stop 12 ~ utility in Bloomfield

To truly appreciate the mastery of centralized utility networks, just think about your house. When you wake up in the morning, it’s likely with the help of utilities. Your morning coffee, shower, quick scan of e-mail and social media, and the warm air blowing out of your register on a cool morning are all thanks to central utilities. Now, you may know the company that provides each of these essential services, but if you were to pick your home up and move it somewhere else, who would you call to make sure your morning routine could continue the way in which you are accustomed?

Think about this when you drive through the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh and behold the new Morrow Park Apartments. These are homes for a new generation of city dwellers in Pittsburgh with their own morning routines. To make a project of this scale (or virtually any scale) happen, each of the utility providers must be partners in the project. So understanding who provides your power (be it gas or electric), who provides the water (and from where the water comes from and at what pressure), and who provides all those other services becomes increasingly important. As a consumer, these people are good to know. As a downtown champion  in your community, you must get  to know these people.

There is great value in knowing a person for each respective utility. The person you know and have a relationship with may not necessarily be the right contact, but they will more efficiently be able to connect you with the right people to make your project move closer to reality.




Pittsburgh-central space



We’re almost there! Take a look back at our journey along the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania and catch a glimpse of some of the cool places and spaces that await in Pittsburgh,  here.

william blake

william blake

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. William Blake

Blake would be right at home on campus during winter break. He’d likely get along with hibernating bears. He’d relish snowbound weekends.

Admittedly, it is very tempting to pull up the covers and nap through the darker, colder, slower days of January. But that’s probably more the privilege of your student body. We prefer the mindset of the more modern Paul Theroux:

Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.

Preparing as it relates to your campus can take many forms. Now is the ideal time to think of all the things that get daily use that you want to renovate or fix (student housing, a major pedestrian walk, parking) that can’t practically be done when students are on campus. Starting now and moving forward throughout the winter and early spring allows time to get design drawings complete and projects shovel-ready. It allows time to dig trees, avoiding summer heat, and affords lead time on items like lighting, cast stone, and furnishings. In reality, summer projects really need to be planned over the winter to really work. Seems Paul Theroux was the proverbial man after my own heart.

william blake

intro to 2017

17 days and counting down until we ring in the new year, 2017.

17 more days of holiday tunes on the airwaves, at retail and dining locations seemingly without exception, and woven into any and all commercials and advertising.

And for those of us who write checks, 17 more days of getting the date right, effortlessly (before getting it wrong for the next 2 or 3 months”¦!).

Basking in the glow of these December days, we are also transitioning from our geospatial blog series. If you need a refresher, this content can always be found on our web site. For quick reference, a direct link to the first of the series is here:­ ­

Another link worth sharing is this:   Congratulations to our clients and friends who made this great list and if you find yourself in Lititz or Bellefonte during office hours, stop by to say hello to our staff in those communities!

In other news, we are ramping up for fresh content in the new year and the National Main Street conference in May. While others may have been checking off their shopping lists, we have already made a trial run to Pittsburgh and back, visiting communities along the way and checking out the conference hotel. It looks to be a fantastic venue for a fabulous event in a fun town.

As we traveled the “road to Main Street” from Philly to Pittsburgh, our pre-conference road trip literally took us from one side of the state to the other, on a road less traveled. When people in the US think of iconic road trips, Route 66 is always part of that conversation.* Based on what we found, Pennsylvania’s section of the Lincoln Highway has a great many stories to tell too.

We are excited to share insights from our travels, photos of our time spent in these communities, and key essential elements of these great downtowns (with perhaps a Cars reference ”¦ or many ”¦ ).

Stay tuned!

And in the meantime, have a happy and healthy December and a very merry new year!


