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GIS tools map social injustice in civil rights cases

US: The Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities is using GIS data to map available infrastructure against the racial characteristics of different neighborhoods in the United States. The organisation studies everything from water service to sewer lines and streetlights, and what its demographers have found is a consistent pattern of inequity. In numerous cases, the availability of infrastructure correlates strongly with the racial composition of a community. Infrastructure in these cases is available in largely White areas, but not in many neighborhoods that are primarily Black or Latino.

Governments often annex new neighborhoods over time, extending their town boundaries to accommodate a larger population that is already part of the local tax base. However, in many places, as GIS data shows, governments have annexed these neighborhoods selectively, which means they’re choosing which citizens within a larger region (often called an extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ) are eligible for basic services and which citizens aren’t.

The Cedar Group Institute tied together geo-coded data from public sources with government census data to show that black neighborhoods were deliberately being denied access to city water service. The evidence was used in a case tried by the law firm of Relman, Dane and Colfax against the City of Zanesville, Muskingum County, and East Muskingum Water Authority. The judge found the analysis compelling. In 2008, he awarded the plaintiffs USD 10.9 million, and today residents finally have service that doesn’t require pumping water from a cistern. Tim Berners Lee referenced the Zanesville case in a 2010 TED talk about linking data sources.

Zanesville is only one example, however. The Cedar Grove Institute has also examined communities in California, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina. Time and time again, the organisation has collected substantial GIS evidence supporting cases of racial discrimination. In Modesto California, the Cedar Grove Institute’s data analysis shows that many Latino neighborhoods are marked by their lack of sewer access, storm drains and streetlights. In Moore County in North Carolina, Cedar Grove maps show sewer lines that literally branch around some of the black neighborhoods without going through them.

Source: Smart Planet