There’s a news item from the city of Collierville, Tennessee today where the town board decided not to spend the $100,000 allocated for storm water and utility mapping, and to instead spend the money on projects that would help resolve issues with flooding. While this decision may be short sighted in terms of the city’s ability to fully understand and alleviate the complex problems that it faces, in this time of reduced public revenue it’s certainly a decision that many municipalities are grappling with.
When the decision comes down to projects vs. intelligence gathering and system development, how do mapping efforts win out? It seems that the price for the field work was the largest barrier in this case, with the lowest bid at $235,000 coming in at more than twice the amount of funds that the city had allocated. Would there have been a cheaper alternative to data collection that could meet the city’s mapping needs, and helped the city establish a foundational level of intelligence regarding their stormwater and utility infrastructure? And without the field work to understand the infrastructre that’s in place, how will the town determine where best to spend its money for mitigation?
Technical innovations for field mapping tools are making data collection simpler, easier and cheaper. But as the technology becomes less specialized there’s a barrier between the high fixed cost of established service providers and the amount of money that municipalities are willing to pay for field mapping work. In this era of strained budgets, there’s an inflection point coming as the demand for mapping increases and tools for cheaper data collection proliferate. There’s a sweet spot here for geospatial service companies that are interested in providing lower-cost options, but perhaps lower quality data, in the lean times ahead. Certainly, any level of mapping is better than no mapping at all.