Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web

WikiWatershed Encourages Responsible Water Resource Management

The Schuylkill River Watershed stretches through portions of eleven counties in southeast Pennsylvania and provides drinking water for approximately 1.5 million people.  Azavea is working with the Stroud Water Research Center, Millersville University and the Cartographic Modeling Lab to develop WikiWatershed™, a suite of web-based, wiki-style tools that will engage users in understanding and managing this important water resource.

WikiWatershed is a multi-year project being funded by the National Science Foundation, the same organization that funded Azavea’s GPU research.  One of the overarching goals of the WikiWatershed Project is to help students understand how present and future actions can impact environmental changes, and to potentially interest them in pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers.  

The first of several planned modules for the WikiWatershed Project is already live.  The Model My Watershed Information Portal is streaming real-time stream gauge and weather station data for the entire Schuylkill River watershed.  Stream gauge data from the United States Geological Survey is used for a broad range of important watershed management activities nationwide, including flood prediction, water allocation and recreational safety enhancement.  Local weather data includes temperature, wind speed, barometric pressure and precipitation totals.  WikiWatershed users have the option to view current stream gauge or weather station data for a particular location, or to visualize historic data through the use of graphs and tables. 

Keep checking back over the next several months as new modules are added to the site, including interactive applications that will support the simulation of stormwater runoff and infiltration.  Once complete, the WikiWatershed website will provide a collaborative platform where local students and other users can share their observations, ideas and resource data to enhance environmental stewardship. 

The Model My Watershed Information Portal enables users to visualize historic stream gauge data with graphs and tables.

Conference Wrap-Up: Museum Computer Network 2010

From October 28-30, I was fortunate to attend the annual Museum Computer Network conference, held this year in Austin, Texas. My only previous experience with Texas involved a long, hot, six hour van ride between Dallas and Lubbock so the chance to get another view of the state by spending a few days in Austin learning about new digital projects and discussing museum technology was much appreciated!

Formed in 1967, the Museum Computer Network serves as an organization where members can discuss, debate, and investigate new technologies and practices in the museum field. The group operates a very active listserv and holds an annual conference. While other of my Azavea colleagues had been to the conference before, this was my first time attending.

Some of the highlights of the conference included:

  • Case Study Showcases: Featuring a quick five minute introduction to a variety of projects, these showcases were a great chance to hear about activities going on around the country. After the initial presentations, each speaker was available to answer further questions or provide more information. Some of my favorites?
    • Information Visualization and Museum Practice: How do we use visualization tools in museum activities from representing visitor information to understanding our collections? This was a great session that continued into an unconference discussion I unfortunately couldn’t attend. It’s a fascinating topic that I’m excited to read more about in the future.
    • Great conversations with museum professionals from around the country.
    • Barbecue and delicious food!

    In addition to hearing about these topics, I also had the chance to speak on GIS for preservation and community engagement as part of a panel on 21st Century Conservation. My session included information on Muralfarm.org (powered by Sajara) and its use by the Mural Arts Program to make more mural information and photographs available to the public.

    Overall a great conference that left me with a long list of projects to check out and websites to read!

Why I Applied to be a Code for America Fellow

Code for America

It may surprise you to hear this, but I don’t get very excited about technology by itself. Really. The way I see it, technology is just a tool, the hammer and chisel that make it possible to crunch ones and zeros, and secondary to that which is being created. What excites me is creating something good; making software that helps solve real-world problems and provides tangible social value.

This is why I am so excited to be joining the inaugural class of Code for America fellows. From the Code for America website:

Code for America was founded to help the brightest minds of the Web 2.0 generation transform city governments. Cities are under greater pressure than ever, struggling with budget cuts and outdated technology. What if, instead of cutting services or raising taxes, cities could leverage the power of the web to become more efficient, transparent, and participatory?

In short, I will be using web technology to make cities better in a real and tangible way.  Sounds like a great fit, don’t you think?

It is not often that a person gets to be present at the beginning of something great.  As a fellow during the first year of the program, I will have the responsibility and privilege of not only building great software for the City of Philadelphia but also shaping the future of Code for America for many years to come.

I’d like to thank Azavea for being supportive throughout this process.  It hasn’t been easy to figure out how to pick up my tent stakes and move to San Francisco for the fellowship while supporting a family, but Azavea has been nothing short of amazing, and has even agreed to supplement the fellowship stipend.   Thanks Azavea! I couldn’t have done this without you.

Create Neighborhood Maps with OSM and MapOSMatic

As regular readers of my articles may have noted, I’m a big fan of OpenStreetMap. I recently discovered a pretty cool service, MapOSMatic, that enables you to generate customized maps of neighborhoods and cities using the OSM database.  Each map generates two files:

  • the map with a label and border, nicely organized with a lettered and numbered grid
  • an index with the street names

You can generate maps in PNG, PDF or SVG formats, and the PDF versions are generated with vector graphics and text objects, so they can be printed at any resolution.   Further, since the data is available under the open OSM data license, you can re-use and distribute as you see fit.

Based on an idea articulated by Gilles Lamiral, an OSM contributor in France, the application was developed by a small team during a one-week “hackfest” in August 2009.  The initial version was limited to French and English and was based on a static database. A second hackfest in December 2009 added daily OSM data updates, global coverage and redesigned UI.  To the original French and English versions, translations have been added  for a growing list of languages including: Spanish, Catalan, German, Italian, Russian, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, Croatian and Polish.  Features planned for the near term include adding legends, paper size selection, configurable styling, options for displaying different amenity layers and support for multi-page maps.

In a couple of minutes I was able generate a map and street index of my neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Spring Garden Neighborhood Map

Spring Garden Street Name Index

And because OSM is global, it works the same way everywhere in the world.  Check out the neighborhood where my father grew up in Loughborough, England – the OSM map is sufficiently awesome in Europe that the building footprints are there for the entire downtown area.

MapOSMatic rendering process

map of loughborough neighborhood