About GIS

A Geographic Information System or GIS is sometimes thought of as a computer based mapping system. Each theme is put into a separate layer, and layers are overlaid on each other as the cartographer or GIS user makes the map. Items that are commonly found on hard copy maps can be drawn and displayed on a computer screen.  However, the ability to view map information on a screen is just the tip of the GIS iceberg.

GIS integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. GIS allows us to view, understand, interpret, and visualize data and is a tool for City analyzers, planners, and decision makers. Simple geographic analysis includes determining where things are, what is near them, and what sorts of database information is associated with them.  GIS can also do complex geographic analysis, including modeling and forecasting. GIS thus is a powerful tool useful to many City departments.

Some examples of GIS use in Cambridge include:

  • Community Development Department making planning decisions, analyzing zoning requirements, and managing open space by using maps, analysis tools, and now 3D models.
  • The Police Department uses GIS for crime analysis, forecasting crime trends for better policing, and easy to understand crime reporting to residents.

  • Cambridge Water Department uses the infrastructure layers for capital planning, maintenance, and hydraulic modeling.

  • Inspectional Services has integrated GIS with their new permitting system for creating work orders, field inspections, and organizing records.

  • The Public Works City Arborist uses mobile GIS to inventory the City trees, plan for planting and maintenance, and offer residents a mobile app to visit and learn about the trees on their own.

  • Traffic and Parking is working with GIS to map crash locations, traffic counts, traffic patterns, and enforcement.

  • The Assessors office use GIS for analysis of real estate trends and property values.

  • Cambridge Watershed monitors the City's public drinking water supply which is outside the City, and also uses GIS to help manage Fresh Pond Reservation.

The Information Technology Department (ITD) is responsible for the successful implementation of GIS technology throughout the City departments. These responsibilities include:

  • Empowering departments through the provision of GIS infrastructure including data access, hardware, software, and Web tools.
  • GIS data procurement, development of new data sets, and maintenance strategies.

  • The development of computer applications that will provide quick and easy access to GIS functions.

  • Provide GIS to the public through a thoughtful and innovative approach.
  • The development of high quality map products including planimetric, topographic, thematic, and custom maps.

  • Departmental support for spatial data analysis using GIS.
  • Integrating Cambridge GIS with other enterprise systems such as permitting, work orders, and public safety.
  • User training and technical support, and encouragement.
  • Management and maintenance of the City's master address database. 

  • Providing the public with current GIS data through open data initiatives.