ArcGIS Online is rapidly emerging as the platform of choice for the creation and dissemination of authoritative geographic data content. This Living Atlas of the World is a highly active network of contributors and curators whose output is accessed billions of times monthly. This chapter explains how this unique data ecosystem works, how to access that data, and how to contribute your own piece to the puzzle.
The Living Atlas of the World is a treasure trove of information, a dynamic collection of thousands of maps, data, imagery, tools, and apps produced by ArcGIS users worldwide (and by Esri and its partners). Think of it as the curated subset of ArcGIS Online as a whole, organized by the ArcGIS community. This deep and definitive catalog of information awaits you. And that’s the big idea of this chapter, that you can combine content from this repository with your own data to create powerful new maps and applications.
The Living Atlas represents the collective work of the entire mapping community—the people who use the ArcGIS platform as the system of record for their work. As such, it is fast emerging as the extensive and most authoritative source of geographically referenced information on the planet.
Hunting down good data used to involve a lot of work just to get a GIS project started. These days, using ready-made basemaps and authenticated data from ArcGIS Online, GIS analysts are able to spend more time thinking analytically, which really gets to the heart of what makes Web GIS work.
The mission of every GIS organization is to perform specific functions within its jurisdiction. Each of these departments, groups, or agencies is committed to building key authoritative data layers to support its work. This work includes the compilation of foundational data layers as well as standard basemap layers for their geographies and applications.
For such organizations—and they are myriad in local, regional, state, and national levels around the globe—this information has served as the basis for all of their comprehensive GIS applications. During the early days of GIS, the compilation of these data layers was one of the primary tasks of each organization. As this data was developed, GIS data developers were able to leverage their information resources in various kinds of GIS applications that extend their own work and help their constituents.
The result is that all these different agencies have created data that is considered, in legal terms, a system of record maintained to support their mandated domain. The pace of migrating this data into Web GIS is increasing, and we are now seeing much content coming online that fills in gaps for the entire world. The result is a continuous coverage of geographic information worldwide—the Web GIS of the world.
This category contains maps and layers that describe the systems that people use to move between places. It includes a variety of global, national, and local maps on various topics from infrastructure projects to rest areas. Some of these layers are dynamic, such as the live World Traffic map, which is updated every few minutes with data on traffic incidents and congestion.
A basemap provides a reference map for your world and a context for the content you want to display in a map. When you create a new map, you can choose which basemap you want to use. Change the basemap of your current map at any time by choosing from the basemap gallery or using your own basemap.
The evolution of basemaps has quietly changed life for the everyday mapping professional. They make it easy to create most maps. Billions of ArcGIS maps utilizing these basemaps are created and shared every week. There are several key concepts to understand about basemaps. They are multiscale and continuous and provide global coverage.
This means that as you zoom into or out of a map, the features and detail that you see change. The ArcGIS basemap collection is continuous in scale. Zoom from the entire planet into the details of your neighborhood and down to a single property parcel.
These maps cover the entire surface of the earth. Basemap coverage and levels of detail are improving each day as more data is added to the system.
This means they never stop; basemaps wrap around the surface of the earth.
This data about populations includes the basics, like age and ethnicity, but also peoples’ wealth and health, their spending habits, and their politics. ArcGIS includes many hundreds of demographic variables that are accessible as maps, reports, and raw data that you can use to enrich your own maps.
The idea of data enrichment means that you can associate or append demographics to your local geography. This ability to combine your existing data with demographic variables specific to the problem being studied has opened a whole new avenue for everyone, not just consumer marketers, but epidemiologists, political scientists and sociologists and really any professional who wants to better understand a certain segment of human population.
Demographers often want to understand populations not only in the current time but also into the future. How will a given population group change over time? The art of forecasting current-year estimates based on the decennial US Census, for example, is something that is very carefully conducted by the demographic experts at Esri.
Accurate current-year estimates and five-year projections for US demographics, including households, income, and housing.
Detailed descriptions of residential neighborhoods, including demographics, lifestyle data, and economic factors divided into 67 segments.
Includes thousands of items that consumers want. The Market Potential Index (MPI) measures consumer behaviors by area compared to the US average.
Business Locations and Business Summary data from Dun & Bradstreet. Provides sales, employee information, industry classification, and more.
Statistics about major categories of personal and property crime. Includes information about assault, burglary, and more.
Census and American Community Survey (ACS) data used to analyze the impact of population changes on services and sites.
Data about products and services consumers are buying. Includes apparel, food and beverage, entertainment, and household goods and services.
Direct comparison between retail sales and consumer spending by industry. Measures the gap between supply and demand.
Statistics for thousands of major shopping centers, collected by the Directory of Major Malls. Includes name, total sales, and more.
