Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

The letters GIS stand for Geographic Information Systems. So what is a Geographic Information System (GIS)? Let's take a look at each word that makes up GIS.


Pertaining to science of geography, which is the science of place and space. Geographers ask where things are located on the surface of the earth, why they are located where they are, how places differ from one another, and how people interact with the environment.


Knowledge of specific events or situations that has been gathered or received by communication, intelligence or news, a collection of facts or data.


A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. An organized set of interrelated ideas or principles, a procedure.

So from these definitions we can say that GIS is about understanding locations and the knowledge about those locations as an organized process. GIS is a combination of people, data, the analysis of that data using hardware and software to automate, manage, and deliver information through geographic presentation.

GIS is often defined as a computer-based management system that collects, stores, edits, analyzes, and displays spatial information. Spatial information can be as simple as an address, zip code area, or the corporate limits of a town or village. Spatial data captures the location of events or objects that occur around us. Think about it, almost all data has some factor of geography. Quite often these spatial data are referred to as X, Y coordinates, or latitude, longitude coordinates.

Points Lines and PolygonsSpatial Data
GIS data is comprised of three types of visual features, which are points, lines, and polygons. A point could represent a city or a school. A line would most likely represent a road or a river. Polygons are used to represent areas such as lakes or a school district.

What Can GIS Do
GIS is not just digital mapping. GIS is much more than just figuring out which county has the highest population or which school district has the most students. GIS becomes extremely useful when you add the geography to the questions: Which county within 100 miles of Chicago has the highest population? Which school district within 5 miles from my house has the most students?

It is often said that GIS can help us answer questions and make better decisions. What types of questions are we talking about? Here are some frequently asked questions: What is located here? Where does something occur? Where is the most or least of something? How can I get from here to there? What is nearby? What has changed since…? What happens if…? Some examples of these questions: Where are all the parks located in Niles? What’s the best way to get from my house to the nearest grocery store? Where are the most commercial businesses located in Niles? What happens if we build a road here? By “mapping” these questions out in GIS, we can solve problems that we face day to day. Mapping the locations of school-age children can help reveal where day care centers are needed. Mapping where existing trees are located may help determine where we need to plant new ones or where we need to maintain overgrown trees. Mapping where the hospitals are may reveal how long it takes an ambulance to get there.

The Village of Niles uses GIS in many different ways to help deliver information to our residents, businesses and visitors. We have a GIS Information Policy, which can be downloaded from our website, that describes how to obtain GIS data from the village. In the future, we intend to have GIS data accessible from our website for residents, businesses, and others interested in the village.