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U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 2004-1212
Version 1.0

Monitoring Colonias Development along the United States-Mexico Border: A Process Application using GIS and Remote Sensing in Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Sonora

By Laura M. Norman, Angela J. Donelson, Edwin L. Pfeifer, Alven H. Lam, and Kenneth J. Osborn



The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have developed a joint project to create Internet-enabled geographic information systems (GIS) that will help cities along the United States-Mexico border deal with issues related to colonias. HUD defines colonias as rural neighborhoods in the United States-Mexico border region that lack adequate infrastructure or housing and other basic services. They typically have high poverty rates that make it difficult for residents to pay for roads, sanitary water and sewer systems, decent housing, street lighting, and other services through assessment. Many Federal agencies recognize colonias designations and provide funding assistance.

It is the intention of this project to empower Arizona-Sonora borderland neighborhoods and community members by recognizing them as colonias. This recognition will result in eligibility for available economic subsidies and accessibility to geospatial tools and information for urban planning. The steps to achieve this goal include delineation of colonia-like neighborhoods, identification of their urbanization over time, development of geospatial databases describing their infrastructure, and establishment of a framework for distributing Web-based GIS decision support systems. A combination of imagery and infrastructure information was used to help delineate colonia boundaries. A land-use change analysis, focused on urbanization in the cities over a 30-year timeframe, was implemented. The results of this project are being served over the Internet, providing data to the public as well as to participating agencies.

One of the initial study areas for this project was the City of Douglas, Ariz., and its Mexican sister-city Agua Prieta, Sonora, which are described herein. Because of its location on the border, this twin-cities area is especially well suited to international manufacturing and commerce, which has, in turn, led to an uncontrolled spread of colonias. The USGS worked with local organizations in developing the Web-based GIS database. Community involvement ensured that the database and map server would meet the current and long-term needs of the communities and end users. Partners include Federal agencies, State agencies, county officials, town representatives, universities, and youth organizations, as well as interested local advocacy groups and individuals. A significant component of this project was development of relationships and partnerships in the border towns for facilitating binational approaches to land management.


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For questions about the scientific content of this report, contact Laura Norman

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