URISA at 40 - Quality, not Quantity

By Joe Francica

The 40th URISA opened with a modest and perhaps disappointing turnout but a blockbuster program.I estimated that approximately 350-400 attended the keynote session where attendees heard Jack Eichenbaum, New York City Assessor, recount the 9/11 aftermath and the tribulations in gathering myriad departments with disparate agendas, not to mention spatial databases, into a cohesive team.

The URISA board put together an educationally oriented agenda that was targeted at delivering coherent information for participants.The session on the Urban Data Model (see below) were extremely interesting from a number of points of view, not the least of which was that the model could certainly be labeled a proprietary offering from ESRI, yet comprehensive enough so that it deserves serious consideration.Other sessions targeted at enterprise GIS deployment, public-private sponsorships of data sharing and dissemination such as the GeoData Alliance and the Open Data Consortium, federal-state-local collaboration, and more "nuts and bolts" sessions discussing XML, disease modeling, and spatial dynamics.

Yet, the vendors were once again muted in their enthusiasm for a show that draws less than 1000 attendees. With the show clearly past its peak attendance years, compounded by budget cuts and travel safety concerns, it has become a super-regional gathering of members at best.In speaking with Pierce Eichelberger, outgoing URISA president, and GIS manager for Chester County, Pennsylvania, he was pleased at the attendance as he said he instructed his staff to be extremely conservative in their pre-show attendance expectations.As Eichelberger explained, URISA is reaching out more toward its members with application specific shows that have "taken on a life of their own" and serve an ever-increasing niche under the URISA umbrella.Conferences such as Computer-aided Mass Appraisal (CAMA) and Street Wise and Address Savvy have grown and will continue to be supported.

But vendors were clearly disappointed at the traffic.A show that once hosted over 175 vendors now struggles to attract one-third that number.But it would be wrong to simply focus on the numbers.URISA developed an excellent program.As an organization, there is an enormous need to draw members together to discuss the problems associated with not only implementing technology or common data models, but reaching out to smaller, rural governments and municipal COGS or consortiums to leverage technical experience and shrinking budgets.URISA, although not nearly as entrepreneurial as it once was, according to one ex-board member, needs to continue to innovate with not only good programs but with services that support their membership.

Published Saturday, November 2nd, 2002

Written by Joe Francica

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