Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web

Announcing our 2015 Summer of Maps Fellows and Projects

Summer of Maps offers fellowships to student analysts to perform geographic data analysis for non-profit organizations.  The program matches non-profit organizations that have spatial analysis and visualization needs with talented students of GIS analysis to implement projects over a three-month period during the summer.  We are thrilled to announce the 2015 Summer of Maps fellows and the non-profit organizations they will work with.  Please join me in congratulating:

Kevin Frech, B.A. Candidate, Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University, working with:

Laura Laderman, Major: Physics, Minor: Statistics at Swarthmore College, working with:

Nathaniel Henry, Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Science and Bachelor of Science in Geography: Urban, Regional, and Global Studies with Minors in Economics, Chinese, working with:

We are very excited to work with our 2015 Summer of Maps fellows and support them through their work with these nonprofits.  Students interested in the 2016 program or non-profits that would like to submit a project, please visit the Get Involved page of our website. 

We are also enormously grateful to the organizations that sponsor the Summer of Maps Program each year. Thank you to our 2015 sponsors:

Esri LogoLogo for Temple University Professional Science Master's in Geographic Information Systems

If you’d like to sponsor the 2015 program, we welcome you to find out more information here.

Building TreesCount! 2015

Every day is a great day to celebrate trees, but on the last Friday in April, our hardworking urban forests get the attention they really deserve. Today, on Arbor Day, we’re excited to announce the launch of TreesCount! 2015, the NYC Parks‘ initiative to map and catalogue every street tree in New York City using a web application developed here at Azavea.


NYC Parks has compiled info on every street tree in all five boroughs every ten years since 1995. With more than 600,000 trees to map, this year’s census is no small task. How do you gather vitally important data about that many trees in just a few months while ensuring it’s as accurate as possible? Get tree loving New Yorkers to help! NYC Parks is partnering with civic and neighborhood groups and encouraging members of the public to become “voluntreers” who will join Parks’ staff in counting trees throughout the city.

Azavea’s task was to build the web application that would enable volunteers to learn more about the census, sign up for mapping events, and log data about the trees via smartphones and tablets while also providing NYC Parks with the tools to review data and coordinate mapping activities. The resulting TreesCount! 2015 software is an open source application that includes:

  • A map to view the ongoing progress of the census
  • A training system to provide users with the info they need to accurately gather tree data
  • Group and event pages where volunteers can learn about community organizations and RSVP for tree mapping events
  • A reservation system for checking out block edges for mapping
  • The Treecorder application for entering data about each tree
  • Administrative tools to ensure the census includes trees in all parts of the city and results in accurate data


Volunteers will map the trees using a method developed by TreeKIT, a non-profit group focused on community involvement in urban forestry. Based on centuries’ old surveying techniques, volunteers using the TreeKIT mapping method select a block edge segment and use measuring wheels to accurately log the distance between intersections and trees. Those distances are translated into geographic coordinates that accurately identify the tree’s location. We expanded the initial TreeKIT mapping application into the new Treecorder, a responsive web application that enables volunteers to efficiently and accurately enter tree data via their mobile devices.

The work on TreesCount! 2015 aligns well with Azavea’s other urban forestry related projects, particularly OpenTreeMap (OTM) – the subscription-based platform for collaborative geography-enabled urban tree inventory. OTM encourages the general public to learn more about the trees in their communities by exploring and updating tree data as well as info on green infrastructure features such as rain gardens.

NYC Parks will use the data gathered as part of TreesCount! 2015 to gain a more complete understanding of the current urban forest and plan future street tree plantings, maintenance, and stewardship activities. With an accurate inventory of over 600,000 street trees, NYC Parks can calculate the environmental and economic benefits of the trees and demonstrate why trees truly are worth celebrating every day of the year.

If you’re interested in mapping trees in NYC this summer, visit the TreesCount! 2015 website and sign up to become a trained volunteer, explore the many community groups organizing events, or check out the the mapping progress. Mapping begins May 19!

The Changing Map of the Arctic

When we think of geopolitical conflict quite a few areas come to mind, but one quite significant and often overlooked area is the Arctic. As the landscapes of the northern latitudes transform — most significantly due to climate change — geographers and mappers will have their work cut out for them recording those changes and helping to explain what they mean for the rest of the world.


