Please note: all associated databases for the course are in the tools section.

This section is the entire final project for the course.

The Lawrence Project

Downtown Lawrence, MA

An image of downtown Lawrence, MA.


Robert Cheetham, President of Azavea, Inc.

Implementing a Neighborhood Information System

Project Scope


Lawrence Community Works, Inc. is a nonprofit community development corporation dedicated to the sustained revitalization of Lawrence, a former mill city that is now home to large immigrant and Latino population. LCW's mission centers on organizing and empowering neighborhood residents, producing safe and decent affordable housing and creating programs and facilities that meet the educational and economic development needs of neighborhood families.

LCW (formerly Lawrence Planning & Neighborhood Development Corporation) was founded in 1986 by affordable housing activists to create a 170 unit co-op in the City's North Common neighborhood. While this initial project was successful, by the late 1990s the CDC's vision and productivity had stalled. The Board of Directors, through an intensive community organizing and planning effort guided by members of the current management team, set its sights on a more ambitious plan for the neighborhood, and spearheaded a leadership change to reinvigorate the CDC. At that time, the organization had been defunded by the City and State, had one full time staff person, an operating budget of $60,000, and no projects in development.

Since its rebirth in July of 1999, LCW (the only active CDC in the City) has made a tremendous turnaround and is continually evolving its capacity to effectively tackle community revitalization in the notoriously challenging context of Lawrence. Our progress and achievements on this front include:
Organizational overhaul: Created new accounting, communications, membership and personnel systems. Attracted a talented staff of 26 including: 18 full time employees, four part time employees, and four long-term consultants (two full time and two part time), 80% of whom are bilingual. Together, this staff brings over sixty-five years of experience in community development to LCW.
Community organizing: Created a membership structure, and built a membership of 150 (up from 0 in 1999), as well as five structures for member participation in organizational decision making. Helped the North Common Neighborhood Association (NCNA) to establish a Board of Directors and develop processes for surfacing and representing neighborhood priorities, as well as participating in LCW projects.
Neighborhood Planning: Conducted a comprehensive organizing and planning campaign in the North Common that involved over 300 residents in determining the neighborhood priorities built into Project Reviviendo, our comprehensive revitalization effort. Created and facilitated ongoing community planning through the Reviviendo Planning Group (RPG), a 22-member body representing neighborhood residents, businesses and institutions and working on a range of development issues, launched the Community Design Center, which provides space, technology and staff to facilitate neighborhood planning activities.
Budget and Finance: Rose over $3 million of investment in community revitalization in two and a half years, including designation by FleetBoston as one of the four sites in New England (and the only one in Massachusetts) to host their Community Renaissance Initiative. Increased our operating budget from $60,000 to $534,000 in four years. Created strong working relationships with major stakeholders, including the City of Lawrence, which has committed over $1 million in HOME and CDBG funds to LCW revitalization projects in the North Common, the Commonwealth, which has committed $145,000 in CEED funds and $320,000 in State HOME funds to LCW, the City Council, on which we have a 5 member majority supporting our efforts, Lawrence General Hospital, Merrimack College, local mill owners, local foundations, and other local nonprofits and businesses.
Real Estate Development: Developed and sold the first two duplex homes of our Summer Street Project, a $1.2 million effort which will convert every vacant lot on one block at the center of the North Common into affordable homes for low-income first-time homebuyers, affordable rental units and a neighborhood park. Completed design and construction of a playground and new parking lot for our Berkeley Place Apartments. Acquired four abandoned multi-unit residences for renovation as affordable rental housing.
Youth Programming: Launched the Young Professionals Initiative serving over 67 young people with top-notch creative, skill-building, and career-oriented programs, through our Young Architects, Young Webmasters, Young Investors, Skate Kids, and Berkeley Place Afterschool Programs. Additional programs in fashion/interior design, video and music production, and theater-partly envisioned, planned, and driven by youth themselves-are in development.
Family Learning: Developed two individual development account programs (IDA) focused on asset-building strategies of matched savings and financial literacy education for youth and adults. Launched a "Training of Trainers" for older neighborhood residents interested in learning web design and teaching Young Web Masters. Gained site control of abandoned St. Laurence O'Toole church site for redevelopment into the Our House Family Learning Center, working in ongoing collaboration with hundreds of former parishioners and current residents to design both the building and the programs. Formalized partnership with Merrimack College to provide academic enrichment services and scholarships for residents.
Challenges Ahead

Why the proposed project is needed: Lawrence is well-known as one of the Commonwealth's most troubled cities. Its status as the 23rd poorest city in the United States, with the lowest per-capita income in Massachusetts, contrasts starkly with the booming economy of the surrounding region. Unemployment, while better during the recent economic upturn, consistently hovers at two to three times the state and national rates. As the only substantial source of affordable housing in the Merrimack Valley, Lawrence is home to a sizable low-income population filling the low-wage, low-skill jobs that are the underside of the flourishing regional economy. Home-ownership figures are around 35% citywide, half the national rate, and 12% on the mostly-Latino north side, where vacant lots and boarded-up buildings bear mute testimony to the arson wave that flamed through the City in the early 1990s. Immigration flows have brought new populations into the City in recent decades, with inevitable ethnic and political tensions arising as a result. Global economic changes have irrevocably altered this once thriving manufacturing center.

