Project Case Study: Municipal Mapping

May 2004 » Feature Articles
More than 650 years ago, King Valdemar of Denmark granted Aalborg a charter that empowered civic leaders to provide efficient local government and services to its citizens.
Jim Baumann

More than 650 years ago, King Valdemar of Denmark granted Aalborg, then a thriving village along the country's northern coast, a charter that empowered civic leaders to provide efficient local government and services to its citizens. Now the fourth largest city in Denmark with a population of about 162,000, Aalborg is a model of responsible local government.

In 1994, it hosted the European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns, where the Aalborg Charter was ratified, encouraging municipal governments to undertake environmentally sustainable programs for planning and development (see "Sustainable cities" ).

Additionally, Aalborg has implemented various GIS-based civic initiatives, including the Active Map of Aalborg (www.detaktiveaalborgkort.dk, in Danish) and Digital Democracy in Rural Areas. These initiatives endeavor to keep its citizens better informed and involved in the local decision-making process by providing easier access to municipal information via the Internet.

One of Aalborg's many noteworthy projects is the consolidation of all municipal utility companies into a single agency responsible for gas, electricity, district heating, water, wastewater, and waste disposal management. Since each of these utilities is similar in operation and responsibility, their unification eliminates various redundancies and creates unique, cooperative benefits. For example, heat produced by incinerating household and industry wastes, combined with surplus heat generated by industry, supplies large-scale, district heating networks for homes and businesses.

A key element of the amalgamated Aalborg utility agency is centralization of all GIS efforts. A single department provides GIS data and services, ensuring that each of the utilities is working from the same updated maps and data. This has further allowed the Aalborg municipality to streamline other government services by making critical information more readily available to the various city departments. The departments are connected to one another with a 1-gigabit network for high-speed communication.

In conjunction with centralizing its public utilities, the municipality established a management team to develop long-term strategies to increase efficiency through automation and restructured operating procedures. The management team identified GIS as a strategic tool in its modernization efforts, and the technology is now promoted throughout the entire public utility organization. The city began automating its utility database in 1988 by digitizing its pipeline network. In 1999, after development of an extensive geo-database using Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI's ArcInfo GIS software, the GIS department began creating utility- specific data models.


Aalborg's GIS has about 600 feature classes, including data from integration with other systems, such as SCADA, billing, network modeling, and separate databases. This screen shot shows district heating, water, and gas pipelines and power cables.

The Aalborg GIS is extensive, containing almost 600 feature classes—point, line, area, and surface layers representing geographic features with supporting data within its geo-database, which is updated on a daily basis. Some of the feature classes include data obtained from integration with other systems, including Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), customer billing systems, network modeling systems, cadastral data, aerial photography, technical basemaps, separate databases, and many others.

"Because of the strict requirements to integrate other systems and databases with our GIS, the complexity of our existing spatial databases, and the ongoing need to contain costs, our methodology is to implement a collection of standard data models for our GIS to increase the efficiency and capabilities of our system," said Jens Henrik Sørensen, project manager of the Aalborg GIS Department.

The initial model was for the gas utility and was developed with the help of Miner & Miner, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based firm specializing in the implementation of GIS utility applications. The model was implemented in 2000 and was followed by development of a water distribution model that was completed in 2001 with the help of ESRI. Since then, its district heating and electricity models also were completed. The municipality's wastewater, communications, and cadastral models currently are under development.

"Developing our GIS with the use of data models has given us the opportunity to jumpstart our projects," said Sørensen. "The models give us a high degree of flexibility and more freedom in the comparison and analysis of our data. They are working particularly well for our municipality because we have centralized our databases, which allows us to provide the most current versions of the data to our users with the least amount of duplication."

The dynamic capabilities of the Aalborg GIS already are providing substantial benefits to the city. For example, today, standard measurements indicating the location of district heating utility lines and fittings include the third dimension—Z values representing elevations—which facilitate calculations of pressure and temperature for network modeling. However, Aalborg's original district heating data did not include accurate Z values. The Aalborg GIS department calculated this essential information by interpolating Z values from a laser-scanned digital terrain model and then subtracting the measured depth under terrain. The new Z values are written back to the database with supplemental information about the calculation method and the terrain model used.

"Our network modeling system is able to perform a similar calculation, but doing the job directly in the GIS is far more efficient and the result is documented in the correct manner," said Sørensen.

Aalborg also integrated its GIS and financial systems, providing a spatially enabled, asset management tool that allows for a complete overview of the municipality's assets from a geographical perspective. This includes details of all in-ground infrastructure, such as the age, condition, and expected lifespan of pipelines.