Former Alaska Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell gave a talk about mapping the landscape of the Arctic at the 2015 Annual Association of American Geographers Conference on Tuesday in Chicago, IL. Treadwell has a long history of involvement with business and environmental interests in Alaska and the Arctic region. Prior to being elected Lt. Governor, he served on the United States Arctic Research Commission and managed the Exxon-Valdez oil spill response for Cordova, Alaska.

Changes in the geography of the Arctic related to climate change will have many profound impacts. For one, oil exploration is sure to increase with less sea ice to contend with. Bathymetric mapping explorations are continuing to cover more of the sea floor as well. As sea ice recedes, shipping channels are opening up, including a link between East Asia and Europe that previously required routing ships through the Panama Canal. These journeys can now be completed more efficiently and throughout a longer portion of each year by re-routing through the Arctic.

Climate change and shifting geography in the Arctic also has implications for the U.S.-Russia relationship. Russia has made it well-known that it would like to expand its territorial claim to the Arctic, and as Treadwell pointed out in his presentation, Russia is much further behind the U.S. in releasing scientific data to the public. Treadwell emphasized the need for a science agreement with Russia so that the data they collect be made available for research. As of late last year, Russia was planning to apply to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to expand its claim on the Arctic by about 463,000 square miles. This great graphic from The New York Times shows the current territorial claims from each nation with a border claim in the Arctic.

Finally, Treadwell emphasized the importance of maintaining place names and languages. There’s an incredible amount of data contained in historic place names. Alaska’s legislature recently made twenty native languages official, granting them parity with English.

Above all else, Treadwell urged geographers and the public at large to pay attention to what takes place in the Arctic, though it might seem far away to those living in the lower 48, it’s extremely important to our future.

Building the Future of Open Data: Part 2

The first part of the Building the Future of Open Data blog explored the survey results and synthesis for my Future of Open Geo Data talk at FOSS4GNA. This 2nd part explores the steps that data consumers can take to contribute to a bright future for open data.

Guidelines for Consumers

To begin with, it’s important to outline some general guidelines for data consumers utilizing open data.  These create a baseline of responsibilities that we can embrace to help support the open data ecosystem.

  • Utilizing and advocating for the use of metadata and open data standards in your work, such as GTFS or Open311.
  • Providing constructive and timely feedback to data producers for open data you download or utilize. (Many portals allow for commenting or rating of datasets, while others list contact information in metadata). Often times, the comments are used to improve the quality and accuracy of published data.
  • Inquire with your elected officials about their stance on open data. This starts an important dialog and often times exposes officials to the community of supporters for open data.
  • Build and showcase interesting projects utilizing open data. This is a fantastic way to showcase the value of open data and demonstrates the public demand for publishing and maintaining quality data

Keeping the above guidelines in mind will contribute greatly to the livelihood and perceived value of open data.

Actionable Steps for Consumers

More importantly, what actionable steps can we take as consumers of data to enrich the data ecosystem and demonstrate the high value that open data provides to the civic community?  The following easy 5-step program outlines a process that any data consumer can take to showcase the merit and value of open data.

Step 1: Visit your favorite open data portal such as: NYC OpenData, Chicago Data Portal,, OpenDataPhilly or London DataStore, just to name a few.  Because I was in San Francisco for this event, I visited DataSF.DataSF

Step 2: Download a dataset that you’ve never worked with before. For this, I downloaded San Francisco’s Restaurant Scores from the data portal.

Step 3: Analyze the data using your favorite tools. I processed the data in QGIS and used CartoDB to create an interesting visualization of the data. The visualization displays the restaurant inspection scores as well as some additional information about each location.

Step 4: Provide feedback to the data creator on the quality or completeness of the data used in the project. This helps data providers produce better data as well as give other data consumers insight on the data.

Step 5: Share your project on twitter with hashtag #openfuture with your elected officials and tell them about the importance and value of open data. Below is my tweet to Philadelphia City Government expressing interest in the publication of similar open and standardized restaurant inspection data for the City.

Inspiring Projects

To help you get started, find some inspiration by exploring some fantastic civic projects that utilize open data sources to interpret and visualize data. It’s clear that these tools provide substantial value to their users:

David Walk’s PHL Crime Mapper Application

Image of PHL CrimeMapper Application

This application is valuable because it allows Philadelphians to explore crime data with filters that are meaningful to them (geographic area, time and crime type).  It’s fueled by City of Philadelphia’s crime data API.

