Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web

Esri Removes Usage Limits on ArcGIS Online Base Maps

Esri announced on Friday that they are lifting most of the usage restrictions on ArcGIS Online map services. As of February, ArcGIS Online base maps hosted by Esri will be freely available to all users, regardless of the use (commercial, non-profit, internal, external, etc.) The only restrictions will be on very high volume transactions of 50 million or more per year. While some of these services could be better, some have some really terrific cartography.  I really like the World Topographic Map, particularly for communities that have contributed to the Community Maps Program.   And I remain excited that Esri is supporting OpenStreetMap as a base map option.

ArcGIS Online is evolving into an increasingly useful service with not just base maps but also high quality, specialized data sets, such as the US National Wetlands Inventory or the US National Soil Survey Map.   There is also the ability to embed the maps in personal web sites.  The ArcGIS Online blog has a nice set of examples for how these capabilities can be applied to a number of different scenarios.

ArcGIS Online Soil Survey with OSM base map

We have found ArcGIS Online to be useful for several of our projects, particularly those that need a high-quality base map with good cartography but for which there is no budget or no need for an actual web map server.  Since we frequently use the OpenLayers javascript library for many of these projects, we have recently submitted a new feature to the OpenLayers project that adds tiling support for ArcGIS Online base maps.  There’s more on the OpenLayers submission in a post by David Middlecamp on our Labs blog.

Time to Give Back: Azavea Staff Allocate 2010 Charitable Contributions

As a certified B Corporation, Azavea is held to a high set of corporate and environmental standards. We’re committed to keeping the interests of employees, our community and the environment at the core of our mission. We strive to create a challenging and intellectually stimulating environment for our colleagues and seek out projects with social value that help clients create more vibrant, sustainable communities (learn more here).

In addition to carefully selecting the types of projects with which we engage – public health, crime analysis, elections, human services, cultural resources, economic development, and land conservation, to name just a few – Azavea operates a pro bono program and gives away a portion of its annual profits to nonprofit organizations each year. Each of our 25 staff members is given the opportunity to allocate the contributions.  Each person receives 10 points they can distribute across a list of organizations that match our areas of interest including:

  • Ecosystem Services
  • Local Arts and Culture
  • Open Government and Rule of Law
  • Internet and Open Data
  • Sustainable Transportation
  • Growing Underdeveloped Markets

We’re pleased to announce that our staff selected the following organizations for our 2010 charitable contributions. We believe that the work they are doing is well worth our support, and we hope you’ll take a moment or two to learn more about them.

Ecosystem Services

Local Arts and Culture

Open Government and Rule of Law

Internet and Open Data

Sustainable Transportation

Growing Underdeveloped Markets

Esri File Geodatabase API Released

Over the holidays, Esri pre-announced a beta delivery date for the File Geodatabase API and today it was released in beta.  The shortcomings of the shapefile have been apparent for a decade or more, but it’s less clear to me why something has not taken it’s place.  SQLite Spatial has been a potential open source option, but it’s not one that has taken off.  Esri’s File Geodatabase (FGDB) has had a great deal of potential as an alternative because it is:

  • Cross-platform – runs on Windows and Linux
  • Supports many data types including raster, vector, networks, 3D, relationships
  • Doesn’t require a full relational database (Oracle, SQL Server, MS Access, etc.)
  • Lots more headroom in terms of the size of the database than the shapefile ever had
  • High performance (Esri recommends considering File GDBs over SDE under some high capacity server scenarios)
  • Support for editing

But since its introduction at ArcGIS 9.2, we’ve only been able to use the File GDB via ArcObjects.  Enterprise Geodatabases (née ArcSDE) have had a every useful C API for many years, and there’s been significant demand for something similar for the File GDB.  Such an API would enable the potential replacement of the shapefile as a much more sophisticated cross-platform interchange format.