"Sometimes it is necessary to remove existing infrastructure, such as a pipeline, before its anticipated lifespan is over," said Sørensen. "Once it is removed, however, the pipe must be accounted for in our financial system. For example, suppose an existing pipe is expected to last for 30 years, but because of urbanization, the city finds it necessary to remove the pipeline after just 10 years. In addition to physically removing the pipeline, it has to be removed from the financial overview so that the municipality can maintain a very precise record of its physical assets. The assets are reflected in the city's tax base and are essential in determining tax rates and projected city revenues."

The department's GIS software installation includes three licenses for ArcSDE (one for production, one for testing purposes, and one to manage ArcIMS); Oracle for its database management system; ArcIMS for managing spatial data on the Internet; ArcFM from Miner & Miner for automated mapping and facilities management applications; Spatial Analyst; and ArcGIS components ArcInfo, ArcEdit, and ArcView.


Utility data is shown on top of aerial photography of a section of Aalborg. Other available data include digital cadastre and technical basemaps.

Special applications for the Arc suite include object seeking, GIS annual accounts, annotation tools, plot tools, map book tools (operational map applications), conversion tools, edit tools (especially for the maintenance of the electricity data model), and integration with other platforms such as billing and SCADA systems. By integrating its GIS with these systems, Aalborg has developed a highly intelligent database and a network surveillance system that allows supervisors to monitor continually all transactions throughout their system and to perform necessary analysis and control procedures.

For example, the real-time SCADA system can determine whether or not a leak it has recorded is critical and requires immediate attention. Then, it can display the information it has collected in a logical and organized fashion in the GIS so that remedial action can be performed, if necessary. In addition, the network calculation application can predict the future of the network by projecting loads and potential switching using GIS applications.

In the near future, contractors also will make use of the GIS system. For example, a request to perform routine maintenance work on a pipeline will be submitted electronically to the municipality, where it will be recorded and analyzed by the system to determine the optimum time period to conduct the work with minimum disruption. Permission to perform the work will either be granted or denied online, which will speed up the project approval process and minimize paperwork. In the event of a construction emergency, the GIS will generate mailing lists of affected residences for immediate notification.

Other departments within the municipality, such as the fire departments, use base maps generated by the GIS department for routing purposes, as well as for determining the location of water lines. Aalborg's fire departments also plan to implement GIS in the future.

Additionally, the Aalborg GIS Department plans to make greater use of mobile GIS systems with GPS capabilities, such as ArcPad. This will give field employees ready access to the municipality's geo-database for reference and on-the-spot updating, in addition to providing immediate location information for emergency services.

Sørensen expects the use of GIS to expand rapidly in Denmark, because of the cadastre database the national government committed to building almost 15 years ago. The cadastre is highly detailed, includes aerial photography of the entire country, and is available in multiple resolutions, providing the opportunity for implementing a number of new GIS-based initiatives.

"With the active support of our national government for spatial technology initiatives and the increasing opportunity for GIS education in our secondary schools and universities," Sørensen said, "the technology will continue to migrate from GIS applications to strategic problem-solving systems that are spatially enabled."

Jim Baumann writes about international GIS-related topics for Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI. He has written articles on various aspects of the computer graphics industry and information technology for more than 15 years. He can be reached at jbaumann@esri.com

Sustainable cities

The Aalborg Charter, developed at the European Conference on Sustainable Cities in 1994, in part calls for cities to "ensure that all citizens and interested groups have access to information and are able to participate in local decision-making processes." (A copy of the Aalborg Charter is available online at www.sustainable-cities.org/aal_uk.html.)

Municipalities signing the charter pledged "to use the political and technical instruments and tools available for an ecosystem approach to urban management." Aalborg's enterprise GIS system supports this public-access goal and helps its consolidated public utility companies manage energy conservation, waste treatment, recycling, and pollution-control efforts. A report, in English, titled "Sustainable utility supply in Aalborg" provides details about the city's public utility companies and their extensive sustainability efforts. It is available online at www.aalborg.dk/engelsk/information+about+aalborg/public+utility+companies+aalborg.htm.

On the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Aalborg Charter, the city is hosting the Aalborg+10 Conference—the Fourth European Conference on Sustainable Cities and Towns—on June 9-11, 2004.The conference will provide a review of 10 years of local sustainability action and set new goals. Information is available at www.aalborgplus10.dk.


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