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Alaska’s remoteness spread over a such a diverse and massive land area poses major challenges to rural community support and statewide resilience efforts. To help lawmakers and other entities that work in and with these communities to better understand the on-the-ground realities across the state, the Division of Community and Regional Affairs developed a community index that provides an immersive data experience for each community.

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Alaska Community Database Online application screenshot Alaska Community Database Online application screenshot Alaska Community Database Online application screenshot Alaska Community Database Online application screenshot Alaska Community Database Online application screenshot

Supporting Alaskan communities in the face of a rapidly changing economy and environment is a uniquely complex task over the amount of diversity that is spread over a massive land area. The land area of Alaska is equivalent to about 60% of the coterminous United States. The state’s population of 737,080 reside in 347 communities spread across 32 ecoregions. 65% of the communities in Alaska are not connected to the road system. The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA) is constitutionally mandated to provide community information resources and conduct research to support local government development, community planning, and local capacity building and rural policy development. Historically, the Division has met this mandate through the Community Database Online, providing a community index of up-to-date data and information to support a multitude of efforts that aid communities. The system structure was failing, requiring over half a million dollars to repair, with no added value. The team instead looked towards Esri and the ArcGIS suite to provide the same service with significant value added at a fraction of the cost.

It was imperative that the new community data system, built on the Esri platform, include this community index of up-to-date community information. Story Maps not only provided an ideal template to tell rich narratives, community-by-community, it provided the flexibility to add additional details and highlight trends in ways that weren’t previously possible. However, creating one Story Map for each of the 347 communities by hand was clearly resource intensive to create and maintain, and was simply not feasible given time restraints. The Python API offered a means to accomplish this goal, leveraging the data resources provided through the existing organizational ArcGIS Enterprise system in a realistic time frame. DCRA worked with Esri support to script a program to iteratively create a Journal Story Map for each community. The team developed subsequent scripts to iteratively update the data across each of the storymaps. Using the same means, DCRA was then able to provide Alaska users with a brand new product that addressed the needs of entities who work at the borough and census area scale, providing a regional Journal Story Map for each of the 19 boroughs and census areas that make up the state (boroughs in Alaska are essentially equivalent to counties in other states). The Python API has provided an efficient way to maintain a consistent, seamless format that provides unique community perspectives to support lawmakers and other community support entities to gain an improved, on-the-ground perspective as they work to meet the needs of the people of Alaska.

Story Maps provided an ideal template to tell rich narratives, community-by-community, with flexibility to add additional details and highlight trends.

The ArcGIS Python API iteratively created Journal Story Maps in real time for each community by leveraging the data resources provided through existing organizational ArcGIS Enterprise system.

DCRA was able to provide Alaska users with a regional index, a brand new product that addressed the needs of entities who work at the borough and census area scale, providing a regional Journal Story Map for each of the 19 boroughs and census areas that make up the state.

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