Interested in finding out how your neighborhood stacks up against other parts of the Boston metro area? A wealth of information related to sustainability (as well as many other topics) is available on the MetroBoston DataCommon website. This free resource, a collaboration between the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Boston Indicators Project, allows citizens to easily create and view maps showing data related to the economy, education, housing, public health and safety, transportation, the environment and many other topics for the Boston area.
For a quick look at what this site can do, there is a large gallery of pre-made sample maps available for viewing. Of particular note is a map of renewable energy projects in the metro area. Though the map is from 2008, it provides a useful at-a-glance snapshot of where various types of projects are located. A more recent map of solar photovoltaic installations registered with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is also available. Other sample maps that may be of interest to sustainability-minded readers include MBTA ridership, Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, Massachusetts Smart Growth Zoning, and recycling and compost rates for towns in Massachusetts.
For those who wish to create their own maps, the site also offers a Geocortex-based mapping tool that allows you to create your own custom maps. You can add or subtract layers of data using the toolbar on the right-hand side of the map and zoom in or out using the tools at the top of the screen. When finished, there is an option to save your finished product as a PDF (make sure to cite the source of the information if you are using it in a report). For the uninitiated, there is a very handy tutorial available here, which provides a quick introduction to Geocortex and introduces some basic geographic information system terminology.
Sites like this show the potential of information technology and the Internet to help support an active and informed citizenry. With their ability to display large sets of arcane data in an easily readable format, such sites allow concerned citizens to spot trends that would otherwise be difficult to notice. Keep in mind, though, that the data sets may be several years out of date. While this site is an extremely useful tool, it would be best used as a starting point to identify areas for further research and not as the last word on a topic.