Market researchers, real estate developers, sales staffs, online shopping sites, demographers, and local search engines are just some of the people/entities who rely on GIS (geographic information system) mapping. Maponics (www.maponics.com), a major supplier of database-defined maps, launched its Neighborhood Classification Schema in 2007. Moving well beyond geographic identification based on only categories used by the Census Bureau, the U.S. Postal Service, or other statistical agencies, the new definitions set boundaries for neighborhoods as identified by function (theatre districts, waterfronts, subdivisions, etc.), as well as historical and cultural connections (San Francisco's Nob Hill and Chinatown, Los Angeles' Hollywood, etc.).
Founded in 2004 and based in Norwich, Vt., Maponics has a wide range of customers who already use its Maponics Neighborhood Boundaries for search and internal analytics. Users match data created or acquired from third parties to build the maps or let Maponics handle the building of custom maps for them. For example, a residential real estate site might identify only properties in retirement communities, waterfront districts, or multifamily neighborhoods. According to Mark Friend, vice president of sales and marketing at Maponics, Google uses the neighborhood identification in its local search services, e.g., finding a restaurant in a theater district or downtown. Its other products include a wide range of maps, such as ZIP code and carrier route street maps. Those interested in seeing a Maponics map might try the free one- or two-digit ZIP code, area code, and county maps it offers on its website.
Specific uses for the expanded neighborhood functional definitions include identifying residential, commercial, industrial, and mixed-use neighborhoods; theatre, cultural, or museum districts; areas with large parks or major attractions; subdivisions or planned communities, airports, rail yards, military bases, and mobile homes or trailer parks; urban downtowns; and areas with special facilities such as hospitals, shopping malls, and major schools.
Each neighborhood boundary gets an eight-digit code to handle the metadata from more than 50 schema parameters. All neighborhood boundaries have separated single-line boundaries with no overlaps. The system can also display neighborhoods hierarchically building from a sub-neighborhood to a neighborhood to a macro-neighborhood. The expanded Neighborhood Classification schema comes as part of the Q309 Maponics Neighborhood Boundaries release, which covers more than 70,000 neighborhoods in North America and Europe.
According to Friend, the neighborhoods that the company tries to define have "no finite established boundaries, but we use many sources from cities, municipalities, private information, etc. We gather those sources and associate it with our own local knowledge and technology to compile our boundaries. We think our neighborhood data is of the highest quality." Friend delicately hinted that some real estate firms might adjust maps to place properties in more prestigious areas, but Maponics is committed to building accurate neighborhood maps.
Friend points out that neighborhoods can differ greatly in size depending upon "social, economic, and physical characteristics with a basis in history and culture. Sometimes they're subdivisions, sometimes a larger area. At the most coarse level, a macro neighborhood might be part of a city like a suburb in Los Angeles or northeast Phoenix. Then down into the next level, the neighborhood, it might be well-established like Chinatown or Nob Hill in San Francisco. At the lowest level of granularity, sub-neighborhoods might refer to subdivision developments or condominium projects. We also subset neighborhoods by dominant functional use, like a business district, next to water, shopping mall, ski district, retirement community, etc. We can also retrieve neighborhoods by name."
The latest release has the entire hierarchy of the schema in place, according to Friend, with about 50% of the functional and social identification done and the rest expected in the next few months. Friend said that their map coverage in the U.S. currently covers cities containing 37% of the U.S. population. Internationally, the new neighborhood classification scheme extends to Canada and 40 cities across France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the U.K. According to Friend, Maponics plans to have 10,000 neighborhoods from 100 cities in Europe by the end of the year.
Maps are delivered in a variety of standard formats, but, according to Friend, not in PDF because "they are database files with things like coordinates of boundaries we want represented in fields. There is actual data loaded for database software and to use as an app. It's not a PDF final product map." The company licenses its mapping service. Costs vary depending on quantity and usage. Friend indicated charges generally range from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.