Mapmakers for the masses

At a glance
Tupelo’s Development Services Department offers custom maps – which can include information like flood plains, property zoning, ward lines, home values and even fire hydrant locations – to the public for nominal fees. They range from 50 cents to $30 depending on the size and color.
To order a map or get more information, call the department’s GIS Division at (662) 841-6510.

By Emily Le Coz
Daily Journal
TUPELO – In a tiny room on the third floor of City Hall sits a treasure trove of data that’s available to the public with a few clicks of the mouse.
But few people outside municipal government know it exists.
For the past several years, the city’s GIS staff has been compiling information that they turn into nifty maps for a variety of purposes.
Want to know where all the city’s fire hydrants are located, for example? GIS has a map of it. Want to know how many people live within a one-mile radius of a specific hydrant, and what the property values are within that radius? GIS can make a map of that, too.
“Anything that can be recorded, we try to keep a record of it – parcels, zoning, flood maps, drainage, right of way” said Lesley Rakestraw, engineering technician. “But just because it’s in this office doesn’t mean it’s just for us. It’s the city’s data, and you have a right to it.”
Rakestraw said the city sells custom maps to the public for a nominal fee.
The GIS team consists of Rakestraw and Renee Newton, as well as an engineering intern from Harvard University, Grant Meyer.
Meyer has spent most of the summer entering new information into the mapping database. On Friday, he plugged in data from a recent survey of Mill Village. The resulting maps will help the neighborhood association develop a five-year development plan.
“It speeds up the city planning process,” Meyer said. “It just opens up a world of possibilities that weren’t available 10-20 years ago. GIS is an incredible tool.”
GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. According to GIS.com, the technology “integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.”
While most of the city’s maps benefit real-estate developers or other municipal departments, Newton said they occasionally take calls from the public.
Residents usually want to know if their house sits in a flood plain, she said. But much more is available for the asking.
“Basically, if there’s anything you want to find out about a property or a geographic area,” she said, “we can do it.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com. Also read her blog, The Government Grind, at NEMS360.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal