Ecocity Mapping Using GIS: Introducing a Planning Method for Assessing and Improving Neighborhood Vitality

27 Pages Posted: 4 Jul 2012 Last revised: 29 Apr 2015

See all articles by Richard J. Smith

Richard J. Smith

Wayne State University

Kirstin Miller

Ecocity Builders, Inc.

Date Written: March 9, 2012


Background: Assessing neighborhood vitality is important to understand how to improve quality of life and health outcomes. The ecocity model recognizes that cities are part of natural systems and favors walkable neighborhoods. This article introduces ecocity mapping, an innovative planning method, to the public health literature on community engagement by describing a pilot project with a new affordable housing development in Oakland, California between 2007 and 2009. While ecocity mapping began as a paper technology, advances in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) moved it forward.

Objectives: This article describes how Ecocity Builders used GIS to conduct ecocity mapping to: 1) assess vitality of neighborhoods and urban centers to prioritize community health intervention pilot sites, and 2) create scenario maps for use in community health planning.

Methods: From fall 2007 to summer 2008, Ecocity Builders assessed neighborhood vitality using walking distance from 1) parks, 2) schools, 3) rapid transit stops, 4) grocery stores, and 5) retail outlets. In 2008, ecocity maps were shared with residents to create a neighborhood health and sustainability plan. In 2009, Ecocity Builders developed scenario maps to show how changes to the built environment would improve air quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, while increasing access to basic services and natural amenities.

Conclusions: Community organizing with GIS, was more useful than GIS alone for final site selection. GIS was useful in mapping scenarios after residents shared local neighborhood knowledge and ideas for change. Residents were interested in long-term environmental planning provided they could meet immediate needs.

Keywords: Urban Population; Environmental Design; Quality of Life; Community Health Partnerships; Community Assessment, Pacific States, Ecocity Mapping, Social Change, Sustainable Development, Geographic Information Systems

JEL Classification: O21, R14, R12, Q25, R53, R41

Suggested Citation

Smith, Richard J. and Miller, Kirstin, Ecocity Mapping Using GIS: Introducing a Planning Method for Assessing and Improving Neighborhood Vitality (March 9, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Richard J. Smith (Contact Author)

Wayne State University ( email )

5447 Woodward Avenue
School of Social Work
Detroit, MI 48202
United States
313-577-2262 (Phone)
313-577-8770 (Fax)


Kirstin Miller

Ecocity Builders, Inc. ( email )

339 15th Street, Suite 208
Oakland, CA 94612
United States

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