Have we progressed beyond geospatial arrogance?


Written by Matt Ball Published: 28 October 2014

A conversation that took place at the industry’s largest geospatial gathering this summer is hard to erase from memory. There, a long-time industry veteran who is well respected to the point of holding office in a major industry association and giving many keynote addresses at regional events made a statement along the lines of, “we need to get over ourselves.”

This individual described how his millennial teens navigate with today’s tools and scoff that maps and mapping require any skill. They know nothing of all the work that has gone into creating this seamless access to maps vial multiple technologies, and would have a hard time grasping the need for precision and accuracy because they can guide themselves with a variety of tools. While there’s some truth behind this attitude, there is also a right to feel pride and accomplishment for a lifetime pursuit of mapmaking.

Underpinning of Arrogance

We all want others to believe that the job that we do requires a degree of skill, and admittedly we may exaggerate the difficulty. For so many years there were considerable barriers to digital mapmaking. Our software required specialized machines, we needed both artistic as well as computer coding skills, and we understood such hard to spell words as photogrammetry and mensuration. We would divide into camps of rasters and vectors, and scoff at those that didn’t hold our own views.

Now, the average citizen has a variety of maps at their fingertips, there’s the world’s greatest crowdsourcing effort that has made even grannies into mapmakers, and we carry around a number of apps that guide our way or map our preferences. We can still write unique papers on difficult geostatistical problems and methods, and there is a legitimate pursuit of GI Science, but the widespread mainstreaming of mapping has made it harder to make an ivory tower existence out of mapping alone.

Guiding Rather than Directing

There’s a subtle transition taking place that moves away from directing users along a rigid path of technological do’s and don’ts and more toward guidance with much of the painful parts of mapmaking behind us. Today’s fresh recruits rightly balk at years of database maintenance and tedious data formatting routines when they’d rather be setting up sensors or sending up a UAS or balloon to collect fresh data of their subject area.

The duller aspects of mapmaking are understandably pushing people away when the consumer tools, open source access, and democratizing forces at work have made them excited about what they can do. Users can create fresh maps or 3D constructed realities so quickly these days that the nuances of data collection can be lost on them. The trick is always in the adoption and assimilation of these new tools in order to freshen our maps and make them more inclusive and collaborative without disrupting.

Mapping vs. Reliable Maps

While these teens know infallible maps, and there are increasingly inspiring examples of cities and states that have made many inroads in their operations through mapping, there are also so many organizations that have failed to adequately map their assets. How many times have you heard of a municipality or utility that would be embarrassed to share their geospatial data for fear that others would discover how bad it actually is?

The truth is that systematic and consistent mapmaking is difficult without a fine-tuned check and balance on cartographic quality and teams of mapmakers that follow the same protocols and share the same rigor in their work. Mapmaking is also an endless pursuit, and the likes of Google and Here understand this well with their fleets of cars and ever-evolving sensor sets that ply our roads and make these consumer maps so successful.

Seeing a recent headline that the city of Chennai is undertaking their fourth attempt to map their city in 3D isn’t such a surprise given the difficulty of the task. The frenzied pace of change in much of the world is like a patient that won’t sit still for an examination. We must map with all the tools at our disposal, from the air, the ground, and our phones to get a handle on urbanization and to connect citizens to services to improve our existence.

The teen’s take had visibly shaken this person, and to a degree these teens are right about a more accessible toolset that requires less training and technological knowhow. Yet, so much more mapping needs to be done, and so much more map analysis needs to happen in order to make increasing sense of the world around us. The difficulty in this generation gap is to remain humble and to learn as well as teach as we all assimilate the possibilities of today’s technologies.

– See more at: https://sensorsandsystems.com/dialog/perspectives/35143-have-we-progressed-beyond-geospatial-arrogance.html#sthash.s6oouk0W.dpuf

One Mapping Service to Rule Them All (?)


MapStory can give users the tools to map the growth of every municipality in the world.


A map that shows the growth of New York City from 1626 to the present day tells a lot of stories about American history. How the Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam became the English colony of New York, only to be recaptured and renamed Nieuw-Orange. How the great manors of New York were incorporated into cities. And how the cities of New York and Brooklyn (formerly Breucklyn) grew by annexation until they were consolidated as with Long Island, Queens, and Staten Island.

The graphic simplicity of MapStory’s geographic history of New York City belies an incredible challenge. Collating city records that span centuries, colonies, wars, and states is no mean feat, but MapStory makes it look easy.

In fact, the purpose of MapStory is to make this work easier. Mapping out the growth of New York City over time—indeed, the growth of every municipality in New York State—is just a means to one end. MapStory aims to give users the means to map the development of every municipality on the planet.

That audacity earned MapStory an OpenGov grant from the Sunlight Foundation. “Our initial motivation was to support urban historians and genealogists who need to know this information but who currently spend inordinate amounts of time searching historic maps and city records for it,”wrote MapStory’s John Vincent and Karl R. Phillips on a post on Sunlight’s blog. “In the digital age, citizens should be able to ask and immediately answer this simple question: How has the geography of my city/town/borough/village changed throughout its history?”

MapStory caught my eye earlier this week when someone passed along aMapStory map charting the growth of Portland over time. That means that users are taking MapStory beyond its initial goals of mapping the states of New York and also California, where they’ve collected data for a whole mess of that state’s cities.


