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  • David Zaro, The George Washington University

Mapping at the Forefront of Fighting Urban Displacement

Hi! My name is David Zaro and I am currently a rising sophomore at George Washington University studying International Affairs and Geography. Before my YouthMappers Virtual Internship this summer, I had little knowledge of open source mapping and its practical applications, having just been introduced to the field of Geography in my first year of college. As I learned more about the countless ways OpenStreetMap and other open source data technologies are being applied, I became curious as to what kind of impact this was all having close to home. With only a few quick searches, I discovered that as of 2015, the city of Los Angeles has formed a team of geospatial experts to tackle to problem of urban displacement. The Innovation Team, or “i-team” as it has been branded by the mayor’s office, is one of many projects ongoing in cities across the US and abroad that are using maps to mitigate homelessness brought on by demographic changes such as gentrification. [1]

Using publicly available census data, the i-team in Los Angeles created an index of neighborhood change, a map detailing the demographic trends of Los Angeles zip code by zip code. Ultimately, mapping demographic change over time has led to the creation of displacement pressure models, which directly assist in the fight against homelessness. Considering factors such as transportation investment, proximity to rapidly changing neighborhoods, change in housing prices, percentage of people who rent, and affordable housing changes, the i-team created a map showing neighborhoods at risk of gentrification in greater detail. Piggybacking off these new maps, the city of Los Angeles now has more highly organized data to more efficiently and effectively discern where to invest its resources and launch specialized outreach programs.

Other examples I found from around the country of GIS combating displacement are Portland’s Susceptibility to Gentrification model and Data Driven Detroit’s Turning the Corner neighborhood change map. Since 2013, Portland has been creating maps of neighborhood change, a project of the city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Using a similar strategy of taking available census data, Portland created a multilayered map taking in to consideration future development projects and proximity to transit. Unlike Los Angeles’ map, Portland’s map categorizes neighborhoods based on six distinct levels of change: “susceptible to gentrification, early gentrification with little demographic change, early gentrification with demographic change, dynamic gentrification, late-stage gentrification, and continued loss.” This data served as the ground work for future outreach programs that were more specialized in areas under the most stress because of gentrification.[2]

While in Los Angeles and Portland governments are taking the initiative to employ GIS to track neighborhood change, Data Driven Detroit is proving how organizations can play just as big of a role in tracking neighborhood change. Through its story map of neighborhood change, Data Driven Detroit has created a comprehensive look into the constitutive factors that may force out long time residents. Data Driven Detroit used the factors of social advantage, housing stability, crime, and business and construction investment to create a holistic data set of where neighborhood change is most likely to happen. [3]

Further partnerships between local and state governments and geographers can be the driving force behind staving off the negative effects of neighborhood change and gentrification and promoting healthy urban development. As shown by efforts in Los Angeles, Portland, and Detroit, geography is a quintessential resource in halting displacement and addressing the needs of residents. Simply put, once cities know where people are losing their homes, development projects are limiting affordable housing, and local businesses are being replaced, then they can properly mitigate the displacement and economic hardships of their most vulnerable residents.

What fascinates me most about this movement most is that I had never previously thought how the issue of urban displacement was so centered around geography, thus fittingly addressed by GIS data and models. Passing this information on to friends and family, they too had a similar reaction of shock and interest. The more people who learn about the importance of mapping, the more progress can be made in fields such as combating urban displacement. As I continue pursuing my major in geography, I hope to one day be able to effectively use my skills in GIS to help address pertinent social issues such as homelessness. Spending the summer with other fellow YouthMappers members and being a virtual intern have set me on a path to making this goal a reality.

David Zaro is a sophomore at George Washington University studying Geography and International Affairs. This past summer, David worked as an intern for the USAID GeoCenter. David is an active member of GW’s Humanitarian Mapping Society and last winter went on a Geography Department-run study abroad trip to Botswana where he used field papers to map populated areas in the Kalahari Desert. Beyond Geography, David has a show for GW radio and interns at the International Rescue Committee.




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