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osm1Open Street Map (openstreetmap.org) is the maps equivalent of Wikipedia, that is to say, it’s a crowd-sourced production to do with mapping our planet (henceforth ‘OSM’).

12-393Down here in the southwest corner of Ireland I’ve been doing my bit viz the market town of Skibbereen, which is in the western corner of county Cork. I’ve been mapping what an American city-dweller would refer to as ‘my block’, which is to say the cluster of properties surrounding my dwelling — the triangular section enclosed in red in the screen-capture below. Really, I should say I’ve been making a contribution to it because the basic layout of laneways and streets and traffic flows, along with the principal buildings and Skibbereen’s topographical features, were already done when I first came to the OSM Skibbereen pages; indeed, all the town is done, essentially, so what I’ve been attempting to do is take it down to the next level of detail, house-to-house identifications and so forth. (I have not identified individual private dwellings, of course, only business premises and public buildings and the like.)

9-2701I live in the grounds of the Abbeystrewry Church of Ireland, which is in the western side of the town, the gateway to which faces onto Bridge Street (between the Fairfield Bar and McCarthy’s Insurance Agency). All of this was already done, that is to say the church grounds were correctly identified along with the church building itself and Abbeystrewry Hall, which is the parish hall. However, my house, Church Meadow House, while it was outlined as a house in the grounds, was not identified as Church Meadow House. Neither was the old school building at the very back of the grounds (albeit but a ruin nowadays) nor the Sexton’s Lodge down by the front gates, all of which I input (see here).

9-26982Out on Bridge Street, as I say, the Fairfield Bar was identified, along with the public transport bus-stop halfway up Bridge Street and Baby Hannah’s public house up at the old railway cutting junction, but little else was identified on this section of Bridge Street. Therefore, I identified all the businesses on ‘my’ side of the street between the church gates and Baby Hannah’s, namely —

*McCarthy’s Insurance Agency at 57 Bridge Street

*the Polish/East European shop at 55 Bridge Street

*Francis Collins’ accountancy offices at 54 Bridge Street

*the Impress Laundrette & Dry Cleaning place

*Charles McCarthy’s estate agency

*the Chistin Beag restaurant

*the Bridge House guesthouse

*the Mobile Phone repair and accessories shop

*Anne Crossey’s Fine Art gallery and studio at 44 Bridge Street

(Note: the house numbers on Bridge Street are a little peculiar — not every building is numbered — however, the numbers I’ve provided are correct.)

To help envision the streetscape of which I speak, below is a little video clip (only 18 seconds long) which looks up and down Bridge Street (it was filmed from a spot across the street from the gateway leading to Abbeystrewry — the Sexton’s Lodge is just inside the gate on the right). This clip first looks up Bridge Street (which is to say looking westwards), towards Baby Hannahs and the railway cutting (see below), and then eastwards towards the entrance to the Fairfield carpark, the Time Traveller’s Bookshop, and the Tsar building (the Church Restaurant cannot be seen in this video because it is set back from the street, see below).

The old railway cutting (Rossa Road), Skibbereen

The old railway cutting (Rossa Road), Skibbereen

Even though I was only concerned with my own little ‘island’ of properties, I also outlined and identified Hennessy’s Londis shop on the corner of “the Cutting” and Bridge Street because, along with Baby Hannah’s, it forms one of the pillars (so to say) of the gateway leading to “the Cutting” (“the Cutting” is where the old railway branch-line to Baltimore used to run, literally a cutting through some rock).

Rossa Road is the formal (or correct) name for “the Cutting”, but no one actually refers to it as Rossa Road, it is always “the Cutting”, therefore (in parenthesis) I incorporated this local identifier into the road-name on the map.

The Cutting connects Bridge Street to Mardyke Street and Coronea Drive at which junction I turned left and moved down along Mardyke Street identifying the site where the new Aldi shop is going up (construction work has already started on this site, the project is due to be completed by summertime, 2015), and the the various buildings on the south side of the Fairfield carpark, i.e., the rooms of the local brass band — St Fachtna’s Silver Band —, the Scouts’ hall, and the County council’s storehouses and litter-picker’s work station.

The Irish army band playing in the Fairfield during the Food Fair in Skibbereen; in the background is Abbeystrewry church and hall and, yonder again, the greenery of the hillside through which the old railway cutting runs

The Irish army band playing in the Fairfield during the Food Fair in Skibbereen; in the background is Abbeystrewry church and hall and, yonder again, the greenery of the hillside through which the old railway cutting runs

Down near the Townshend Street side of Mardyke I retraced and identified the Masonic Hall, the building where the Mardyke Magpie furniture and upholstery place is, and the Tsar building, all of which were previously treated as one, unified building, rather than as three separate buildings (indeed, they are clearly separated one from another, by a laneway between Tsar and Mardyke Magpie buildings, and by a walkway between the Mardyke Magpie building and the Masonic Hall).

