The Onboard Way - Improving GIS Boundaries


Onboard Informatics has been providing high quality, precise shapefile boundaries for our defined neighborhoods for several years now.  These files are available in a number of widely used GIS formats and provide the shapes needed to build heat maps and other displays detailing content for neighborhoods* in hundreds of U.S. cities.  One of the great things about these boundaries, is that they were built to follow coastlines and other features making them suitable for map overlay display on websites and reports.

* We use this term to mean well defined, understood areas like SoHo in NYC and The Mission in San Franciso.  Other providers often represent census tracts and zip codes as being neighborhoods.  To use, these fail the test since the average person on the street doesn't have an understanding of the area covered by a zip code or census geography.

We also utilize a great many boundary files sourced from the government as raw materials for some of our content aggregation.  Over the years, some of our clients have asked us for these boundaries so that they could map the zip codes, places or other geographies for which we provide community content, home sales aggregates, or business and school location information.

Reluctantly, we provided these files.  We were reluctant because we don't find them to be of sufficient quality to meet the overlay standards we have for areas that we define ourselves.

Over the last few days, our content team decided we could do better.  The results are looking so good that we're going to deliver them out to our existing clients.  The concept behind the clean up is pretty straight forward:  trim the shapes to underlying geographic information.

To illustrate what we did, here are two images of Census Place level boundaries.  The first shows how the boundaries look on a map before any Onboard processing and clean up.  These shapes are created by the government, and for their purposes the ugly overlap with water bodies and other features is irrelevant.  But they are highly relevant to real estate and media customers.

New York City is unrecognizable in the raw file shape

These shapes are really unusable for map presentation purposes.

Now take a look at the cleaned and processed shapes Onboard has created:

The harbor, the Sound, and all the detail on the coastline - like magic!

This side project was initiated by a member of our team who knew we could do better, even though we've never had a request from a client or utilized this boundaries in our own map displays.

That's the Onboard Way.  We go above and beyond.  Way above, and way beyond.

If you are a current client interested in receiving these boundaries, please contact your relationship manager.  Anyone else interested in understanding more about this or any other Onboard capability, drop us a line.

Here is one place you can find our neighborhood boundary files displayed on maps:'s Neighborhoods Site

Beacon Hill in Boston

- Pete