Mapping software goes the distance

Mapping software goes the distance<@VM>Apps have nonpartisan tools for redistricting<@VM>15 mapping tools plot a world of data types

Flexible functions take users off the beaten path


Off-the-shelf mapping software has become less expensive and more capable, a double plus for agencies that are finding ever more uses for mapping and analysis applications.

Caliper Corp.'s Maptitude includes nationwide street maps and census information, and it can locate data by address. It's priced at $395.
The most obvious uses are for actual navigation of an area, requiring the display of roads, rivers and other natural features'some even give point-to-point directions'and for defining political boundaries.

Maps also can show the locations of facilities, resources, assets and equipment. This is especially useful with hidden items such as water and sewer lines, gas pipes, electric wiring, and cable TV and fiber-optic conduits.

People show up on maps that illustrate population, housing, income, and families. Local government offices often need to display coverage areas for police, fire and health services. Mapping is an important tool for planning activities ranging from actual building and engineering projects to managing growth and change.

Mapping software's ability to support and perform analysis is becoming increasingly important in areas as diverse as crime statistics, educational demographics and congressional redistricting.

The software's development is reminiscent of word processing. Word processors, which once were essentially typewriters, now range from simple text editors to sophisticated publication packages. They can produce everything from plain text README files to book-length manuscripts with complex layouts, embedded computations and live links. You wouldn't want to produce an in-depth report in plain text any more than you'd want to harness a full office suite for taking notes.

The Lowdown

' What is it? Mapping software lets you create digital maps, add data for presentation or analysis, and manipulate boundaries.

' When would I need it? Mapping has become a lot more than identifying roads and rivers. If you have demographic or other statistical data that can be put in a geographic context, or if you have people, equipment or offices that are dispersed, you can use mapping software.

' What's the primary consideration in buying the software? Suitability to task. You want a product that can deliver what you want without extras you don't need. Also, consider who will use the maps you create. Take note of those users' platform requirements and database connectivity.

' What's the Web connection? If publishing maps to the Web, be sure the software can produce the interactive features you need.

' Must-know info? A higher price indicates a more powerful product but not necessarily the best answer to your problem. Less expensive software sometimes does a better job of simple mapping.

Mapping software is similar. Your first consideration is suitability to task. The product should be able to accomplish the specific jobs you have in mind without encumbering you with extensive, expensive and unnecessary capabilities.

Want what you pay for

How to decide what you need? Hand-draw a sample of what you want the result to look like, then look for software that can do the same.

The second consideration fits with the first: Don't overbuy. There are some excellent $2,000 geographic information systems'and some $200 systems that might be better for your purpose.

If you need the expensive software, as some agencies do, buy it. But if you go overboard, you might only be buying problems, such as proprietary operating systems, special hardware needs, additional training requirements and difficulties with integration.

Next, consider your audience: the people who will use the software and the people who will use the maps it produces. The key is complexity. Engineers who require extensive detail are different from citizens who require clarity and simplicity. If your audience is Web users, look for software with interactive features.

Finally, make sure the software has the special features you want. Do you require a product that specializes in hydrogeology? Or one that is general enough for many different tasks? Look for any special symbol sets you use, or capabilities such as 3-D representation.

Integration with databases that handle geographic information, such as Oracle, is also important, as is the ability to blend different types of information on the same map.
The Geological Survey has a collection of free mapping software that it has either developed, sponsored or acquired. Check out its offerings before you go shopping, if only to get an idea of what different kinds of software can do.

Edmund X. DeJesus of Norwood, Mass., writes about information technology. The 2000 census provides an enormous amount of data for analysis and planning. One of the most common uses for the data is redrawing of political boundaries, for reasons that range from changes in population or neighborhood makeup to political motivation.

Redistricting by hand is not only a nightmare of mind-numbing detail but is fraught with the prospect of opposition, because of the way politics can influence statistical interpretation.

ESRI's ArcView GIS includes a districting extension, which automates the redistricting process. The suite is priced at $1,500.
Mapping software can take away some of the burden.

Caliper Corp.'s Maptitude for Redistricting is a popular choice.

ESRI's ArcView geographic information system has an extension that automates the redistricting process.

The Districting Extension lets you manually move boundaries and instantly see the statistical result in table or chart format.

A redistricting wizard can automate the process even further.

You can set target values for quantities such as population for the software to optimize, and then view statistics of the results. This lets you create alternative redistricting scenarios.

Redistricting isn't only for once-a-decade census results, either.

Governments often need to consider changing boundaries for police and fire service coverage, zoning or tax assessments at any time. The right software can simplify moving the lines.

'Edmund X. DeJesus

Company Product Platforms Used for Features Price
Autodesk Inc.

San Rafael, Calif.


Map 2000
Win98, ME,

NT, 2000
Mapping Database connectivity,

raster support
Bentley Systems Inc.

Exton, Pa.


Win95, NT Road

Routing, manual and automatic modes, integrates with MicroStation $9,995

Win95, NT Parcel mapping,

Land survey input, manual and automatic modes,

integrates with MicroStation

Win95, NT Water supply

Automatic plan generation, integrates with MicroStation $9,995
Caliper Corp.

Newton, Mass.

Maptitude Win9x, ME,

NT, 2000
Geographic and demographic data Nationwide streets, census tracts, other types of data; can be located by address $395
Clark Labs

Clark University

Worcester, Mass.

Idrisi Win9x, NT,

Raster-based imaging and analysis Surface modeling,


Yarmouth, Maine

3-D TopoQuads Win9x, NT 3-D model of

United States
USGS raster data, road and topographic vector data $100
Xmap Business Win9x, ME,

NT, 2000
Street-level maps with

phone directory

Address-to-address routing, demographic information $100
Environmental Systems
Research Institute

Redlands, Calif.

ArcView GIS NT, Win 2000 Visualization

and analysis
Database integration, Web publishing $1,500
Intergraph Corp.

Huntsville, Ala.


NT, Win 2000 Visualization

and analysis
Database integration, projectmanagement $1,500 up
Manifold Net Ltd.

Carson City, Nev.


Win9x, NT,

2000, XP
Mapping and

Database connectivity,raster images, vector drawings, terrain surfaces $245
MapInfo Corp.

Troy, N.Y.


Win9x, NT,

Mapping and

Raster images, database

PCI Geomatics

Arlington, Va.


Win9x, NT,

2000; Unix

analysis and

File viewer, vector topological support, image processing $2,500
Softree Technical
Systems Inc.

West Vancouver, British Columbia

Terrain Tools Win9x, NT Mapping Image handling, surveying and forestry versions $179;


U.S. Geological Survey

Reston, Va.

GSMCAD Win 3.1,
Mapping Mapping application is one of many public-domain applications and software tools the Geological Survey maintains on its site Free


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