App of the Month: Calgary’s City-Owned Cemeteries

November 1, 2019 Mingsze Ho

Cemeteries are special places that preserve and honour the memories of those who have gone before us. Some cemeteries are privately managed, while others are run by municipalities. In Calgary, the City operates five cemeteries and an indoor mausoleum. They manage a cemeteries database with more than 138,000 individual records on names, plot locations and burial dates. To enable efficient public access to this information, Calgary built the City-Owned Cemeteries app, November’s App of the Month.

The City wanted to enable the public to easily search for the names of their departed loved ones and their internment locations. They also wanted to empower cemetery workers and park employees with the information needed to conduct their work. The City decided to use Esri’s geographic information system (GIS) technology, ArcGIS, because it provides an out-of-the-box solution for developing and deploying apps. It’s already used in several departments across the City to access, display and analyze data to gain location intelligence about their work and services. They used  Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS to create an app that would give access to information in their cemeteries database.

With Web AppBuilder, you can choose from over 45 different out-of-the-box widgets to empower your app’s user with various functionalities. While there are numerous widgets to choose from, make sure to pick the widgets that best serve your purpose and are most relevant to your audience. In the case of this app, aside from standard widgets such as the basemap gallery, about and home extent widgets, we see that only a search widget is used. And that’s OK. The search widget serves the main purpose of this application, which is to allow users to search for a deceased person’s name, plot location or burial date.

The City built a web mapping app for each cemetery and mausoleum and compiled them into one application using the classic Esri Story Maps, particularly the Story Map Series template. They used the side accordion layout to provide bookmarks on the left panel for each cemetery’s web app. This was easily done by embedding each cemetery’s web app/page as web content on the story map.

Using the Story Map Series template and bookmark style to filter the application by cemetery provides efficiency. According to Kevin Milos, Geospatial Business Specialist at the City of Calgary, the data was first compiled as a single data table, which slowed down searches initiated in the app. To address this, they split the data out by cemetery so that the app won’t need to search through all 138,000 records in the database. This design improves the performance of the app and allows users to access and interact only with the data they want to see.

Not only do I like the functionality of this application a lot, I also like the story behind its development. As Kevin recounts, during the rearchitecting of the database, they needed to make sure that their datasets were attached to a location. As he describes it, “In almost all aspects of City operations, location matters. Having data in a geospatial format to gain a better understanding of where things are happening is incredibly insightful for decision-making.”

Their first step was to clean up and standardize all their relevant databases. Once that was done, they applied location to the data and plugged it into a map where it was further customized to include the City’s hosted orthophoto and geolocator services. And because ArcGIS supports easy integration between the different components of the app, they found the app easy to design and deploy.

Feedback received on the app has been positive. Both the public and City staff now have the ability to look up the information they need from anywhere in the world, with any device. This saves significant time and resources for both the City and the end-user. The data also gets automatically updated daily, leaving less room for error and providing a tool for people to access up-to-date, reliable information.

Moving forward, Kevin says the City plans to enhance the app by adding photos of monuments from each cemetery, as well as walking directions to help people navigate the cemeteries.

Explore Calgary’s City-Owned Cemeteries app. Share your thoughts on the app by leaving a comment below.

About the Author

Mingsze Ho

Mingsze Ho is a GIS Analyst for Esri Canada. Fascinated with displaying data in a spatial way, she focuses on generating story maps and other applications using Esri technology. She discovered her passion for maps when she started colouring and drawing maps in elementary school, and she was determined to become a cartographer. Mingsze loves how a map can illustrate the ways that certain features or phenomena affect human lives. While obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, she realized the world had moved on to digital maps. She was heartbroken initially, until she discovered the power of GIS and how it can be used to leverage both art and data to create beautiful, interactive maps. In her free time, Mingsze continues to draw maps. She just really likes maps.

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