Democracy and Data

I could really go on a tangent about this topic, but I’ll spare you the grist: when people have access to accurate and reliable information only then are they capable of making rational decisions. This is the importance of free and peer reviewed GIS data moving from the few to the many – why to make cool, informative and fun maps online!

One thing to truly be proud of the US for – there is a wealth of free GIS data available. Not all other countries provide this service, some use the excuse of defense and others for profit and “cost recovery.” The US still has a long way to go in standardizing data provided by the state and there are congruency issues with federal data, but overall there is basic data available for the nation and there are a few states really blazing the trial with providing unique layers. This is why Open Street Maps have a much bigger following overseas – the people need complete coverage vector data sets, and are resorting to making it themselves.

The beauty of US Government Publications is that they are copyright free. So all TIGER line files, created with census data, get their geography elements from digitizing USGS Topographic sheets. Even with their flaws, it is pretty amazing that there is a standard dataset and symbology for the nation.

You can find complete coverage of the nation free digital USGS topographic sheets at



Margaret Spyker

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