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Science, Health, Tech

Two years into citywide data system, Newark extols transparency

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A screenshot of Newark's GIS gallery: Zoning districts.

Several First State cities have been using data mapping systems to enhance communication and transparency between residents and the city government.

Two years into the use of a citywide Geographic Information System, City of Newark officials think communication is improving between residents and the municipality.

Communications Manager Kelly Bachman said the system has been particularly useful in letting residents know what electoral district they live in, snow emergency routes, trash pickup times and other city services.

“We’ve definitely been able to provide it as a tool for residents to have easier access to information that we understand to be important to them based on feedback we’ve received and phone calls we get,” Bachman said.

It also benefits city workers. If there is a water main break, city employees could use the system to figure out where the break occurred and the necessary steps to fix it.

“It allows us to make smarter decisions and be more efficient from the back-end of things as it relates our water and electric infrastructure and the utilities that we provide to residents,” Bachman said.

Newark Water Operations Superintendent Mark Neimeister said the system has given the public works department accurate information of all the assets it maintains: stormwater, water and sanitary sewer. Just three weeks ago, the city was able to digitize its water distribution system — the last system waiting to be added to the GIS.

"It gives us an idea of what we can track and accurately locate [water issues]," Neimeister said. "When it comes to capital project planning, we can make better, smarter decisions."

Neimeister said the department used to track data with Microsoft Excel and other programs, but the GIS allows for more efficient information tracking.

It is part of a push for greater transparency, but Bachman acknowledged it doesn’t eliminate the need for face-to-face or phone communication between city employees and the people they serve.

“Our doors are always open,” Bachman said. “We’re always willing to take phone calls and we certainly have plenty of residents who still need to stop by and make phone calls.”

Bachman said the GIS portal is also equipped with video tutorials for residents who are not tech savvy.

The city plans to expand its portal, hoping to improve its capacity as a two-way communications tool. Bachman said she hopes the residents see the city as proactive.

Dover and Georgetown are among other Delaware cities also using GIS mapping.

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