recently, working in conjunction with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Mayor’s Office of Citywide Events Management, NYCityMap has been extended so that motorists have access to street closure information and visitors and residents have more access to information about special events happening in their communities.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The solution was proposed and implemented by the Geographic Information Systems Unit within the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) is the New York City’s Information Technology (IT) utility, ensuring the sustained, efficient delivery of IT services, infrastructure and telecommunications. Included among these responsibilities DoITT establishes the City’s IT strategic direction, designs and implements security policies and standards and maintains Geographic Information Systems including the city’s spatial data holdings, collectively known as NYCMap and the online application NYCityMap.

The stakeholders included all of the customers who utilize the City's wealth of GIS information including the public and other city agencies that can leverage this data to support City operations, analysis, policy making, and public safety.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The main objective of the initiative was to reinvent the existing NYCityMap technology to make it both extensible and reusable while at the same time not affecting overall performance. In other words, DoITT’s Geographical Information Systems Unit had to ensure that anything that was built would ensure future growth while at the same time would not affect current functionality. That is, future extensions could be made through the addition of new functionality and/or through simple modifications of the exiting NYCityMap. The main concept of this effort was that any future change would have minimum impact of the existing system, and would require minimal development effort.

One of the strategies put forward to achieve this was to create a reusable framework called Webmap based on an open source, standards-compliant software server called GeoServer. This enabled DOITT GIS to publish and consume geospatial data from multiple sources and in multiple formats from other entities. In addition, since the rendering of large vector data sets can result in the degradation of performance on an application the GIS Unit determined that using GeoWebCache, a java map cache application, to generate caches of large data sets would improve overall performance. The last strategic decision was to use the Dojo Toolkit which provides JavaScript tools for creating rich interactive Web applications.

In summary the use of open source software and City staff helped reduce the overall cost of the effort directly saving money on licensing costs and indirectly through increased overall efficiencies by the development and use of standards-compliant reusable software.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Since the redesign of the architecture behind NYCityMap in 2007, the development of new applications and solutions has been both iterative and incremental. The first significant application that utilized the enhanced framework was the Citywide Performance Reporting (CPR) application in 2008. The Citywide Performance Reporting (CPR) tool represents a collection of critical performance measures for service from more than 40 New York City agencies. In addition to providing statistical and other information on performance measures, CPR also provided for graphical representation of agency performance, including color-coded charts and graphs to make patterns, relationships and trends easy to discern. More importantly, CPR also included a Performance Mapping Report that enabled the public to view this performance data for many agencies. (http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/cpr/html/performance/performance.shtml)

Another key development in this initiative was DoITT GIS’ support of the Street Conditions Observation Unit (SCOUT) within the NYC Mayor’s Office of Operations. SCOUT works to improve quality of life in City neighborhoods and make City government more responsive to conditions that can negatively affect NYC residents. SCOUT inspectors drive every City street at least once per month in search of problems like missing traffic signs, graffiti on buildings, and other visually-identifiable street conditions. SCOUT inspectors check conditions and report their findings while they are on the scene. The 15 SCOUT inspectors are drawn from six City agencies: Environmental Protection, Transportation, Sanitation, Buildings, Parks and Recreation, and Citywide Administrative Services. Inspectors send information directly to ‘311,’ which notifies the appropriate agency. These conditions are mapped by location and available for queries by the public on NYCityMap.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Like many IT projects there were a number of significant obstacles that were encountered along the way that needed to be overcome. Although there were a number of technical, operational and procedural obstacles, the most challenging one was how to proceed and address all these given limited resources. Given a tight fiscal climate with significant budget constraints, innovation became the key catalyst driving the GIS Unit towards overcoming these obstacles. Limited resources require creative thinking which in turn drives innovation.

For example, pre-existing GIS Information Technology architecture which consisted primarily of commercial software was replaced with an open-source standards-compliant software. Using open source software and City staff helped reduce the overall cost of the effort directly saving money on licensing costs and indirectly through increased overall efficiencies by the development and use of standards-compliant reusable software.

A second method of overcoming these challenges was DoITT‘s implementation and adherence to the guidelines and rules associated with project management. All GIS programs, projects and initiatives are managed within DoITT’s Project Management Office (PMO) and are regularly monitored by their respective project teams and stakeholders. The GIS and PMO apply industry recognized best practices to help guide and implement these projects, and strive to decrease costs while delivering the highest quality products for all.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
There were no significant outside procurements of technical or human resources; all resources for this initiative were “in-house” to New York City, specifically DoITT’s GIS Unit. As described in prior sections, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) is New York City’s Information Technology (IT) utility. DoITT’s mission is ensuring the sustained, efficient delivery of IT services, infrastructure and telecommunications and as such is empowered to take a leadership role on all GIS initiatives. Resources were mobilized using standard project management methods including the creation of project teams and included the participation of stakeholders. In addition to human and technical resources utilized within the DoITT’s GIS Unit, all of these successful mapping applications relied on the skill sets of agency GIS staff members.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Since 2008, the rearchitected NYCityMap has been leveraged in many New York City GIS initiatives and supported a number of internal and external facing applications for many agencies including those related to major events or issues concerning New Yorkers and visitors. From agency performance analytics to zoning and land use information, NYCityMap provides the visual capability to locate information about services and facilities provided in New York City. Since the underlying technology used to sustain this initiative is so highly utilized it can undoubtedly be used as a paradigm for other municipalities and countries to show similar services and information.
Some examples of public-facing DoITT and other agency applications associated with the NYCityMap are below:
Application URL
NYCityMap http://gis.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap
311 SR Map http://www.nyc.gov/apps/311srmap/
311 Facility Finder
SCOUT http://gis.nyc.gov/moo/scout
Park Locator http://gis.nyc.gov/parks/lc/
SPEED – Searchable Property Environmental Electronic Database https://gis.nyc.gov/moer/speed
NYCHA Interactive Map http://gis.nyc.gov/nycha/im
Green Infrastructure http://gis.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/template?applicationName=GREEN_INFRA
DOT Map http://gis.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/template?applicationName=DOT
ZoLa http://gis.nyc.gov/zola
Hurricane Evacuation Zone Finder http://gis.nyc.gov/oem/he
Cooling Center Finder http://gis.nyc.gov/oem/cc
Rat Information Portal http://gis.nyc.gov/doh/rip
NYCStat http://www.nyc.gov/html/ops/cpr/html/performance/performance.shtml
Poletop Manager https://gis.nyc.gov/doitt/pt

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The impact of NYCityMap on New York City, its businesses and visitors cannot be overstated. New Yorkers live in a city where access to real-time relevant information is critical. The ability to provide diverse data from many agencies in a map-based format is critical to the quality of life and economic vitality of all New Yorkers and visitors.

The biggest lesson learned is that DoITT must continually innovate and upgrade our NYCityMap infrastructure to anticipate and accommodate peak utilization periods. For example, in preparation for Hurricane Irene in August, 2011 it became clear that although the infrastructure of the GIS systems on NYC.gov were adequate on a day-to- day basis, during critical periods, an upgrade was in order. As a result a number of steps have been taken to increase capacity of NYC.gov and GIS applications to accommodate peak periods. This includes leveraging cloud-based caching providers and the increasing server memory to improve throughput and performance for these GIS applications.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Colin Reilly
Title:   Director, Geographic Information Systems  
Telephone/ Fax:   212.232.1126
Institution's / Project's Website:   http://www.nyc.gov/citymap
E-mail:   creilly@doitt.nyc.gov  
Address:   2 Metrotech, 4th floor
Postal Code:   11201
City:   Brooklyn
State/Province:   New York
Country:   United States

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