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URISA Ontario: A Leading Geospatial Conference: BeSpatial 2017

As a graduating student from the GIS program at Fleming College I have been looking to attend leading events in the industry to learn more about the GIS sector.  I had heard that URISA Ontario BeSpatial is a great event through GoGeomatics when I joined them as a new contributor. After contacting the organizers of the event I had the chance to go to BeSpatial and am sharing my experience with the community.

What is the event all about? BeSpatial is an annual event held by URISA Ontario covering a range of topics related to GIS training, exhibitions and new technologies. At this year’s event there were three main themes:

Innovations and Applications

Building a Strong Foundation

Beyond IT: Engaging New Audiences with GIS

The event was held on May 3rd at Markham Convention Centre in Toronto. This year, URISA Ontario celebrated its 30th anniversary making this event all the more special.

Above you can see a few initial pictures I took at the event. According to URISA Ontario over 250 people attended this event. GIS professionals in attendance came from across the public and private sectors in Ontario. I met and talked to people representing the City of Toronto, the Town of Newmarket, Esri, Trimble, Teranet, and many other organizations. I was glad to have come across students from my program, and about 15 out of 70 of them attended. As students about to graduate it was a great opportunity to see what is happening in our local sector.

Markham Convention Centre: Venue and Food

Before I spend time describing the technical aspects of the event a description of the hospitality is in order. The venue, Markham Convention Centre, is conveniently located at the east end of Toronto. The facility centerpiece is a beautiful banquet hall where most of the event was staged. The site has ample free parking space, which might not have been available had the venue been downtown. The venue is also readily accessible via public transportation (TTC). The bus stop is a minute walk from the banquet hall.

A variety of choices were available for breakfast and lunch. I was delighted to see the thoughtfulness of providing a multitude of pastries and muffins. This was served with coffee, juice, and tea. Fresh fruits were available for a good morning hydration. Lunch included a variety of sandwiches including a couple of options for the vegetarians followed by a wide range of desserts, mostly cakes like black forest, cheesecake, coffee cake, and cupcakes.

BeSpatial 2017 Agenda

08:00: Breakfast and Networking
09:00:Welcome and Orientation
09:30: Keynote Presentation: Steve Coast, Founder of OpenStreetMap on OpenStreetCam
10:30:• Positioning GIS in the Analytics and Policy Team By Ontario Ministry of Energy
• Municipal Tree Inventory using Low Carbon Footprint Remote Sensing Technology at the City of Vaughan By City of Vaughan
• Mobilizing GIS in the Field - Doing More with Less By Town of Newmarket
11:10:• Passing the Torch: A Conversation with GIS Youth/Students and URISA Ontario Past Presidents and 30 Year Members By URISA Ontario
• Is Free Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) Free of Risks? By Four Point Learning
• Implementing a New Enterprise-wide Web GIS Framework By City of Hamilton
11:45: Lunch and Networking
12:45:• Engaging Residents North of the 6 By Regional Municipality of York
• Ontario Digital Cadastre Corporation - A Reality in the Making By Fiducial Points Consulting
• Find Oakville - An Innovative Site Selection Tool for Promoting Economic Development By Town of Oakville
13:30:• Insights for ArcGIS: Data, Analytics and Smart Government By Esri Canada
• Stormwater Inspection and Record Management Best Practices, and Database Design By GHD
• Adopting New Technologies in Mid-sized, Rural, and Native Communities By Milrad Law
14:15:• Smart Cities and Digital Gov Impacts: Opportunities and Challenges By Open North
• Improving Topographic Mapping Currency through a Hybrid Data Collection Method By City of Toronto
• The 3D Visualization Plan for the City of Mississauga By City of Mississauga
14:45: Panel Discussion: Integrating LIDAR Data
15:45: Awards and Recognition
16:00: Closing

More detailed schedule with description can be found here: Event Programme.

