June 01, 2002

Leading the way with Geomatics - June 2002 article in Municipal World

Leading the Way with Geomatics

By George Lysenko

Geomatics is increasingly being recognized as a major player in the Information Technology Revolution. This specialized facet of information technology is the science of gathering, analyzing, interpreting, distributing and using geographic information. It encompasses a broad range of disciplines to create a detailed, but understandable picture of the physical world and our place in it. These disciplines include surveying and mapping, remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems.

What is a Geographic Information System (GIS)?

Simply put, GIS is digital mapping with intelligence. It is a computer technology that brings together all types of information based on geographic location for analysis and generation of maps and reports. York Region's GIS provides a means to share data and a method of visualizing geographic related problems and their solutions.

Traditionally geographic information -- such as municipal parcels, proposed plans of subdivision, forest lands, street centre lines and police and school facilities -- is not available to the public without paying substantial fees. These are usually in the tens of thousands of dollars.

However, current research indicates that making geographic information more accessible to businesses or other government organizations at an affordable price will stimulate economic growth, enabling everyone, including residents, to benefit.

Last November, York Region launched an "information gateway" initiative that is providing private and public sectors with affordable access to geographic information. It is serving as a model for other municipal governments across the province and perhaps the country.

Through the gateway initiative, York Region charges a nominal annual licensing fee from $295 for a data CD to up to $5,195 to commercial data resellers. These fees are comparably more affordable, covering the Region's dissemination costs. The majority of requests for York Region geographic information come from engineering, environmental and planning consulting firms, real estate agencies and the utility industry.

Based in the Planning and Development Services Department, York Region's Geomatics Division collects, develops and maintains large databases of geographic information to support Regional programs and services and YorkInfo partners (see below). The information includes hundreds of geographic layers and their associated databases, including streets, parcel fabric, administrative boundaries, natural features, infrastructure and digital aerial orthophotography. This information is of great value to other government agencies and businesses as they recognize the importance of integrating accurate geospatial information into decision-making and policy planning.

A key objective of the Geomatics Division is to take a lead role in making geographic information, technology, products and support readily accessible within the Region and to its external clients.

Pioneering Project

Earlier this spring, York Region announced it was pioneering a project that will provide current, accurate and consistent digital orthophotography and digital terrain data for York and Peel Regions.

Digital orthophotography is aerial photographs corrected for distortion, geographically positioned, and delivered in digital format. Digital terrain data are ground elevation data representing the complexities of shape and behaviour of the earth's surface. The quality of the geographic information products can support the capture of municipal infrastructure details such as structures and transportation features, land use information, and vegetation and other natural resource data.

Historically, the Ontario Base Mapping (OBM) program provided consistent geographic data for the Province. With the increasing demands for this information, the accuracy and content of the OBM does not meet the needs of municipalities. By default, some municipalities became responsible for developing their own geographic data that often led to inconsistent geographic data across the province.

The York Region project will generate digital orthophotography and digital terrain data for a wide variety of provincial, federal, municipal, conservation authority and other public/private sector initiatives. These products will ensure that all agencies associated with land use planning activities across the project area will be working with updated, consistent information from which to base critical planning and land use decisions. Strategic decision making in the areas of transportation and works, growth management and the environment will be strengthened by the availability of this information. The project will also support York's Transportation Master Plan, Greening Strategy, Growth Management Plans and Oak Ridges Moraine Partnership.

York GIS recognized with Award of Excellence

Last September, the Environmental System Research Institute (ESRI) of Canada presented York Region's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with its 2001 Award of Excellence. The award recognizes leadership and innovation in the delivery of geographic information and technology services.

The Region was primarily recognized for its YorkInfo Partnership initiative, which has gained widespread recognition within the GIS profession, as well as among municipalities within Ontario and Canada. Through data, application and resource sharing, this Partnership has facilitated and strengthened the respective GIS initiatives of the Region and its partners. They include five York Region lower-tier municipalities, the York Region District and York Catholic School Boards, the Lake Simcoe Region and Toronto and Region Conservation Authorities and a number of provincial ministries.

Alliances have also been forged with organizations outside the Region, including the former Greater Toronto Services Board and the Oak Ridges Moraine Partnership.

Working together for better data

The Ministry of Natural Resources, through the Land Information Ontario Initiative is responsible for providing provincial coordination and direction for land-related information across the province, and is the lead coordinator for the formation of investment partnerships supporting this project. The geographic scope of this project requires a significant number of funding partners in order to be successful.

The Province of Ontario, along with York and Peel Regions, have made financial commitments that will cover the project in the two Regions. The cities of Hamilton, Kawartha Lakes and Toronto, The Regional Municipalities of Durham, Halton and Niagara, and the Counties of Dufferin, Northumberland, Peterborough and Simcoe are being encouraged to participate. Because this kind of data mapping is increasingly becoming critical, particularly for environmental issues, we can expect to see a significant growth of such initiatives across Canada.

George Lysenko is Director of the Geomatics Division at The Regional Municipality of York. He can be reached at 1-877-464-9675, ext. 1529 or via e-mail at george.lysenko@region.york.on.ca

The Regional Municipality of York is committed to providing cost-effective, quality services that respond to the needs of our rapidly growing communities.  York Region is comprised of the following nine area municipalities:  Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Whitchurch-Stouffville.  For more information, visit our Web site at:  www.region.york.on.ca

Contact: Patrick Casey, Senior Media Relations Specialist, York Region

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