Dozens of St. Louis residents were introduced to geospatial intelligence and learned firsthand the impact it can have in their community at a series of interactive mapping events held in August.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), in collaboration with Harris-Stowe State University (HSSU), Maxar and St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC), hosted two community mapathons at the agency’s Moonshot Labs facility on August 10 and 13, which focused on mapping the area in and around the Next NGA West facility. The mapathons were the next in a series of GeoHornet mapping efforts introduced by HSSU and participating organizations in 2021 to coordinate and facilitate the improvement of open geographic data in St. Louis.

The goal of this year’s mapathons was to engage community leaders from the six Project Connect neighborhoods in North St. Louis surrounding NGA’s future facility in the exploration of geospatial tools and data to discover how current technology enables NGA to achieve its mission.

Participants used OpenStreetMap, an open-source mapping application that applies crowdsourcing to fill gaps in geospatial intelligence data by identifying buildings, streets, landmarks, parks and recreation areas and other important features provided by contributors. Open-source mapping is useful for these purposes and more, such as spurring advocacy within communities for development efforts and urban planning.

Last year, the first GeoHornet mapathon largely engaged the local student population; this year’s mapathons engaged committee leaders from Project Connect’s OUR PLAN: Neighborhood Planning Initiative as an opportunity to extend a hand to the community surrounding the Next NGA West.

“As part of the neighborhood transformation efforts outlined in our Roadmap to Economic Justice, SLDC is committed to connecting the Project Connect neighborhoods and the community to the growing geospatial industry,” said SLDC’s Project Connect Manager, Juwanna Brown. “The mapathons were a great opportunity to educate community leaders in the Project Connect neighborhoods about what NGA does and connect the neighbors in North St. Louis communities to the geospatial industry.”

Maxar’s Austin Johnessee (foreground) and Chris Buechner (background) provided OpenStreetMap training and support to St. Louis community members at GeoHornet mapathon events in August.

Maxar has an ongoing commitment to help build a diverse workforce in St. Louis and to support business growth and geospatial tradecraft in the region. Maxar staff provided OpenStreetMap training and support throughout the mapathon. "At Maxar, our purpose is ‘For A Better World,’ and we're proud to join NGA, HSSU, SLDC and our neighbors to demonstrate the power of geospatial data to make a difference in our community," said Dana Stuckey, a Senior Production Manager for Maxar based in St. Louis.

North St. Louis resident Ruth McGowan, a community organizer and former McDonalds franchisee, took part in the August 10 mapathon session, during which she identified several buildings previously unnamed on the map, including a church, an elementary school and a few gas stations—but McGowan attended the event with another purpose in mind: “I am dedicated to maintaining a residential community surrounding the new NGA,” she said. “I want to establish historical rules for the neighborhood and make sure there is a good compromise with NGA. That’s why I am here.”

HSSU is leading a geospatial science initiative that looks to connect not only its students to the work being done by NGA but also local North St. Louis residents.

“The mapathons benefit the community and aid with furthering residents’ knowledge of the work being done by NGA,” stated Freddie E. Wills, Jr., Ph.D., Vice President for STEM Initiatives and Research Partnerships at Harris-Stowe State University.

The Community Mapathon 2022 was marked by success in generating new contributors to open-source mapping, and more importantly, creating inroads with the St. Louis community members for NGA and the St. Louis geospatial community at large. Collaborative planning for future mapathon events is currently in the works.

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