Using GIS to Help with City Branding

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Cities across the United States and Canada have taken advantage of “re-branding,” or reinventing the overall character of a city to attract new businesses, investors, and workers. This process has resulted in both great successes and failures, but the main goal is universal – a desire to put a place for themselves on the map.

GIS is an integral component of re-branding in terms of planning. But many of these cities overlook the ability to use GIS in a public facing and community engaging way. When places want to reformat the way they’re seen, it would benefit them to incorporate maps into their new websites, applications, and other branded material like brochures.

Take into consideration the city of Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada. Their website has bright visuals and a wide variety of information for those interested in the area. What you’ll notice is that they include GIS onto this website, giving it its own page entirely. They have a section of their website, under their “Information and Computer Services,” entitled GIS Mapping.

It’s under this tab that you’ll find a brief explanation of GIS, eliminating any potential misunderstanding. But what you also find is their i-Map. In this case, hosted by ArcGIS Online, though this could feasibly be made on other services as well. This i-Map has a large variety of tools that could help both newcomers and long time residents learn more about the city, with important information like school locations, a section on land for sale, as well as a helpful toolbar explaining how to utilize the map.

Medicine Hat’s current i-Map
Medicine Hat’s current i-Map

Cities could potentially use interactive maps like this to highlight locally owned businesses, cultural events, and LGBT+ centers.

As touched upon in this article by Anatalio Ubalde, many rebrandings often fail because the individuals at the head of these campaigns often attempt to treat this process similar to a corporate one – through graphics, taglines, and other surface-level content. The true “brand” of a city – outside of what is advertised through curated social media feeds – is based entirely upon the communities existing there. By attempting to change that brand against the real demographics residing there, cities can often lose their integrity.

As such, incorporating existing communities into maps for newcomers, and giving less represented demographics a greater spotlight – cities can use what they already have to make rebranding attempts more authentic and true to what their communities have.


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