Citizens lend a hand as Rowan geographers track land use in NJ

Rowan University’s Department of Geography & Environment is seeking assistance from private citizens to help identify areas of growth and development in the state through its new NJ MAP Growth project.

Rowan University’s Department of Geography & Environment is seeking assistance from private citizens to help identify areas of growth and development in the state through its new NJ MAP Growth project.

The goal of the easy-to-use internet program, developed by the department’s Geospatial Research Laboratory (GeoLab) in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences, is to provide municipalities with the most up-to-date information on development in an effort to help them make decisions about land use moving forward.

The state’s most current land use map is from 2007. A new statewide land use map, a costly, time-intensive initiative, is a few years away, so the NJ MAP (Municipal Asset Profiler) Growth project will serve as an interim land use map for planners and citizens in the state, according to John Hasse, executive director of the GeoLab and chair of Geography & Environment at Rowan.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation with nearly nine million people crammed into 21 counties, Hasse said.

Anyone—"from octogenarians to 10-year-olds"—can contribute to NJ MAP Growth by logging onto the GeoLab’s web page. The web-based mapping tool allows users to view aerial photographs, zoom into areas they’re familiar with, and provide updates on new housing, new businesses and other construction online.

The web page can be found at

The project is funded through a $35,000 grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Mapping began on Tuesday, Oct. 8, and continues until the update is complete. Thus far, more than 17,100 new points have been added to the map. On Oct. 8, Rowan students and faculty members themselves contributed more than 6,400 points to the project.

'Crowd sourcing' approach

“Municipalities need to have current land use data to help them determine where development should occur,” Hasse said, an expert on the state’s land use. “Knowing where and how much development has taken place in New Jersey is crucial for local towns to be able to best manage their infrastructure, environmental resources and open spaces.

“Several major events have occurred since 2007, including the recession and Hurricane Sandy…events that have completely changed factors that drive land development. We have no idea of how land development has occurred in the wake of those events. We’re hoping citizens can help us produce that data.”

The “crowd sourcing” approach to collecting data thrives on the fact that contributions are made by people who are potentially most familiar with their own towns.

“Many local residents have intimate knowledge of the environment within their own towns, as well as familiarity with where the new land development has occurred over the past decade,” said Katrinka Shand, project manager of the GeoLab’s NJ MAP growth.

“The NJ MAP Growth project will allow the local knowledge of multiple contributors be concurrently combined in order to create a new map in a matter of days to weeks, rather than the usual two to three years that is necessary for the more complex, state-produced map.”

Using “crowd sourcing,” hundreds of people can each contribute “a small amount to a huge task to produce results in an exponentially faster time than it would normally take to make such a map using conventional methods. We hope to produce a competed map in a matter of weeks,” Hasse said.

Information submitted for NJ MAP Growth is reviewed by the GeoLab for quality control, combined and analyzed to create the new interim statewide land use map. Professors and student interns at Rowan are working together on the quality control.

Making informed decisions

The results for the project will be made public and delivered to local municipalities through the GeoLab’s sister NJMAP web tool.

“As a home rule state, many of the most crucial environmental decisions are carried out at the municipal level by local resident volunteers—such as planning and zoning board members—who usually do not have easy access to information necessary to make the most informed decisions,” said John Reiser, GIS coordinator and chief program director for the GeoLab.

“The results of NJ MAP Growth will be integrated into NJ MAP so that towns can get a clear picture of the changes that have occurred over many years and best manage their assets and resources in the most sustainable manner.”

Adds Hasse: “We would love to have our tool contribute to encouraging great, thoughtful development in our state.”