Browsing the MapStories that are up and available yields some real finds. User Betsy Emmons, an environmental science student at Gettysburg College (and a MapStory intern), appears to be the author of an awesome map of Portland’s network of bike lanes.

And another bike-lane map for San Francisco, using San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency data.

Does MapStory make things too easy? The geocoordinates for this map of D.C. murals look off to me, though the effort is impressive: I’d expect someone to need to hand-code this map. And a global map of rocket test-launch sites around the world that draws on Wikipedia needs a better data source.

But a map of changes in land use in Mesa, Arizona, over time—built using GIS data provided by Arizona State University—demonstrates how useful this could be to future historians and urban geographers.

The same goes for a map showing the spread of U.S. national parks over time, which was built by the same Arizona State University graduate student.

Mapping the entire world may be a ways off. But recent developments—such as the 2013 ruling by the California Supreme Court that California government GIS databases are public records—makes the data more accessible all the time. MapStory is a repository of examples of the uses those data can be put toward, from class assignments to deep history projects.


Five decades of Iowa aerial photography are now available on IDNR Website

Editor’s Note: The decades available are the 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s through this project. From 1990 to present were already available. The 1940s were not done due to World War II — few photographs were available in this decade.

Iowans have a way to look into Iowa’s past and view changes of their entire state, from decade to decade, thanks in part to REAP funding of the Iowa Historic Digital Aerial Photo Project.

The public can now see where former buildings were located, what kinds of industries and operations were on a site 70 years ago, and how development and urbanization has changed Iowa’s city and agricultural landscapes by visiting http://programs.iowadnr.gov/maps/aerials/.

In 2009 and 2011, Historical Resource Development Program grants from REAP helped the Department of Natural Resource’s Geographic Information System Section procure photographs from various archives across the state and nation. Archives in Washington D.C., the University of Iowa Map Library, the Iowa Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Aerial Photography Field Office, county offices and private national archives all contained valuable pieces to Iowa’s geographic time puzzle.

“The Iowa Historic Digital Aerial Photo Project makes these images available to researchers, developers, landowners and others who need to understand the history of properties in Iowa,” said Steve King, deputy state historic preservation officer. “We appreciate preserving these important historical documents and making them available online to Iowans and others around the world.”

Developers, landowners and managers, and planners often need to understand how a property was previously used in order to evaluate history’s environmental and character impacts. Knowledge about a site’s resource use is also beneficial, and difficult to find elsewhere. Soil and stream-bank erosion patterns, conservation improvements and changes in natural vegetation and habitat can also be used to compare trends in land use and natural resource management.

Once the photos were scanned and made digital, GIS staff diligently matched them to their actual location. A processing algorithm then aligned the photos into blocks, which were mosaicked together to produce statewide coverage. Because of this approach, the photos can now be viewed with other mapped features such as roads and land boundaries.

“The REAP funds were really valuable because they allowed us to purchase large batches of photos,” said DNR GIS analyst Kathryne Clark. “Five decades of the entire state of Iowa is now mapped in a way that didn’t exist before this project.”

The GIS Historic Aerial Photography Project took more than eight years to complete, from 2004 – 2012, because of its detail specific and comprehensive nature.

Clark said Iowa is more advanced than many states because the imagery is more easily incorporated into other mapping applications, due to its layering compatibility. Iowa’s geographical history can be seen transformed by manipulating basemap layers on the top left of the screen. The ESRI World Imagery layer is also included. Layers with roads, city and county boundaries are available.

In its 25 years, REAP has benefited every county in Iowa by supporting 14,535 projects. REAP has funded these projects with $264 million in state investments, leveraging two to three times the amount in private, local and federal dollars. Collectively, these projects have improved the quality of life for all Iowans with better soil and water quality; added outdoor recreation opportunities; sustained economic development; enhanced knowledge and understanding of our ecological and environmental assets, and preservation of our cultural and historic treasures.

“Introduction to GIS” Course in English Free of Charge

Written by gvSIG Published: 28 October 2014

The gvSIG-Training e-Learning platform opens its registration period for the “Basic GIS with gvSIG” MOOC in English, given by the gvSIG Association and GISMAP. This MOOC aims to show the use and potentiality of the open source software gvSIG in performing the most common operations during the workflow in a GIS environment. This Course is addressed to beginners as well as to skilled GIS users who want to learn how to use this software.

It will start in November 24th, and it will last four weeks with an approximate participant’s engagement of thirty hours during the whole course period.

Course attendance is completely free of charge. Students who successfully complete the course and wish to receive the Certificate of Achievement, corresponding to 30 credits for gvSIG Certification program, will be asked for a contribution of 40 Euros.

For further information about topics, goals…: http://web.gvsig-training.com/index.php/es/quienes-somos-2/noticias-2/139-massive-online-open-course-introduction-to-gis

For registration, you have to press “Enroll” at the bottom of the page, and then accept the “Site policy agreement”. Finally you will have to register at the web page.

– See more at: https://sensorsandsystems.com/news/top-stories/corporate-news/35146-introduction-to-gis-course-in-english-free-of-charge.html#sthash.uqvhYdWU.dpuf