America’s Cities are Inspiring What’s Next

Elected officials hold unique vantage points within our communities, as they represent not just city leaders, but citizens, as well as participants in the global economy. These perspectives can often vary — especially between constituents, fellow elected officials, and private sector partners.

Such subtle differences in point of view can result in inefficiencies and missed opportunities. However, by tapping into real data and using technology, we have the ability to translate this information into a visual form that helps create a mutual understanding, leading to a realization of the broader perspective.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) can be an effective tool in creating a common language around complex data. Geographically mapping datasets provides a means of communicating a story, in which we can interpret the past and gain insight into the future.

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Esri is the leader in the GIS services community, helping to identify and address a magnitude of issues spanning from economic development to biodiversity conservation to public safety. This year, I had the privilege of attending their annual User Conference, which is held every summer in San Diego, CA. The conference brought together over 18,000 attendees from more than 130 countries.

Not having a formal background in mapping or data science, I was worried that I would feel isolated among the technologists, cartographers and GIS professionals. But instead, I quickly realized I was in the company of the curious, the motivated, and the explorative — from every industry, across both the private and public sectors.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Inspiring What’s Next.’ As Jack Dangermond, Esri founder and CEO, walked the audience through the meaning behind this maxim, he emphasized the connectivity of our communities, on both a local and global scale. He stressed the importance of thinking about what’s next for each of us—individually and organizationally—and more urgently, what’s next for us as a highly interconnected planet.

As his company embarks upon its 49th year of operations, Mr. Dangermond implored us to keep pushing forward. Esri continues to work on their vision of “what’s next” with 3D mapping capabilities, augmented reality and the living atlas.

During my time at the conference, I heard countless “what’s next” stories stemming from the power of geographic mapping. Some examples include:

  • A group of high school students who were inspired to create an app where disadvantaged members of their community can find access to food, shelter, and clothing in real time.
  • A mayor in West Virginia who couldn’t fully grasp the reality of his city’s opioid crisis until seeing the overdoses mapped out across his community.
  • An NGO tackling global hunger by mapping food production sites and using predictive technology to pinpoint productive land which isn’t being utilized.

Using GIS, we have the power to shift perspectives, identify local priorities and take collective action to find solutions to issues within our communities. By mapping out city datasets, trends and patterns in social inequities become apparent and irrefutable. In turn, community planning and development can become more thoughtful, equitable and focused.

GIS technology can solve issues as simple as finding ideal locations for additional bike trails, to more complex problems like public safety concerns around failing infrastructure. Cities and their leaders are able to see their communities through a new lens to identify unique challenges, create understanding, and promote cooperation across departments and community members.

City leaders have always been on the forefront of “what’s next” with their unique position to help shape the future of our communities. The world is changing at an exponential rate and like Jack Dangermond, I believe that if we want to keep up then now is the time to accelerate: our learning, our collaboration and our action.

Learn more about Esri and the power of GIS by visiting

IMG_9341a.jpgAbout the author: Lauren Bradley is the program manager for strategic partnerships and development at the National League of Cities.