Week #34

OpenStreetMap buildings in Bulgarian protected nature zones

A friend’s Facebook post prompted me to start work on a small script/workflow to extract OpenStreetMap (illegal) buildings in Bulgarian protected nature zones. I’ve the feeling these may be numerous as Bulgarian laws often dance to the sound of dubious financial sources. @antitoxic and @yurukov are aiding me (thanks!) by looking for data and offering ideas. As always the OSM data is not perfect so we’re hoping the visualisation will motivate people to roll up their sleeves and map the missing buildings and improve the quality of the Bulgarian OSM. I determine the “status” of a structure by reading its tourism tag; a structure with an empty tourism tag that resides in a protected area is questionable.

The resulting map shows three types of structures: red circles denote structures with an empty tourism tag that are located in protected zones, blue circles denote structures with an empty tourism tag that are located non-protected nature zones e.g. parks and orange circles denote buildings that have a non-empty tourism tag.


This week saw the closure of the pilot phase of SDI4URD, an NWO funded project in which we designed and implemented a spatial data infrastructure geared towards supporting researchers. The infrastructure complements existing Dutch geographical data outlets such as PDOK/NGR and adds data uploading and a content management system that helps researchers, especially those lacking serious GIS/web mapping knowledge, to turn their data into maps, share it with fellows and publish it on the web alongside non-geographical information.

The platform is built with a mix of open source and proprtiery components all of which are connected through the well-known, but not very popular amongst post-Mapbox mappers, OGC W*S family of standards. Basing the framework on these standards is more or less obligatory so as to connect it to current and upcomning Dutch/EU (as per INSPIRE directive) geo infrastructure. The standards are unpopular due to a lack of developer friendly documentation and perceived verbosity. Their lack of use and slow iteration are causing ideological gaps to emerge between them and recent mapping developments and data management paradigms. Mapbox, CartoDB, github, CitySDK, etc. are iterating fast and are completely ignoring said geospatial standards with developers following suit.

New technologies often introduce new paradigms; in the geospatial domain these have mostly resulted in simplifications; github’s made it super easy to share geospatial data, Mapbox’s geojson.io tool makes it extremely easy to input geo data and the folks at CartoDB have made it super easy to generate nice maps (that can be quieried with SQL). All of these tool spur super intuitive and pretty interfaces, something that is lacking in most “classical” geo tools.

We’ve tried to adhere to these developments as much as possible, hence the upload tool, in an attempt to make the portal a pleasant and workable environment that adheres to the latest trends. We are also hiring a design firm to streamline the interface and a student assistant to promote the portal and create a community around it. I’ll post a link once both are up and running.

Farming the City book

I’m a fan of Dan Hills view that smart cities are smart because of their highly connected and engaged citizens rather than the technologies pushed by big telco’s and traditional data behemoths are . I’ll be writing more on this topic as it will form a big part of my research at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. where I’ll try to get a grip on this smartness, how it is altering our cities and how geo tech can help (or not). One of the effects/manifestation of this smartness is urban farming.

The urban farming movement is fascinating topic and am looking for ways to incorporate it in my research. Explaining the phenomenon/movement(?) to colleagues and people who haven’t heard of it  is sometimes a formidable challenge. Many associate it with gardening with no apparent purpose other than being an outdoor pasttime in the busy city. In order to better articulate the fact that urban farming is more than a past time for retired seniors, I bought the Farming the City book.

Writing for the NGR’s developers section

The Dutch national georegistry (afore mentioned Nationaalgeoregister) is getting a developers section in its next release. Shortly after I presented on /dev/haag on geo standards and Dutch open data,  I wrote a constructive rant to the maintainer’s of the portal about its weak interface, lack of documentation, opaque feedback mechanism, etc. which resulted in an automated reply that told me to bugger off . In response I created a github issue tracker (that quickly filled with issues) and wrote an even longer rant (which I’ll post soon) highlighting the benefits of an open feedback platform and an increased attention for developers. All this ranting seems to pay off as the maintainers asked me to transform my /dev/haag presentation into text for inclusion in the developers page.



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