Clearly, Lawrence faces many of the challenges endemic to "third-tier" cities across the nation. Chief among them has been an inability to build and sustain an effective strategy for the economic and physical revitalization of its neighborhoods, especially in the face of larger economic upheaval and demographic shifts. LCW is tackling this important challenge by defining and implementing a neighborhood revitalization strategy that: a) has the involvement and support of a broad and diverse community constituency, b) is rooted in a thoughtful, strategic neighborhood planning process grounded in local knowledge and assets, technical expertise, awareness of the larger context, and research into best practices, c) has the full support of key institutional stakeholders such as the City, and d) has brought together a wide range of public and private partners and resources at the local, state and national level. This effort is yielding impressive results.


  • formulate an implementation plan for a real client;
  • design a simple web-based tool for understanding the proposed zoning overlay district;
  • engage constituents and stakeholders in a real setting;
  • integrate theory and practice by evaluating the role of technology in community development;
  • learn to communicate effectively within a group and with a professional consultant;
  • work with such tools as the WWW, Access, ArcView, ArcIMS, SDE, etc.

Project Scope

  • Team organization like a professional planning office;
  • Analyze the available data using GIS;
  • Research on web-based neighborhood information systems;
  • Conduct site visit and meet with Client;
  • Determine issues that should be addressed;
  • Collaborate with consultant to design an application for these issues;
  • Evaluate the application.


Here is the list for all the data layers available now:
(data layer list) (PDF)

Procedure and Products

Assignment One (Lab 7): A Critical Path

Meet as a group, and comb through the entire syllabus. Next, establish a protocol for communicating among yourselves and design a "critical path" for the semester. How you will organize your time and coordinate your schedules for project? How will you get to the on-site meetings? When will the two day session with the consultant occur? Designate a project manager, and outline his/her responsibilities. Do other positions need to be designated? For example, who will contact and communicate with the client? Who will contact and communicate with the consultant? Will this person be responsible for managing the consultant's hours?
Prepare and submit a single document that explicitly addresses these and other relevant organizational issues. This assignment is due in a week and will require a collective effort, so these decisions must be made without delay.

Assignment Two (Lab 8): A Remote Understanding of Place

There are two parts to this assignment. One involves the use of ArcView to study the City of Lawrence, while the other relies on the World Wide Web as a tool for learning about neighborhood information systems and the cities they seek to represent. First, we would like each of you to launch ArcView and inventory the spatial data layers for the City of Lawrence that are readily available to you. Next, and as a group, devise a strategy for learning about Lawrence using ArcView. Make at least three different maps and discuss your preliminary findings in a short paper (no more than three pages). Now that you've explored the City of Lawrence from Cambridge, determine when you will physically visit and explore the site. The first site visit must take place within a week.

Second, we would like you to familiarize yourself with and evaluate several web-based neighborhood information systems. We will be looking specifically at The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles, The Philadelphia Neighborhood Information System, The Providence Plan, and The Urban Strategies Council's Oaktown Datahouse. Each of you will critically evaluate these systems using:
a standard web-test. (check out the list given below)

  • Baltimore (PDF)
  • Los Angeles (PDF)
  • Oakland (PDF)
  • Philadelphia (PDF)
  • Providence (PDF)

Then, as a group, discuss your findings and submit a brief two-page report summarizing the following: 

  • Compare and contrast these systems with respect to mission, audience, content and functionality.
  • What are the most useful and problematic aspects of each site?
  • What specific lessons for Lawrence have you gained from reviewing these sites?
    The individual web-test results and the two-page summary are due in a week.

The Project

You will strategically utilize the remaining seven weeks of the semester to design + implement a web-based planning application. In doing so, you should address the following questions. What are LCW's short-term and long-term goals for the project? What should the system be called? Who will be the key users? Who will participate in designing the system? For example, in what ways will members of local government be involved with the project? The singularly focused web-based planning application will introduce users to LCW's zoning proposal, allow users to understand how the current zoning scheme functions, and simulate the potential impacts of LCW's zoning proposal. Once the application is complete, you will prepare a presentation (PowerPoint, no more than 30 slides) that speaks to how such web-based planning tools not only inform community development projects, but also facilitate democratic involvement.

