Alumnus hosts interactive workshop for graduate students on the uses of NJ MAP

by Silvia Cuevas, MCRP ’19

John Hasse, Ph.D., is not a magician; he wants everyone in on his secret. “Maps are magical,” he says. “You can look at a map and you can understand something about a place and something about the environment.” That’s why he created NJ Map, a publicly accessible online portal intended to make New Jersey GIS data relatable and easy to understand for different organizations including Sustainable Jersey Green Teams, planning boards, and most importantly, concerned citizens. Hasse analyzed the evolution of New Jersey land use and wondered, “How can we put this information on web maps?” Ta-da! NJ Map was born. “People are more and more impatient,” Hasse says, “but we can create mapping that works at the that same speed.” That speed may not equal Amazon because the information gathered comes from state servers, but by involving more and more citizens, GIS can become a great communication tool for the larger society.

Hasse MS ’98 (Geography), MCRP ’99, Ph.D. ’02 (Geography), returned to the Bloustein School in early 2018 to host an interactive workshop on the uses of NJ Map. With GIS becoming a very valuable skill, he demonstrated how NJ Map allows users to work with GIS data in a way that is easy to understand, and is great tool for those interested in environmental planning, land use, GIS, and smart growth.

The first project Hasse and his team completed concerned land use change in New Jersey. What they found was from 1986 to 2012, New Jersey created and sustained urban growth in Northern, Central, and Southwest New Jersey. And while growth is important in developing the state, preservation of the state is, too. Pinelands and wetlands are being protected from this urban growth, but Hasse warns, “Eventually, New Jersey will run out of land in our lifetime. It’s either going to be development or preserved. We have to properly plan or we are going to continue to burn a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk.”

Studies indicate that by 2050, New Jersey may reach full “buildout” in which unprotected lands and forests may either be preserved or developed. One of the projects Hasse and his team are working on, the Municipal Buildout Modeler, shows the possible buildout under current zoning. Users are able to make changes to the existing zoning laws and see what those effects are. “Zoning is the DNA of planning,” Hasses says. The project will “give information parcel by parcel and will show you the exact places that are developable.”

The Conservation Blueprint project is a plan to create a living “blueprint” of lands to be protected in the future. Hasse says, “There is a limited amount of conservation funds and we have to use it on the best projects available.” Currently, there is 1.5 million acres of natural lands in New Jersey that need to be protected. By acting now, Hasse says, we can ensure clean air, water, and soils will be protected.

By creating these magical maps, everyone is able to see how development affects natural lands, open space, schools, and more. “You see things in different ways,” Hasse says, “and [the maps] communicate different stories.” Concerned citizens may ask, “Where is the funding coming from to develop this?” but Hasse has an answer for them: “It is all public data already produced. We connect it and put it together.” Cecille de Laurentis, a volunteer geographer, is certainly interested in helping. “Making GIS technology accessible for people is something I’m interested in…Every person can participate in mapping.”

With Hasse’s magic, that secret is out.