I also flagged up the fact that the Department of Social Protection has an office on the ground floor of the Masonic Hall.

The Masonic Hall on Mardyke Street in Skibbereen which, on the ground floor, houses the local offices of the Department of Social Protection (which is to say, the 'Dole' office)

The Masonic Hall on Mardyke Street in Skibbereen which, on the ground floor, houses the local offices of the Department of Social Protection (which is to say, the ‘Dole’ office)

The Tsar building (which used to be a pub and a restaurant but is closed now) wraps around onto Bridge Street again (i.e., it is a triangular-shaped property with entrances on both Mardyke and Bridge Streets), so I completed the triangular journey back to the Abbeystrewry church gates again, identifying the business premises along the way (as mentioned above, the Church Restaurant, the Time Traveller’s Bookshop, and the Fairfield Bar were already outlined and identified), namely, Walsh’s butcher shop, the Gloss (fashion) shop, and Alma, another women’s fashion outlet.

The Church Restaurant, which was once the Methodist church in Skibbereen, ought not to be confused with Abbeystrewry church (something which often happens on the ground, especially with summer-time visitors — not infrequently one will find bewildered looking folk wandering around the nether regions of Abbeystrewry Hall looking for the way into ‘the restaurant’); misleadingly, the gateways to Abbeystrewry and to the Church Restaurant are less than 50 paces apart.

The Church Restaurant, which was once the Methodist church in Skibbereen, ought not to be confused with Abbeystrewry church (something which often happens on the ground, especially with summer-time visitors — not infrequently one will find bewildered looking folk wandering around the nether regions of Abbeystrewry Hall looking for the way into ‘the restaurant’); misleadingly, the gateways to Abbeystrewry and to the Church Restaurant are less than 50 paces apart.

As the little video below makes clear, learning to map with Open Street Map is easy — one can become a perfectly competent user within one one-hour session. I used the iD in-browser editor, which is one of three editors one can use; I used it because it is the simplest to use and, therefore, what was recommended to begin with.

It is genuinely exciting to feel that one can have an immediate impact on something such as this — one’s edits go ‘live’ as soon as you save them — however, that’s how it goes in theory. In practice, I must report, the system did not appear to incorporate the changes immediately; indeed, worse still, sometimes it did appear to have done so and then sometimes not — at one level of zoom-in my changes would be there but at the next (closer in) they would be gone again! Or sometimes some of what I’d done was there and sometimes all of it was there. Which was confusing, leading me to wonder if I’d done something wrong somehow.

I did the bulk of the mapping work I’ve done about a week ago so, now, all of the changes I’ve made are there but, altogether, it took about a week. I do not know what the explanation for this is but when I went to the chat-boards I saw others complaining about the same thing, a guy in Chile and a guy in Canada. Experienced users, made soothing sounds saying that it took a couple of days so I waited it out and, as I say, sure enough it all came good in time.

OSM a good thing to be part of politically too, I feel — I mean ‘politics’ with a lower case ‘p’, of course — because it is not healthy to have a corporation (be it Google or whomsoever) hold a de facto monopoly on information about our streets and hills and throughways and so forth. Google Maps is wonderful, no question, but it’s good to have effective alternatives too (there are terms and condition attached to using Google Maps, for example, which most of us, most of the time, never bother with, and neither do Google — at the moment —, because for now it’s not in their interest to do so).

Initially focusing on mapping the United Kingdom, OSM is the brainchild of UK entrepreneur Steve Coast. As Wikipedia (whose success inspired Steve Coast) explains, in the UK and elsewhere, government-run and tax-funded projects like the Ordnance Survey created massive datasets but failed to freely and widely distribute them. In April 2006, the OpenStreetMap Foundation was established to encourage the growth, development and distribution of free geospatial data and provide geospatial data for anybody to use and share. Presently, OSM has 1.6 million registered users/contributors…

“[rather] than the map itself, the data generated by the OpenStreetMap project is considered its primary output. This data is then available for use in both traditional applications, like its usage by Craigslist, OsmAnd, Geocaching, MapQuest Open, JMP statistical software, and Foursquare to replace Google Maps, and more unusual roles, like replacing default data included with GPS receivers. This data has been favourably compared with proprietary datasources, though data quality varies worldwide.”

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