So, as I was saying, the Esri GDB team released some information in mid-December and released the API in beta today.  You’ll be able to use the API as a C++ library.  We now know that this initial version of the API includes:

  • Create, Open and Delete file geodatabases
  • Read the schema of the geodatabase
  • Create new schemas for simple features (tables, points, lines, polygons)
  • Read feature classes
  • Insert, Update, Delete support for simple features (tables, points, lines, polygons)
  • Perform attribute and some limited spatial queries

There are some limitations:

  • No editing for complex feature types – annotation, networks, topologies, terrains, representations and parcel fabrics
  • No raster support (bummer)
  • Only very limited spatial query functions (envelope intersects only)
  • Only supports ArcGIS 10 File GDBs
  • Only supports Windows (Linux support has been promised in a subsequent release)

This API is something that people have been requesting for years.  Why the heck did it take so long?  My guess is that Esri developers needed to stabilize the internal structures before releasing a API for reading and writing those structures.  The fact that there is only support for FileGDBs created from ArcGIS 10 suggests that this may be correct.

So it’s out in beta now.  Go get it while it’s hot.

Augmented Reality in Cultural Institutions

If you visit Azavea these days, there’s a good possibility you might notice people wandering around near the windows holding up their smartphones or bundling up to head outside and test the new mobile augmented reality (AR) application for PhillyHistory.org. Erik and Josh, the developers working on the prototype application, are hard at work researching and experimenting with the best ways to combine historic photographs and mobile technology to create a great AR experience.

The Philadelphia Department of Records, however, is certainly not the first cultural institution to investigate the use of augmented reality as an educational and access tool. Within the last three years, several interesting projects around the world have provided new and innovative ways for the public to view the collections of various museums and cultural organizations. While you’re waiting for the PhillyHistory.org AR app, you may want to check out some of these great augmented reality applications. Some of the projects require you to be in a specific location, but others can be accessed anywhere.

Augmented Reality for Interpretive and Experiential Learning (ARIEL), Philadelphia – A group of organizations working on “fixed-station exhibit devices with augmented and virtual reality interfaces.”

Augsburg Display Cabinet, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles - Using a printed marker and a web cam, users can manipulate and more closely view a digital model of the cabinet.

Berlin Wall, Berlin –  A layer in Layar that enables users to view a recreation of the Berlin Wall.

Gene Becker and Adriano Farano, San Francisco - Experimenting with historic photographs and augmented reality in San Francisco.

Powerhouse Museum, Sydney - Enables users to view historic photographs of Sydney, Australia.

Streetmuseum, Museum of London, London – Historic photographs of London available as overlays on the current landscape.

The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh – View information and images of locations in Pittsburgh and New York connected to Warhol’s life and work.

Urban Augmented Reality (UAR), Netherlands Architecture Institute, Rotterdam - An architecture focused application that provides images of past buildings, designs that were never built, and artist’s impressions of the future built environment.

With the rapid pace of AR development, I’m sure that I’ve missed a few projects. Leave a comment if you know of other great AR work going on in cultural institutions!

Crunching the Numbers on City Council

This morning the Philadelphia Research Initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts released a report comparing Philadelphia City Council to councils in 14 other major cities. The researchers at Pew examined everything from salaries to tenure to “representativeness” to perks. Here’s a brief look at how Philadelphia fared on several key measures.

Who gets paid the most?
L.A. council members top the list with an average salary of $178,789. Philadelphia council members rank 4th with an average salary of $121,107.

Who has been in office the longest?
Philadelphia council members do a great job of holding onto their seats — the average tenure is 15.5 years. Council President Anna Verna recently announced that she will retire after nearly 35 years in office.

Philadelphia City Council members have the longest average tenure of all 15 city councils in the Pew study. This image comes from the interactive graphic that accompanies the report.

Which city does the best job of representing populations that have been underrepresented historically?
Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore (African-Americans), San Antonio (Hispanics), Dallas (women)

Who enjoys the nicest perks?
Philadelphia council members get 12 weeks off in the summer.

Where are the least compact city council districts?
New York-4, Houston-E, Philadelphia-7 & Philadelphia-5 top the list. A low quantitative compactness score can serve as a useful indicator that a particular district shape is irregular. This may point to gerrymandering in a particular district or city.

The Pew authors used Azavea’s Redistricting the Nation website and redistricting white papers to explore different measures of compactness and compactness scores for individual council districts within cities. The report also includes some information about the redistricting process for several cities, including a brief exploration of a proposal to create more transparency and public participation in Philadelphia’s redistricting process.