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  • Mia Poynor, University of Southern California

Using GIS Applications outside the Classroom: Community Health Scan

For most of my college career, I was undecided, unsure how I could possibly choose a major or minor that encompassed all of my interests. Once I chose major that favored my interests in international health, I found a class that complemented my studies and allowed me to explore the intersection between health, social injustice, the environment, urban planning, and much more! The class was called Community Health Scan, where I explored how GIS applications can inform the health of a community. Our study site was Skid Row, an area in South Los Angeles that is synonymous for homelessness, poverty, and poor health outcomes. The research framework consisted of three parts: primary data collection, the creation of geospatial maps, and a proposed intervention based on our primary data.

My classmates and I went to Skid Row and collected geospatial data using Collector for ArcGIS, an application part of the ArcSuite that utilizes the GPS technology in mobile devices to easily collect data in the field. Using Collector, we surveyed the number of existing health, food, housing, transportation, commercial, and educational resources in the area. I partook in the data collection for educational resources. After we collected our primary data, we used census data and city specific data from the Los Angeles County Geospatial Data Portal to create intermediate maps.

This map was the first map I ever created on ArcGIS Pro! My partner and I walked around the area and collected locational data and metadata for each of the red dots on the map. We then analyzed what each of the building types were and where they were located. Complete primary data was collected during four site visits. A lot of our data collection also consisted of interviews with community members and experts in order to gain a better understanding of the area and incorporate what people said into our culminating policy proposal. Many of the people we interviewed said that Skid Row had become an unintentional community and it would be best to embrace it by providing affordable and attainable resources for the people in the area to build up as a community.

This map is the final map my partner and I created. This map was part of a collection of other maps related to commercial influence, housing, health, and other resources. The intervention area is our proposed solution to help better the health in the community. Based on our data collection and the interviews we conducted, our proposal focused on affordable housing access and a green space with a recreation center where events could occur and resources could be easily obtained. We presented this to a panel of USC professors who provided critical feedback of our proposal.

The experience and importance of this class not only helped me bridge my interests in health, disparities, and international development, but it provided me the tools to do so. I would also like to highlight the community aspect of this project. Interacting with the community was definitely a challenge and required me to step out of my comfort zone. However, the outcome reaffirmed my passion for health and betterment of a community by incorporating the community’s perspective. This type of community science for GIS is extremely important when doing research in the field and I hope to continue using GIS to help communities in the future using my experiences from this class. In any field work involving people, there will always be barriers that make communication difficult, but being able to adapt to these challenges and transcend hindrances will make the mutual goal of collaboration rewarding and valuable for everyone.

Mia Poynor is currently an undergraduate junior studying International Health and Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence at the University of Southern California. She is the Programming Chair for SCmappers, the Youthmappers chapter for USC. Mia’s academic interests lie in health, disparities, community development, and disaster relief in an international context. She is very passionate to be a part of this integrative discipline and hopes to learn more about all GIS applications and how they relate to her interests.

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