Recap of the Philadelphia LocationTech Tour Stop

Recap of the Philadelphia LocationTech Tour Stop

Philly has a ton of GIS and map geeks.  It’s been amazing to see the new GeoPhilly meetup group grow over the past couple months to over 200 mappers!  Our most recent GeoPhilly event was the Geo Open Source Conference on November 13th, part of a series of events along the eastern seaboard called the LocationTech Tour.

The conference was organized into an afternoon series of in-depth talks and an evening set of lighting talks.  In true Philadelphia “Quaker State” style, the Arch Street Quaker Meetinghouse hosted the afternoon event for 93 of us. Built in 1804 on land deeded to the Quakers by William Penn himself in 1693, the Meetinghouse provided great acoustics and a cool historical contrast to all the contemporary technology being presented.

Our Keynote speaker was Mark Headd, Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia, who presented “The Future of Open Data” and his work at the City on releasing high value geographic and other government datasets, and what the future holds. Most of us in the room put on a wide grin upon hearing that Mark’s team in the City’s Office of Innovation & Technology has put more public repos on Github of civic apps and open data than any other US city, including Chicago and New York!

Rob Emanuele, lead developer of our GeoTrellis framework, introduced the crowd to “Real-Time Raster Processing with GeoTrellis.” His talk had a nice overview of raster data and online processing with map algebra. Rob also dove deeper into server-side performance considerations and the Scala code of GeoTrellis.

Next, Dana Bauer from Rackspace gave a talk on Balloon Mapping and how the Public Lab organization has been working to build a strong community around open source, open science kits. One of Dana’s points was that unmanned drones have “concealed operators” and some people might feel apprehensive about them. However, when you’re flying a balloon to gather your aerial photography, the tethering string leads right back to you. This allows people in the area to get curious and come over to ask you questions, which might give you a chance to explain what you’re doing and involve them in your work. The main take away for Dana’s presentation: Open Source – You are Invited!

(This video is of a similar talk by Dana Bauer, but is not the one she delivered at the GeoPhilly conference.)

Though some people may not associate Esri with open source, Tom Swanson did a great job in his talk highlighting the innovative work they have been doing recently.  Tom demonstrated to us Esri’s renewed commitments to open source technologies and showed off the code and utilities they have released on GitHub.

A talk by Justin Walgran, a developer on Azavea’s Civic Apps team, took us behind the scenes of Azavea’s new open source and cloud-based platform for collaborative inventory of urban street trees. From the value tree organizations are finding in sharing their inventory data and organizing communities around trees, to design tricks like using the same text box for fuzzy searching for neighborhood names and direct street address entry, to an overview of how OpenTreeMap “stands on the shoulders” of a slew of other open source toolkits, Justin showed the group how a large site can enable a volunteer community to assemble geodata.

Aaron Ogle from OpenPlans was up next.  He took us through the basics of cost-distance raster calculations and how they applied to his new project for doing client-side walkability calculations, Walkshed.js. As one of our attendees has noted, “the civil implications of walkability were just as interesting as the code behind it. But the code…the calculation of the walkability was seriously quick.”

Georgia Bullen from the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation relayed an inspiring story of the Red Hook WiFi mesh-networking project that she and OTI have been working on with a neighborhood in Brooklyn impacted by superstorm Sandy. As a ham radio operator myself, it was fun to hear about cheap and ad-hoc wireless communications and their impact in the neighborhood, both after the disaster and as a technology training program for young adults in the community.

To close out the afternoon,  Ben Balter from GitHub gave us a rundown of the new GeoJSON rendering features in GitHub. More broadly, Ben talked about development trends through Internet history and how “smarter” protocols and data formats like XML and Shapefiles usually lose ground to “dumber” ones like HTTP and JSON. Nothing beats being able to look at and play with geodata in raw text form with any tool you want, and that’s where GeoJSON and similar formats shine.

After a jam-packed afternoon, we decided we had not had enough. We gathered a few blocks away in the evening at Lucha Cartel, a Mexican-themed bar in Old City, for drinks and our evening lightning talk rounds. James Conklin from CCRi introduced us to GeoMesa and Accumulo, and spatial “big data”. John Branigan from Azavea continued the performance theme with his lightning talk on UTF-Grid and how quickly it can display vector overlays. Sean McGinnis brought us stories of Hurricane Sandy and Open Data efforts from the New Jersey Office of GIS. David Walk from the City of Philadelphia gave us a small talk about small Node.js modules he used to build a small API he developed for Philly neighborhood boundariesVanessa Hamer from Boundless showed us, in her talk, what it means to be a good open source citizen. Finally, John Reiser from Rowan University talked about crowdsourcing methods the university is using to study suburban development patterns in New Jersey.

The sense of community and excitement about learning new tech and geographic tools at the event was palpable. With lots of upcoming events on the meetup page, the horizon looks bright for the GeoPhilly group and the GIS community in Philadelphia at large. So go ahead and join us!