Across the country GIS is being used by county governments to inform policy. The King County GIS Center is a leader in integrating GIS into county business processes.
AGS was able to sit down with Greg Babinski, Marketing and Business Development Manager for King County GIS, to talk about the ways King County uses GIS to change the way local government approaches problems.
King County extends from Puget Sound inland to the crest of the Cascade Mountains and includes a population of about 2.3 million people. Most of the population lives within around 30% of the county’s total area- the western strip along Puget Sound that includes cities such as Seattle and Bellevue.
King County identifies four priority areas to focus on: equity and social justice, regional mobility, climate change, and being the “best-run government.” Most GIS Center activity supports these priorities with maps, geographic data, geospatial analysis, and other applications to help inform county decision-making processes and put GIS-based tools in the hands of end-users.
Given King County’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean as well as the recent extreme 2021 summer heatwave, climate change is a hot topic in the Pacific Northwest. To mitigate climate change, King County set a goal to plant 3 million trees by 2025. The project was off to a great start, but GIS data analysis revealed that trees were being planted in areas that already had trees. In response, they created a dashboard of all of the trees being planted along with an optional Equity & Social Justice layer to see where vulnerable communities live (communities with low walkability, no parks, less green space, among other factors). Understanding the spatial distributions of trees, the team was better able to direct efforts to focus on areas with less tree-density. The intersection of social justice and climate change was on full display and geospatial technology allowed officials to identify an environmental injustice, and then work to ameliorate it. In the future, the team hopes to extend this technology so homeowners will be able to see how their properties contribute to climate change.
The King County GIS Center offers GIS services to customers both inside and outside of county government. This includes a wealth of free and open geographic data and tools like King County iMap to explore the data. Additionally, King County offers resources to help make GIS more accessible to people who are not traditionally trained in the software. The first of these resources is their blog, GIS and You. This blog is directed toward people who are new to geography and seeks to educate them about the tools available to them. Lastly, King County offers classes in GIS that teach not only introductory processes but more in-depth applications specific to local government, such as their course: GIS for Equity and Social Justice. These courses teach attendees some ways to “lead with equity,” a strong priority of King County.
King County has proven to be a trailblazer of local governments using GIS applications to improve society. In 2020 alone they won two prestigious awards: the ESRI Special Achievement in GIS Award and the Geospatial Excellence Catalyst Award from the National States Geographic Information Council.
You can visit the King County GIS Center website here: https://kingcounty.gov/services/gis.aspx
Read some of Greg’s work on EthicalGeo: https://ethicalgeo.org/greg-babinski/