Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Fun First Experience with Learning OpenStreetMaps

OpenStreetMap is the Wikipedia of geospatial information. It is a vast map of the world editable by anyone with an account, and like other free software and open data projects, it is fundamentally about creating use value for human beings. It thus stands opposed to the commodification of everything pushed by the dominant neoliberal economic regime which has been running our civilization rapidly toward self-destruction since the late 1970s.  Through projects like Map Kibera, it offers the possibility of providing voice to the voiceless and tools of change to the dis-empowered. It is part of the broad movement of democratization of information and citizen science that I hope will enable our civilization to mature and endure for our children, grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren.

I decided to start my Summer GIS study by going through the LearnOSM tutorial.  I made it through The iD Editor lesson today, and had a great deal of fun in the process! After a bit of background, I'll describe the little project I completed.

What I'm Doing in New Jersey this Summer

June 6 Larry James Legacy Fund Bike Ride

My grandmother (who I call "Mom-mom"), Helene Young of Cologne, NJ, turned 100 last February 18th. While she is in pretty darn good shape, she won't live forever, and I've been vowing to spend the Summer with her for years.  This Summer I am finally doing it.

My first night here we went to the Egg Harbor City Historical Society meeting.  Mom-mom goes every month, but while I've been a member for years, I've never been to a meeting before. Our family's history has deep ties with Egg Harbor City.  Mom-mom's great grandfather, Philipp Mathias Wolsieffer, was a founder and the first mayor of the city in 1858.

Choosing a Meaningful Project

At the end of the second lesson of the tutorial, Getting started on, learners are suggested to "Move the map to a place that you know very well, such as your town or neighborhood. A good idea is to ensure your home (or your neighbour’s home) and workplace are drawn and given the correct address." Mom-mom was born in a house that her father built at 352 Baltimore Avenue, as was her brother Alfred and her famous sister, Peace Pilgrim.  In the spirit of my visiting with her, I decided that house would be an ideal one to check.

Darn, It's Not Right! (I Mean, Cool, It's Not Right, So I Get to Fix It ;-)

Typing in the address: 352 Baltimore Avenue, Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, OSM showed my this map:
Click on the image to see a large version
The house, which has an address on the paper road, Baltimore Avenue, is really located on Buerger Street, not one block over on Beethoven Street as in the map.  In case anyone has any doubts about that, I rode my bike into town this afternoon and took a picture of the house:

So following instructions, I selected "Edit with iD", which gave me a satellite view of the area, and I could see the house. I used the "Draw shape (polygon)" tool to create a polygon near the outline of the house.
Then I filled in data about the polygon, including giving it a title of "Birthplace of Peace Pilgrim". When I clicked "Save", I saw this:
A few minutes later I did another search for 352 Baltimore Avenue, Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, only this time OSM returned:
How cool it that? Obviously I'm feeling empowered and I'm greatly encouraged to keep learning about OpenStreetMap!

Hmm... What About Mapping History?

As soon as I labeled the house "Birthplace of Peace Pilgrim", I started thinking about other locations important in Peace Pilgrim's life I could label on the map.  Then I tried searching in OSM for "Peace Pilgrim", and wouldn't you know it, I got this result:
Building Birth place of Peace Pilgrim, 352, Baltimore Avenue, Egg Harbor City, Atlantic County, New Jersey, 08215, United States of America
Wow! Then I did a search to see if I could find other folks already using OSM to record history, and I came across Mapping History (Starting with Manchester) by Frankie Roberto.  Frankie says a few slides into his presentation, "I'd like to be able to add a time-slider to maps, so that you can see how the places themselves have changed over time." It is simply mind boggling to think about all the new ways of seeing things that are becoming possible with tools like OpenStreetMap.

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