How Smart Cities Use Geospatial Tech

One component of smart city innovation many municipalities are experimenting with is geospatial technology

By Mary Velan


The term "smart city" is becoming more popular as municipalities invest in new technologies and policies designed to deliver public services more efficiently. This means municipalities not only operate to do more with less, but also know how to accurately meet the evolving needs of the community - which more often than not includes sharing information with the public to increase transparency and accessibility.

One component of smart city innovation many municipalities are experimenting with is geospatial technology. Because smart cities are working to offer sustainable support for urban development and economic growth, location information is vital to that process.

What is Geospatial Tech?

Geospatial technology is a multidisciplinary field that includes a wide array of location-based capabilities including:
  • Surveying
  • Photogrammetry
  • Remote sensing
  • Internet mapping
  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Global positioning system (GPS)

The U.S. Department of Labor defines geospatial tech as "an information technology field of practice that acquires, manages, interprets, integrates, displays, analyzes, or otherwise uses data focusing on the geographic, temporal and spatial context." To break that down, geospatial technology collects data from sensors within a community and spatially references it so users can understand and apply the information.

Many municipalities are using geospatial technology to improve services and operations by increasing speed, accuracy and cost-effectiveness of projects. Geospatial technology has been applied to initiatives across all fields and city departments including:

  • Law enforcement
  • Healthcare
  • Transportation
  • Urban planning
  • Disaster recovery
  • Environmental initiatives
  • Social services
  • Facility management

The goal of these projects is to address urban problems while spatially enabling citizens with important information. The built environment becomes a living, breathing entity that can respond intelligently to new information or community needs thanks to real-time data analysis and connected information systems.

City of Hamilton

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, adopted a geographic information system (GIS) platform in 2013 and has since launched several mapping apps to facilitate more efficient data and service delivery, while enhancing citizen engagement. For its use of GIS technology, Hamilton received an Award of Excellence in GIS from Esri Canada.

Two years ago, the City’s Public Works Department evaluated ArcGIS Online to see how the cloud-based platform could be used in their operations. They attended the Esri International User Conference and were struck by the overwhelming number of apps that could be developed with the technology. Inspired by what they had seen, they worked with Esri Canada’s Professional Services team to revamp Hamilton’s online engineering records system. In 2014, the City retired its homegrown plans and records system and launched SPIDER (Spatially Indexed Engineering Records), which allows staff and partners to access more than 200,000 engineering records through an interactive Web map. SPIDER received more than 1,500 visits within its first month of release and has provided the City with an efficient data-sharing framework.

Recently, the City used ArcGIS Online to support their streetlight replacement project and meet eligibility requirements for a $3.5-million provincial grant for converting to cost-effective LED lighting. Leveraging app templates, they quickly developed a mobile app for collecting data on 10,000 municipal streetlights that need replacement. With only one full-time inspector equipped with a tablet, the City has been able to inspect all streetlights replaced by contractors, confirm that the right type of LED light was used and approve the work for payment, within five months – saving the City approximately a month of staff time.

They also created the Hamilton Streetlighting Story Map to keep stakeholders informed of the project. The map incorporates various information – such as installation timelines, types of LED lights used, approved contractors and amount of energy saved – presented in different formats into one cohesive map journal. It integrates real-time data from the City’s operational dashboard to show the number of successfully installed streetlights and includes a map with before-and-after installation photos.

As well, the City has released Invest in Hamilton – an interactive map journal that helps attract investment. Previously, the City’s Economic Development Department used slides, videos and handouts to present their story to potential investors. Using ArcGIS Online, they have consolidated their marketing materials into an easy-to-understand story map that leverages their multimedia content.

“Our recent work with Esri Canada has empowered our employees with exceptional GIS tools for delivering greater transparency and enhanced services to citizens,” said Gord McGuire, manager, Geomatics & Corridor Management, City of Hamilton.  “ArcGIS has helped us become more agile; it has improved our capability to leverage enterprise data and quickly deploy apps to support our workflows. We’re excited about the numerous possibilities for creating apps to accelerate municipal projects across our organization.”

View a gallery of the City of Hamilton’s public works mapping apps at:


GIS smart mapping technology is widely used across Singapore's government agencies to optimize operations, improve public services and harness the collective data of citizens. Many of the city's agencies are using geospatial analytics to gain insight into community activities and needs, while improving the delivery of public services to residents, Enterprise Innovation reported.

Many public agencies in Singapore have used GIS solutions to share geospatial data with other agencies, communities and businesses. This is the foundation for integrated information systems which bring together public and private sector information to support informed decision making and economic growth.

In addition, Singapore launched a mobile app called OneService that allows the public to submit their feedback on municipal issues. Users can take photos with mobile devices, geotag the location of the image and send feedback along with the picture. The geotagging capabilities enables the feedback to be accurately routed to the property agency so services and responses can be disseminated quickly and efficiently. With about 53,000 cases of municipal feedback pouring into the app each month, the integrated platform has enabled all agencies to improve their average response time from 8 working days to 6.5 working days. The information collected by the app can also be analyzed to provide insight on nationwide trends, complaints and issues to help with problem solving, Enterprise Innovation reported.

Furthermore, GIS analytics have been used to improve Singapore's national medical emergency service by reducing response times and providing better care to patients in need. Geospatial analytics are used to optimize the deployment of ambulance fleets by anticipating demand across different times of the day based on data analytics of previous emergency calls. Officials use geospatial and temporal fluctuations of EMS call patterns to better deploy ambulances based on location and demand. The new deployment system has improved the average response time by 10 percent, Enterprise Innovation reported.

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