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Western Geographic Science Center


Colonias Monitoring Project

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in cooperation with the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI), have developed a joint project to create Internet-enabled geographic information systems (GISes) that will help cities along the United States-Mexico border manage issues related to urban growth and low-income housing developments.

HUD defines colonias as rural neighborhoods within 150 miles of the border that lack adequate infrastructure or housing, as well as other basic services. The colonias typically have high poverty rates, making it difficult for residents to pay for roads, sanitary-water and sewer systems, minimum-standard housing, street lighting, and other services. Colonias are scattered along the border as makeshift settlements, commonly on private land. Because these settlements have been established outside the formally sanctioned governance of nearby cities and towns, colonias residents have traditionally struggled to gain access to the public services available in those communities.

Image of colonias dwelling Image of colonias dwelling

This joint project delineated colonias, developed geospatial databases describing infrastructure and land use, and established a framework for distributing World Wide Web-based GIS decision-support systems for the sister-city areas. "Sister" or "twin" cities are those communities where a city in one country borders a city in another, creating a large urban area separated by administrative boundaries.

To develop the GIS databases, we integrated data from The National Map (USGS), the U.S. Census Bureau, and INEGI and worked with binational partners, including Federal, State, county, and town representatives, as well as interested youth and advocacy groups. Each Web-based mapping site incorporates common-base data layers, including transportation, digital orthophoto quadrangles (DOQs), digital raster graphics (DRGs), Landsat imagery, colonia boundaries, hydrography, demographics, and geographic names.

The USGS is now working with Arizona State University (through a Southwest Consortium for Environmental Research and Policy (SCERP) grant) and the University of Arizona, and this project is expanding

For more information contact: Laura Norman
Laura Norman

Publications and Websites:

Norman, Laura M., Donelson, Angela, Pfeifer, Edwin, and Lam, Alven H., 2006. Colonia Development and Land Use Change in Ambos Nogales, United States-Mexican Border: U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 2006-1112. http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2006/1112

Hutchins, Jana, Keys, Eric, Lukinbeal, Chris, Aspinell, Richard, Norman, Laura, Watts, Chris, Granado olivas, Alfredo, Declet, Juan, Judkins, Gabriel, Nelson, David, Mynt, Soe, Lara-Valencia, Francisco, 2006, The First Step Towards an Integrated Arizona/Sonora Transborder GIS: Land Use and Land Cover Data Development, Proceedings, 25th Annual ESRI International User Conference, August 6-11, San Diego, California. (POSTER)

Lam, Alven H., Norman, Laura M., and Donelson, Angela J., 2006. Accessible Information Technology for Equitable Community Planning, In Equity and Sustainable Development: Reflections from the U.S.-Mexican Border. Ed.s: Clough-Riquelme, Jane and Rabago, Nora L. Bringas. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO.

Norman, Laura M., and Austin, Diane E., 2004, Unifying US-Mexico Sister Cities with Colonias GIS as a Framework [abs.]: Arizona Geographic Information Council (AGIC) 2004 GIS Education and Training Symposium at the Prescott Resort and Conference Center, October 27-29.

Norman, Laura M., Parcher, Jean W., and Lam, Alven H., 2004, Monitoring Colonias Along the U.S.-Mexico Border: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet, USGS FS 2004-3070 -Colonias. http://erg.usgs.gov/isb/pubs/factsheets/fs307004.html

Norman, Laura M., Donelson, Angela, Pfeifer, Edwin, Lam, Alven H., and Osborn, Kenneth J., 2004, Analyses of Urban Sprawl and Colonias Development in Douglas, Arizona & Agua Prieta, Sonora on the US-Mexico Border; A Process Application using GIS and Remote Sensing: U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report: OF 2004-1212. http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2004/1212/

Norman, Laura M., Lam, Alven, Osborn, Kenneth, Donelson, Angela, and Pfeifer, Edwin, 2003, Mapping Colonias Along the United States-Mexico Border: Proceedings, 22nd Annual ESRI International User Conference, July 6-11, San Diego, California. (POSTER)




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