* In case you haven’t seen it, the Disney movie Cars takes viewers along a portion of Route 66, as only Disney can. If you find yourself with time on your hands this holiday season, it’s worthwhile viewing. “Git-R-Done!”


informed decisions

informed decisions

In a previous post, we listed five reasons to develop your own municipal GIS data: control, breadth, depth, flexibility, and presentation. Taken together, the tangible outcome should be making more informed decisions.

informed decisions

To further illustrate this issue, let’s take a look at a side-by-side comparison. The image on the left is a map developed as a working document by one of our clients using manual methods prior to our involvement with their project. It shows part of a block where they wanted to explore targeted property acquisition. The questions they wanted to answer were: should we pursue acquiring properties on this block, which ones, how much will it cost?

In contrast, the image on the right shows a map of the same area developed by our staff in approximately 15 minutes.

The map on the right leverages the power of geospatial data and geographic information systems to do the following four things:

Communicate more completely, using “higher density” data

The GIS map communicates much more information at one time. Both maps show parcel lines and owner names. However the second map additionally illustrates building locations, neighborhood context, occupancy, and land use.

Save time in developing and repurposing graphics

While it looks fairly simple, the map on the left represents several hours of work involving tax map and deed requests to various City and County offices just to label the properties with owner names. Our client also took time to visit the neighborhood to obtain current occupancy information. This is the way things were done before the advent of municipal GIS in the client’s City.

We were able to accomplish the same task much more quickly and completely through the use of GIS data and didn’t have to leave our offices to get the job done.

The first map has additional drawbacks because it is analog. Making a paper original larger or smaller for use as a poster or on web pages is difficult and won’t look very good. The second map is infinitely scalable, editable, and can be forwarded to anyone as a PDF within seconds.

Focus discussion via filtering

The second map allows you to keep discussion on track because we suppressed labels on parcels that were determined to be irrelevant to  discussions. Additionally the use of bright colors to highlight certain parcels naturally directs the eye and develops interest in them.

Recognize and share patterns more easily

By using colors rather than text, the GIS map graphic is legible from a distance. With a cursory glance, the pattern of vacant buildings compared to empty lots is easily recognized.

But our comparative case study doesn’t end there, after implementing a comprehensive municipal GIS our client was able to dig deeper for authoritative details. Just under the surface of the GIS map is a wealth of data linked to each parcel from the County tax assessor’s office. The client can click on any of the parcels to instantly obtain assessment and property sale data like that found in the table below. This type of operational intelligence allows for more informed decisions to be made for the project area and the City.

informed decisions

informed decisions

beyond costuming

beyond costuming

It was reported that Americans spent $2.52 billion dollars on Halloween costumes in 2015 ( Apparently we costumed our children, ourselves, and even our pets. (And that number is just for the costumes. Imagine the total when you include the candy and the decorations.)

So, what are you going to be this year?

This is an important question, whether you apply it to your students, yourself, your pet ”¦ or even to your campus.

What do you want your campus to be? How do you want your campus to look? What impression do you want to give to visitors, residents, and staff?

While most campus communities appreciate the importance of the physical environment, too often the opportunities to uncover and realize each campus’ power and uniqueness are missed. It is by connecting these unique qualities to the aesthetic improvements that allows us to go beyond simple costuming to effecting true campus transformation.

So this year, as you settle back with your favorite Halloween treat, take some time to reflect on your campus and the future. At a time when everything has been homogeneously pumpkin-spiced, what are the ways you can stand out, what are the tangents you can traverse, what paths have you yet to explore?

beyond costuming

Geospatial Data layers

Developing an edge of pavement layer

A small scale map of your community shows the relationship of streets by using a single line that represents where the approximate center of the road is located. That’s great when the map is “zoomed out” to show the entire municipality. When someone “zooms in” on the map to a neighborhood, you should show them more detail such as the width of the paved roadway.

In our last blog post, we demonstrated how you can download lots of useful information from PASDA to build a simple base map as the starting point for a municipal GIS. In this post we’re going one step further to give our map an “edge of pavement” layer that shows the location of the road surface.

Some benefits of an edge of pavement (EOP) layer include allowing people to easily recognize the difference between narrow alleyways and major city streets. It facilitates take-offs for repaving or construction work. It also eases analysis of turning movements for emergency apparatus.