Peak and low traffic volume of vehicles that cross a certain point or street location. Contains more than one million points.
Esri Demographics includes global datasets that range from population and lifestyles to consumer spending and traffic counts.
Recent demographics about total population, family size, household income, education, marital status, household type, unemployment, and more.
Total amount spent and amount spent per capita for categories such as food, clothing, household, medical, electronics, and more.
Open Data allows organizations to use the ArcGIS platform to provide the public with open access to their geospatial data. Organizations use ArcGIS Online to create their own website and specify Open Data groups to share specific items. The general public can use Open Data sites to search by topic or location, download data in multiple formats, and view data on an interactive map and in a table. Here are some examples.
ArcGIS Open Data community provides direct access to thousands of open government datasets. Citizens can search, download, filter, and visualize this data through their web browser or mobile device.
As part of Halifax’s commitment to improving citizen engagement and enhancing transparency and accountability to its residents, the municipality provides public access to its datasets. The Halifax Open Data Catalogue is now a permanent service provided for citizens and businesses alike.
D3 believes that direct and practical use of data by grassroots leaders and public officials promotes thoughtful community building and effective policymaking. As a “one-stop-shop” for data about the city and metro area, D3 provides unprecedented opportunities for collaboration and capacity building in Southeast Michigan.
At the most basic level, imagery is simply pictures of the earth. Imagery can be immediate or taken across multiple time spans enabling us to measure and monitor change. Every image contains massive amounts of information and can be one of the most immediate ways to collect data.
When it’s integrated with GIS, imagery encompasses a broad collection of data about our world in the form of pictures from above—taken by satellites from space, aircraft flying over our cities, and collected by other sensors. Imagery represents the earth in digital pictures composed of millions of pixels. Satellite and aerial images are geo-referenced pictures that overlay focused areas of our planet.
Because imagery sees the earth in unique ways, this enables us to both view and analyze our world using multiple perspectives. Depending on the satellite’s sensors, imagery can provide access to both visible light as well as to invisible aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum. This enables us to interpret what we can’t see with the naked eye. We can visibly observe the presence or absence of water, classes of land cover and urbanization, the occurrence of certain minerals, human disturbance, vegetation health, changes in ice and water coverage, and a multitude of other factors. Imagery even enables us to automate the generation of 3D views of our planet.
Because the imagery collection is immediate, it enables us to monitor and measure change over time.
Landscape analysis underpins our efforts to plan land use, engage in natural resource management, and better understand our relationship with the environment. Esri has taken the best available data from many public data sources and provided the content in an easy-to-use GIS collection of datasets.
The map layers in this group provide information about natural systems, plants and animals, and the impacts and implications of human use of those resources that define the landscape of the United States and the rest of the world.
There’s a notion that the more you put on the map, the better the map, but there’s a case where the opposite is true. Put two patterns together and you’ll discover a third. Pile on too much and you can’t discover a pattern at all.
The simple phrase “understanding precedes action” was an off-the-cuff remark I made that resonated as a truism, so the phrase stuck. Here’s an example that illustrates why it’s an important idea.
As cities incur more traffic, they add more freeways and highways. Yet does that actually solve the problem? Or does it spur the purchase of more cars, further crowding on freeways, while we consume fuel and generate more pollution? Adding more lanes only invites more traffic. The problem wasn’t understood, but action was taken anyway.
Understanding precedes action. This is at the heart of the Urban Observatory, a longtime dream recently realized with the help of my friends at Esri. It’s a simple idea. Yet simple is not necessarily reductive or dumbed down. In fact, it can be edifying. That’s how I see it. And GIS is the key to this kingdom. It transforms mapping into a universal language and gives you the opportunity to ask questions and find answers visually. In fact, GIS allows us to ask better questions.
ArcGIS includes a Living Atlas of the World with beautiful and authoritative maps and layers on hundreds of topics. These maps are shared by Esri, our partners, and members of the ArcGIS user community. You can help enrich the Living Atlas by sharing your maps and apps. The Living Atlas is curated so you can find high quality information for your ArcGIS applications.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, located just west of Las Vegas, welcomes more than one million visitors a year. It offers a variety of hiking trails ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The hot, arid climate in Nevada combined with the rugged terrain makes hiking in the area particularly dangerous.
As park ranger, public safety is your primary job. In an effort to educate your visitors as to what difficulty they’ll be confronting on the hiking trail, your goal is to deploy a web application on several kiosk computers in the visitor center. In addition to the basic trail routes and their difficulty ratings, your map will deliver more. For one thing, showing the terrain in highly visual relief (not possible with standard basemaps) will highlight a sense of the topography. Also, the map will reveal additional relevant information via pop-ups about each trail with a click. And with those clicks, the app will also display a graphic profile that shows the elevation gains and losses for the entire length of the trail.