BeSpatial2017: Mobile App of the event

The organizers provided a nifty BeSpatial mobile application for the day.  The mobile app had all the events of the day, schedule, and the locations of talks. A hard copy booklet version of the guide was provided for those who preferred it. The guides proved helpful with topic backgrounds and details of what the presentations would cover. It made it easier for the participants to pick a presentation to attend. We also got a taste of what we would be missing at the presentations we were not able to attend.

Keynote: Steve Coast on OpenStreetCam

Steve Coast, the founder of OpenStreetMap spoke about how and why he started OpenStreetMap. He also discussed their OpenStreetCam project.

OpenStreetCam allows for a street view of the OpenStreetMap similar to that of Google StreetView. Like OpenStreetMap, OpenStreetCam operates under open license, and is crowd-sourced. Currently, the aerial imagery available to OpenStreetMap only provides a general view of a point of interest. However, with new OpenStreetCam we will be able to get the street view of any point of interest, landmarks around it, and street rules like speed limit, stop signs, turn restrictions, and parking permissions.

Steve Coast mentioned the idea is to have users take pictures along their way using smart phone and a free app (that could be downloaded from Play Store for Android and App Store for iOS) as they drive, or even bike or walk. These images will automatically be uploaded to OpenStreetCam over WiFi or mobile data. There are efforts to even pay participants to provide a more dedicated supply of these images from as many parts of the world as possible. OpenStreetCam and OpenStreetMap are efforts to collect and provide access to as much spatial data as possible free of charge.  It was a great talk from a star in the geospatial community.

Mobilizing GIS in the Field – Doing More with Less, Town of Newmarket

The Town of Newmarket GIS department has developed a simple and efficient technology for data collection and recording for Public Works Services. These include Street Lighting Retrofit, Sidewalk Patrol and Repair, and forestry projects like Tree Protection.

Tania Ferus, GIS Technician and Nicolas Koopman, GIS Analyst at the Town of Newmarket designed a ‘mobilizing GIS in the field’ project incorporating mobile GIS and web GIS. Adopting GIS as a tool helps to lower cost and improve efficiency for the department: faster set up and implementation, reduced training time for field workers – presumably about an hour or so, and effortless inventory logging or data collection while the employees are already out and working in the field. The interconnectedness of the technology also provides real time updates of the field recordings across the department for other employees and decision makers back in the office to view using their web application.

The Town of Newmarket’s GIS department using Esri’s platform implemented this project. Layers and basemap hosted on the ESRI server could be managed from the office using ArcGIS Online. The data are collected by the field workers using Esri’s mobile data acquisition application: Collector for ArcGIS; and all aspects of the workforce and data are managed by Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS. This package of technology provides a full circle of data and workforce management to the Town of Newmarket.

Improving Topographic Mapping Currency Through a Hybrid Data Collection Method – City of Toronto

Ryan Garnett from the City of Toronto is enhancing the topographic mapping methods used by the city. There are five major city departments dependent on topographic data. Currently, the city uses a 3D stereo imagery compilation method to extract features that is gradually becoming out-dated. Ryan described the process of moving towards a hybrid of data extraction methodology incorporating 2D methods.

Ryan explained the new hybrid approach 2D feature extraction is better for cities than 3D feature extraction. Reasons and plans for the hybrid approach:

  • Even though 3D feature extraction is more accurate than 2D feature extraction, 2D consumes only half as much time as 3D method
  • With the help of LiDAR accuracy of 2D method and types of features extractable is increased
  • More detail will be added to the extracted features while the ground workers are at the site
  • 3D will be applied to areas with more complex and taller structures in order to capture the geometry with higher accuracy

Furthermore, with a steadier methodology for hybrid data extraction the city will look into automation rather than manual feature extraction to reduce time consumption and cost. This could save the city an estimate of 20 million dollars. The shift to distributed content management, and hybrid of 3D and 2D methodology with the help of LiDAR will lead to increased efficiencies in data collection.

