Where 2.0: Mumbai Free Map and Geo Community

Opening up Where 2.0 is Schuyler Erle, of MetaCarta, keynoting a session; Mapping the Maximum City. Schuyler is the co-author of Mapping Hacks and Google Mapping Hacks.

Schuyler gave a clarion call speech on the need for accessible open interoperable geodata. He has spent parts of the last two years helping the Collective Research Initiatives Trust, a group of architects, urban planners and activists. They have been working on the Mumbai Free Map, an open grassroot maintained map of Mumbai. With 14 million inhabitants it is a very densely populated area. 7 million of these are under-housed, with 2-3 million of them being children.

In the US there is USGS, Nasa and Census data publicly available, but the data is often out of date. In Europe most of the data is held by government agencies that are chartered to gather very accurate data. These agencies are often supposed to work on a cost neutral basis. In England the cost of licensing data for a single London borough can be as high as £30,000 per year. The potential economic loss in the British economy due to insufficient public geodata has been calculated to £1 billion.

In Mumbai there are beautiful neo-geographic maps available, but CRIT did not have the rights to publish this data. To get around this CRIT made AutoCAD vector models of all the data, and then used volunteers to do a civil survey to collect GPS reference points. Using software from the OSGeo, the open source geo community, Schuyler helped them make this data available online.

There is a general problem to collect user generated data, people living in an area are the only ones that can verify that this is correct. With a set design pattern based around the architectures of participation. These include open license, history with comments and feeds of changes. With GeoRSS you can get updates of data in your local area, allowing you to verify it.

Currently there is a “profound ontology anarchy” with key/value pairs generated by users. An example from OpenStreetMap was the tag wrong=”oh yes!”. The solution to this is proposed as a meta ontology that lets you map chaotic ontologies together. OpenStreetMap is a nice generic platform for collecting and sharing local map data, with for example a collected map of Tehran.

Maps tell stories, stories construct the future. Rich Gibson, Schuylers co-author, pointed out that ‘they who control the map, control reality’, illustrating the need for open available geodata.

I find the effort in Mumbai fascinating, by allowing people to see their neighbour hood, CRIT can start affecting positive change for people. The open geo movement has come a long way since I last looked at it in 2003, and with more people collecting data it is sure to grow.

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