Since an EOP is made up of polygon features which can be used to calculate area in square feet or acres, it is also the starting point for mapping impervious surfaces in your municipality for stormwater management purposes.

The broad steps in this process are:

  1. Find and download the LIDAR breaklines tiles for your location
  2. Filter the breaklines tiles to show only roadways
  3. Combine all of the breakline tiles into a single continuous layer
  4. Edit the breaklines to prepare them for polygon conversion
  5. Convert the breaklines to polygons
  6. Edit the polygon feature to remove areas that are not paved.

To get detailed instructions on how to complete the process using ESRI ArcGIS for Desktop Advanced, fill out the form below.

Request edge of pavement instructions

Geospatial Data layers

free data

free data

In our last  blog post we talked about 33 feature classes you can map in your community without using a GPS. A key element for mapping new data is that you must have a base map (including aerial photography) to serve as a backdrop for your municipal GIS. If your Pennsylvania community hasn’t yet developed a base map, now is the time to start with some easily obtained (and free) data from Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA). PASDA is the definitive source for open source geospatial data in Pennsylvania. PASDA in a one-stop data portal that aggregates data from 63 data providers including: local, county, state and federal governments, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations.   The data sets from PennDOT, PA DEP, PA DOH, and PA DCNR are updated regularly. If you haven’t visited, you definitely should take a look to explore the depth and breadth of the information available.

A very useful feature of the PASDA website is the Pennsylvania Imagery Navigator ( ).   The Imagery Navigator allows you to zoom to any part of the state and download all of the imagery for that location. The imagery published through this search interface includes: USGS quadrangle maps, digital elevation models, LiDAR point clouds, contours and breaklines, USDA annual imagery, PAMAP orthophotography, as well as selected regional and county orthophotography.

Simple Base Map Demonstration

Using the “Data Shortcuts” menu on the right side of the PASDA home page, you can acquire the data to assemble a very serviceable base map. To prove this point, starting from scratch, we assembled a simple base map that shows the following data: state and local roads, county and municipal boundaries, railroads, public lands (parks, forests, game lands), waterways, flood hazard areas, 2015 aerial photography, wetlands, soils, and elevation contours. It took us about 90 minutes to download all of the data and compile it into an ArcGIS map. The result of the project is shown in the following four screen shots.

Of special interest to municipalities just starting on the geospatial journey, the last map includes road edges derived from PAMAP LiDAR data. Our next blog post will demonstrate how you can complete that process on your own.





More About PASDA


Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA) is Pennsylvania’s official public access geospatial information clearinghouse. PASDA was developed in 1996 by the Pennsylvania State University.

PASDA is a cooperative project of the Governor’s Office of Administration,  Office for Information Technology, and  Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment  of the  Pennsylvania State University. Funding and support is provided by the Pennsylvania Office for Information Technology. Penn State contributions include system administration support and infrastructure from the  Institute for CyberScience, and the  College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

PASDA was developed as a service to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The purpose of PASDA is to serve as the Commonwealth’s comprehensive and coordinated open geospatial data portal that provides free public access to geospatial data and information by, for, and about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. PASDA is Pennsylvania’s node on the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, Geospatial One-Stop, and is integrated with the National States Geographic Information Council GIS Inventory.

free data

the most wonderful time

I can’t help it. Whenever I think of back to school time, my mind immediately remembers the Staples commercial from the 1990s. You know the one. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The euphoric, skipping dad.

And then there are the kids. Not happy. Not shopping. Not skipping. Grim.

Fast forward several decades and transfer from elementary school to higher education and what do you see during back-to-school time?

The move-in experience. Cars and people ”“ bags and boxes ”“ everywhere. Overloaded cars, people, bags, and boxes.

Where is the euphoria? Where is the skipping?

You can find it! Today, it already exists on some campuses. A combination of planning, management, student support, incentives, and flat-out sweat equity have returned a spring to the step of many a parent and student on this day.

From a facilities standpoint, there is even more you can do.