On-site Visit and Meeting with Client

As a group, you will meet in the client's office to discuss the project. Who will prepare the agenda? What will you need to accomplish during this visit? Do you have a clear sense of the deliverables for this project or do they need to be discussed in more detail? Are there tasks or items that you expect LCW to address? What are they? Do you need to identify and communicate deadlines for those tasks to them?

Meeting with Consultant

You will schedule a two day workshop with the consultant. During the first day, the consultant will provide an intimate portrait of neighborhood information systems, using Philadelphia as a case study. The content of this session will be determined by the consultant, who will likely review such topics as the impetus, development process, and evolution of the system. He may also speak to the challenges of collecting and integrating administrative and other data sets as well as the system's architecture. The session will conclude with a critical discussion of the system's strengths and weaknesses.

With a deeper understanding of why and how such systems manifest, you will be responsible for organizing and structuring day two. The goal of the session is to work with the client to design an application that addresses the problem set forth by the client, Lawrence Community Works, Inc. You may want to begin the day by explaining the project goals to the consultant. The consultant will be responsible for implementing a web-based application. Be sure to make good use of your time and conclude the meeting with a list of deliverables and deadlines.

On-site Work with Client

There are two requirements associated with this site visit. Some of you will meet with the client to evaluate the web-based application that the consultant has launched. At this time, those of you engaged in this activity will discuss the improvements that are needed and develop a strategy for improving the application. Be realistic about the constraints you face.

Another group will meet with Daniel Sheehan and a youth group at LCW to collect data in the field using handheld computers. The purpose of this exercise is to collect data you need for the application, learn about mobile computing, and engage some youth in this ongoing project.

Note that a good deal of preparation is needed before you go to the site, and that you'll need to carefully organize this session in advance. Ask yourselves, which group members will evaluate the application with the client? Which members of LCW should be involved in the evaluation? Moreover, which group members will work with Daniel to collect data in the field? How many handheld computers do you have? How do you prepare the handhelds for on-site data collection? How many youth should participate? Which LCW staff member will coordinate youth participation? How much or what kind of data can you expect to collect in an hour? Will you need to follow-up on a weekend? Where will you upload the data you collect? Once the data are collected, who will prepare the metadata?

Internal Project Presentation

It's a good idea to practice any presentation. Before you unveil your product to LCW, you will organize and execute a presentation for the course instructors. Please note, that this is a formal presentation of the final products. Your product must be in the form of a written report, but presented using PowerPoint (no more than 30 slides). Ideally, the presentation will be clear, concise, well-organized, contain effective visual displays, and ready for prime time. However, at the end of this session, the instructors will provide useful feedback regarding the content of the report as well as the quality of the oral/visual presentation so that you may enhance the products for the client. Be sure to determine where this presentation will take place, and assign someone to reserve the space in advance.

On-Site Project Presentation

This session represents a formal and final presentation of the project. Consider and resolve the following in advance. Where will the presentation take place? Will it be a public presentation? Will you advertise the meeting or will LCW take the lead on that task? Will you invite key actors in the community like elected officials, non-profit organizations, and community leaders? If so, how will you determine who they are? Who will contact them? Will there be refreshments? Do you need to consider the physical accessibility of the site? Should the meeting be held in the evening? Exactly what aspects of the gathering will you ask LCW to handle?

Passing the Baton

Since you've completed an important phase of an ongoing project, it is important that you document your accomplishments. As a group, you will bundle and submit all project-related information, including group meeting minutes, correspondence with the client (e-mail, meeting minutes, etc.), correspondence with the consultant (e-mail, meeting minutes, application files and documentation, etc.), assignment one, assignment two, slide show presentations, etc.


Assignment one requires the formulation of a critical path for this project has been created for you. It is recommended that you use it as a tool to keep the group on track. There are many phases to this project, and falling behind on any one task will prove problematic.

Additional Informaton:
City of Lawrence
Lawrence Community Works, Inc.
The Reviviendo Gateway Overlay District

  • Map of the Reviviendo Gateway Overlay (RGO) District (PDF)
  • Submitted Zoning Description (PDF)
  • Zoning Analysis (PDF)
  • Zoning Overlay District Overview (PDF)
  • Zoning Process and Timeline (PDF)
  • Question and Answers about RGO (PDF)

Neighborhood Information Systems:
Los Angeles

Community Asset Mapping Projects:
The Borneo Project
Connecticut Assets Network
Decatur Community Partnership