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The RDDS Blog

Reflecting on Penn GIS Day 2023: Bridging Communities through Geospatial Innovation

This post is a summary of the events and our reflections on Penn GIS Day 2023, which was hosted by Penn Libraries

Prof. Amy Hillier presenting a powerpoint about W.E.B. Du Bois in the RDDS for GIS Day.

This year, Penn Libraries hosted GIS Day in the new RDDSx space, and organized the event in collaboration with the Master of Urban Spatial Analytics program at the Weitzmann School of Design. GIS Day 2023 became an enlightening experience which showcased the power of geospatial technology in bringing together diverse perspectives from both the academic and city communities. The event featured a series of presentations highlighting innovative projects from our campus community (add  a link to the GIS day presentations program), an initiative from the City of Philadelphia, and a collaborative project led by Google.Org and the Nature Conservancy. All of the presentations at the 2023 Penn GIS Day underscored the transformative potential of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to make a positive impact on our society and environment.

Faculty members and students from various departments shared their research and projects, demonstrating how GIS tools can be applied across disciplines, from a diverse range of fields including environmental science, history, medicine, urban planning, and more. These presentations not only showcased the interdisciplinary nature of GIS, but also inspired collaborative thinking among attendees, fostering a sense of unity within our community. In each of these projects, GIS provides powerful tools for gaining clarity. The presentations all had a common goal: making our planet a better place. Whether by easing our lives, understanding our cultural heritage, adding to our health, or protecting our natural resources, these presentations conferred a large volume of useful knowledge to an attentive and knowledgeable audience. It was a joy to be able to host so many inspiring presenters and an audience interested in how their work can create a positive impact through their work with GIS.

Furthermore, the GIS Day event provided a unique opportunity to highlight the invaluable role played by the research data services of our library in supporting the campus community's GIS projects. The library's consultation services emerged as a crucial resource for students and faculty engaged in geospatial research, offering expertise in data acquisition, analysis, and visualization. Penn Libraries’ commitment to fostering GIS knowledge was evident through consultations which facilitated the successful execution of diverse projects, some of which were showcased during the event. The GIS Day event also served as a platform to raise awareness among a wider audience about the wealth of resources and expertise available through Penn Libraries’ research data services. By bridging the gap between academic research and practical applications, the library's involvement in GIS consultations not only enhanced the quality of projects but also underscored the collaborative spirit that characterizes the Penn community's engagement with geospatial research and practice. This event played a pivotal role in promoting the library's research data and digital scholarship services, fostering a stronger connection between Penn Libraries and the wider Penn community.

One of the standout moments was the city-led project presentation, where analysts from the City of Philadelphia explained the impact of a GIS-powered initiative aimed at enhancing community safety. The Vision Zero project illustrated how GIS technology can be leveraged to address the multifaceted challenge of making transportation routes safer while managing urban growth. (Insert picture from ground zero presentation here)

The keynote speaker for Penn GIS Day was from, which has partnered with The Nature Conservancy and the University of Sao Paulo to create innovative approaches to large scale environmental conservation. This collaboration demonstrated a new approach to how the introduction of AI to GIS has made GIS a pivotal tool in detecting deforestation, and identifying lumber that has been illegally harvested from the Amazon rainforest. The keynote not only showcased the technological prowess of Google and its engineers, but also emphasized the critical role of public-private partnerships in tackling global challenges. (Insert keynote speech presentation picture here)

The collaborative project presented by and The Nature Conservancy served as a poignant reminder of the potential for GIS to contribute to global sustainability efforts. It showcased the impact that large-scale initiatives, powered by a collaboration between AI experts and environmental experts, can have on preserving our planet. The keynote left the audience inspired and motivated, and highlighted the importance of harnessing geospatial technology for the betterment of our environment.

GIS Day served as a platform for our campus community to share knowledge, engage in interdisciplinary dialogue, and witness the profound impact of GIS on local and global initiatives. The fusion of academic presentations, city-led projects, and a compelling keynote from and The Nature Conservancy created a rich tapestry of ideas, emphasizing the transformative potential of geospatial technology in building a more sustainable future!


A woman is speaking to an audience, and a television screen displays a map depicting the networks of organ donations.
Vicki Tam, Senior GIS Analyst at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, explaining geographic insights into how organ donor networks could increase the availability of donor-donee matches.


"A man stands in front of an audience, and a television screen displays a picture of the Amazon rainforest with the text Digitais da Floresta overlaid.
Aaron Ogle presents Google.Org and the Nature Conservancy’s initiatives in sustaining protected regions of the Amazon rainforest. 


Two presenters are speaking to an audience. On the television screen behind them reads "Results: 34% fewer fatal and serious injury crashes, and 20% fewer injury crashes of any severity
Vision Zero Analysts from the City of Philadelphia share the results of the Vision Zero initiative so far.




December 1, 2023