Discussion Panel: integrating LiDAR data into geospatial mapping and analysis

Panel Members: James Elliot from the City of Toronto, Ross Kelly from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and Chris Menary from Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) discussed about why and how they are integrating LiDAR into their work.

The question put to the panel was: How could LiDAR that is considered so expensive save cities, ministries, and other organizations tons of money?

James Elliot pointed out the City of Toronto has begun integrating LiDAR for improved accuracy, increased amount of information, and economic reasons. As a continually growing city, faster and more precise methods of acquiring spatial data are required for the maintenance of Toronto’s data. James explained that LiDAR can be supplementary to orthoimagery and stereo aerial imagery. LiDAR also helps to build a more consistent and high resolution DEM across the entire city unlike the other two data types. It also aids in creating height maps and slope maps that could be used to obtain:

  • high accuracy building heights (height map)
  • accessibility assessments in trails (slope map)
  • calculating energy potential for solar projects (slope map, and derived aspect)

Ross Kelly from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs explained LiDAR’s use at OMAFRA. LiDAR assists them in their efforts to improve agricultural and soil mapping. For their project, extracting information out of point cloud classification provides easy identification of soil types and vegetation. Lastly, he specified the importance of metadata when it comes to using LiDAR data. This will help geomatics professionals to differentiate between good LiDAR and bad LiDAR. In particular, weather – season, cloudy or not, amount of leaf and snow coverage and more plays a huge role during the data collection process for LiDAR. As in all geomatics work quality control and assessment is paramount.

Chris Menary explained the use of LiDAR at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. The precise DEMs produced with LiDAR assists in visual assessment of slopes and conditions of conservation areas. The point clouds allow for identification of tree species amongst other features; intensity maps for identification of pervious versus impervious surfaces; and more bands assist in flood-plain mapping and drainage calculations. Subsequently, LiDAR contributes to producing more informative conservation maps and to better conservation land management. More projects and uses of LiDAR at TRCA could be found at this link: Lidar at the TRCA.

Overall, the panel was helpful in providing an interesting discussion of the uses of LiDAR in Ontario. It gave the attendees an insight into this expensive data type.The  extensive amount of information that could be extracted from LiDAR data in much shorter time than traditional methods save ministries and municipalities money.

Awards and Recognition

AwardsCategories and Winners
Best Challenge AwardsBest Public Sector GIS Winner:
• County of Simcoe

Innovation in GIS Winners:
• Town of Oakville
• City of Kitchener
• The Ontario Ministry of Energy

Best Web GIS Winners:
• The Trent Conservation Coalition
• City of Mississauga
• Grand River Conservation Authority
People’s Choice MApps AwardsBest App Winner:
• City of Kitchener

Best Map Winner:
• Toronto Fire Services

For more information click here.
Student Bursary AwardKyle Wittmaier, Nippising University

For more information click here.
Member AwardsOntario GIS Hall of Fame Award:
• Sandra Crutcher, Executive Director of URISA Ontario

GIS Leadership Award:
• Alex Miller

Exemplary Service Award:
• Lou Millrad

All other awards and recognition information could be found here.

Final Thoughts

BeSpatial 2017 certainly lived up to my expectations as an excellent geospatial conference. It provided me with a vast amount of information on new technology, and how the industry is moving forward. I’m delighted to be joining the sector soon. Based on my experience, the conference meets its mandate of helping professionals keep up to date and provides many knowledge transfer opportunities. The students I spoke to at the event mentioned they found the event interesting and engaging. I have come away with many positive impressions about the event and my participation in it. A big thank you to the organizers of the event: URISA Ontario, and especially Jasna, the director of the event in particular, for allowing me to attend and share my experiences with the community.

Some of the sponsors and exhibitors:



One comment on "URISA Ontario: A Leading Geospatial Conference: BeSpatial 2017"

  1. Fiona says:

    The TRCA story map is an excellent showcase for various Lidar applications, although some of the image/visualizations weren’t loading for me.

Comments are closed.

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