  • Clearly identify circulation routes set up specifically for this day ”“ both for vehicles and pedestrians
  • Create eye catching and visible signage – again, specifically for this day ”“ to help lead the way
  • Avoid as many stairways as possible ”“ inside and out
  • Make sure all walkways are in top condition ”“ if temporary fixes are needed, make them

And if you need to take a short break and want to enjoy a commercial classic,  see below!

the most wonderful time

33 Things

33 Things in your community you can map (and publish) without a GPS

Your municipality is more than just roads and parcels. There’s lots of stuff that fills in the gaps and makes it unique. With your local knowledge and recent aerial photography, you can start mapping these today.

Interested? Get in touch with us and we’ll provide you with a white paper that gives you step-by-step instructions on how to do it.

Community Features

  • Schools
  • Churches
  • Playgrounds
  • Parks
  • Parking lots
  • Municipal Buildings
  • “Centers” (Daycare, community, etc.)
  • Bridges
  • Landmarks (buildings or others)
  • Businesses (categorized as you think of them)


  • Zoning
  • Land use
  • School districts
  • Trash collection
  • Recycling routes
  • Utility service areas
  • Historic designations
  • Elm Street projects
  • Main street projects
  • Development zones (KIZ/KOZ/TIF/UGB/VGB etc.)
  • Emergency Service “first due” areas

Emergency Services

  • Incidents
  • Hazards
  • Pre-plans

Special Programs/Projects

  • Participants (member businesses)
  • Project locations (completed, under construction, pending)
  • Available locations for incubator space
  • Dollars applied for/granted/awarded/spent
  • Meeting attendees
  • Parade routes
  • Shade/street tree inventory


  • Work orders
  • Complaints
  • Permits

geo-33 things


need a break

Did you know that being too hot can have a negative impact on your intellect? It’s true!

So what better time to take a break in air conditioned comfort, challenge your intellect, and just think about the great (and hot!) outdoors.

Last month, we addressed some common areas in need of attention on higher education campuses in the summer. Here, we’ll dig a little deeper into one of those topics, the landscape.

Summer is a key time for general bed maintenance, weeding, proper mowing techniques, and watching plants for water stress (drought and/or overwatering if heavy thunderstorms prevail).   Some specific tips to help with your planning:

  • Cut down and remove spent bulb foliage ”“ do not yank from ground
  • Install seasonal annuals at key locations and in decorative planters
  • Maintain groundcover beds by cutting or mowing down shoots that expand beyond their boundaries
  • Begin summer weed control ”“ watch for and remove invasive species, known weeds, unwanted plant seedlings, etc.   Remove by hand weeding wherever possible (including roots); only use chemical herbicides if absolutely needed and follow manufacturer’s instructions and do not apply herbicide immediately prior to rainfall or in/ near ponds, streams, lakes (most are not safe for aquatics)
  • Monitor for insect and disease pests throughout planting beds ”“ use IPM techniques (Integrated Pest Management) and horticultural soaps and oils instead of synthetic chemicals whenever possible
  • Order bulbs for fall planting
  • Avoid planting new material from mid- to late-summer due to much higher risk of transplant shock and mortality.
  • Begin summer mowing schedule
  • Dethatch smaller event lawns
  • Mulch grass clippings directly into turf
  • Only apply fertilizer and other chemicals as needed and per manufacturer’s recommendation (do not apply immediately prior to rain)
  • Avoid mowing in wet conditions (after irrigation, right after rainfall)
  • If using an irrigation system, begin to implement watering schedule
  • Perform occasional selective soft pruning of shrubs to maintain natural form, height, or hedge dimensions.
  • Perform selective pruning of spring-flowering shrubs that have finished blooming (some exclusions apply)
  • Provide supplemental water to new planting installations as well as to key planting beds and species during extended periods or dry weather or high heat

With so many things to do in summer, it is also important to note that summer is NOT a time for heavy tree or shrub pruning, or for installing new plants due to increased risk of transplant shock and mortality.

Break-time’s over! Time to get back to it and help your landscape thrive through the summer and be in top condition when students return ”¦ in several weeks!