James Tyack’s Unlock Philly Application

Screenshot of UnlockPhilly Application showing accessibility of transit stations

This application uses open and crowd-sourced data to let users explore accessibility of transportation stations and businesses as well as outages of accessibility features like elevators. This serves a vital need which no existing tool or service was able to serve.  Now cross-transit network accessibility is available in one easy to use site.

If you’d like to learn more about the future of open data, you can also find my slides online and can also watch a re-recording of my entire talk:

Building the Future of Open Data: Part 1

Foss4GNA Logo

At the 2015 Free and Open Source for Geo North America (FOSS4GNA) conference in San Francisco, I had the fantastic opportunity to present on the topic of the Future of Open Geo Data.


words Open Data written in colorful candy. source: wiki commons.

Open government data plays a vital role in civic participation and government transparency.  Liberating data opens access to information that may have been previously unavailable, unobtainable or costly. The resulting open data can improve the transparency of government operations and encourage economic and community development. This process often starts a dialog between the government and its community which can result in important civic collaboration. There are now hundreds of cities, states and countries that operate thriving data portals and the benefits offered – economic development, transparency and citizen engagement – are proof of the value of open initiatives.

What might the future of open government data look like? How will cities evolve to meet the needs of both producers and consumers of data? How will data providers share ideas and learn from each other to create a more sustainable and harmonious open data community?

Research & Survey

I performed some background research on what others thought the future of open data might look like to answer these questions. I assembled and tested a hypothesis with a survey of ODI Nodes and other open data advocates. Twenty-seven individuals from nonprofit and commercial organizations with a strong interest in open data responded to the survey.  A few assumptions and notes about the survey:

  • I am primarily addressing open data that is released by local, state and national governments. Much other important open data exist (nonprofit, commercial, academic) but for the context of this talk, I am referring primarily to government data.
  • For the purpose of this survey and talk, I’ve defined the future as the next three years.

Below are the results of my hypothesis testing. The potential responses are organized by category , with the percentage of respondents who agreed with each item in parentheses. Respondents selected as many options per topic as they thought were applicable.

Future predictions relating to Data Standards & Quality:
  • Increased development and adoption of open data standards. (67%)
  • Integrated Portals supporting regional & national visualized open data feeds. (37%)
  • More Live data feeds (APIs, linked databases) as opposed to publishing static data sets. (56%)
Future predictions relating to Consumption & Access:
  • Published data consistently serving a variety of needs (publishing data as: viewer, download & API). (52%)
  • Open data serving as common topic of civic discourse (such as political platforms during elections). (33%)
  • More tools available (from both open and closed providers) for publishing of open data. (48%)
Future predictions relating to Adoption & Community:
  • Government policies that have power to enforce open data initiatives and goals. (48%)
  • Governments with dedicated budget & staff for open data initiatives. (59%)
  • 3rd parties with strong investment in & advocacy for open data (journalists, academics, etc). (44%)

I also solicited comments regarding aspirations for the future of open data. Here is a selection of the astute comments I received:

  • Literacy: The increase of data literacy and demystification of open data. Increased awareness from politicians of open data.
  • Operations: Transparency as part of strategic operations and requiring of open data strategy as part of bid proposals. Governments releasing not only positive datasets but also those that might make them look bad.
  • Data Publishing and Maintenance: Clean and up-to-date APIs, more crowd-sourced data integrated with public data. More open source options for publishing data.


What do these predictions for the future of open data mean for the creators and consumers of open geospatial data?

  1. Live data linked to downloads. When geospatial data is updated internally, the data download links are automatically updated to reflect the changes. This eliminates the manual and infrequent process of updating data download links.
  2. More data published as APIs to support application development from open data.
  3. Data designed with intent to release including thoughtful collection, metadata creation, storage, maintenance to support seamless publication.
  4. Data formats meeting needs of consumers, for example publishing data published in multiple formats to support casual user, analyst and developer needs.
  5. Geographic based discovery of spatial data with tools such as GeoBlacklight support the search of a geographic location or boundary to discover available data.
  6. Data providers embracing visualization and analysis by the public as this further demonstrates value and demand of open data.

To explore more, you can find my presentation slides and can also watch a re-recording of my entire talk:

Please also check out Part 2 of this blog post which explores actionable steps for data consumers to take to help contribute to the future success of open data.