Category: Blog

Andy Allan’s excellent post on cycle campaigning reminded me to blog about some mapping help I’ve given a campaign group called the Elephant Amenity Network. One of their long-running issues has been the clearance and demolition of the unfairly maligned Heygate Estate, over 1000 council homes that should have been refurbished for council tenants instead of being knocked down for aspiring home owners to move into the area. One of the best features of the Heygate Estate is the urban forest that has grown there in the past thirty or forty years. But the few remaining residents and local campaigners fear the “regeneration” will see many or even most of them cut down. Through a friend who is involved with the campaign, I came along to help them map the trees that are there now. Knowing what you have seems like a good first step to saving it. So I…

Read More Maps, open data and activism on the Heygate estate

I’m happy to announce that OpenEcoMaps is now stable and ready for use, albeit with a few wrinkles that I hope some more able hackers can help me iron out. OpenEcoMaps takes data about “eco” (green / sustainable) features stored in OpenStreetMap and turns them into KML files that are shown as overlays on the map, making it easy for people to find out where they can get a vegetarian meal, forage some wild fruit, spot a solar panel, recycle a can, pick up a car club car, or spend some money in a cinema. You can use these KML files on your own map, or in Google Earth; you can embed the OpenEcoMaps map in your own web site; or you can just browse around the site. At the moment there are packs of overlays for London and Exeter, but I can quite easily add other local areas with any…

Read More Announcing OpenEcoMaps to geeks

One of the killer features of OpenStreetMap, which makes it completely different to Google Maps and the rest, is that we provide totally free geodata. In fact it’s really the primary purpose of OpenStreetMap – the various maps shown on the homepage are just a tasty preview. For those of us lacking the time, money and skills enjoyed by some of the cooler data users (i.e. unable to run a dedicated server with a PostgreSQL database and all the programs and storage space needed to maintain an up-to-date clone of the OpenStreetMap database) there are two main ways to grab OpenStreetMap data. One is to simply download a defined area using the API. The “export” tab on the web site and editors like JOSM make this easy. The disadvantage is that you get everything in that area. If you wanted to get, say, all the power generators in the UK you…

Read More Growing pains & getting data out of OpenStreetMap

It’s selection time for the Green Party. In London we are voting not only on our list for the House of Lords (in case we get offered another seat there), but also for the London Assembly and Mayor. Since I work at the Assembly and I’ll be writing the manifesto for whichever people are chosen, I don’t want to endorse anyone here. But I do want to share a a few thoughts on what I’m looking for in a politician. The most important thing for Greens to consider is that we will most likely only get one, two or three London Assembly members out of 25. There’s no room for colourful characters with narrow interests, bad tempers or a tendency for self indulgence. They need to be good communicators, both practical and radical, collegiate and disciplined. We need to pick people who can get complicated and often innovative messages across to…

Read More Selecting a good politician

At recent party conferences and meetings of the London Federation of Green Parties, it has struck me that many members lack any experience or understanding of how our elected politicians work with party policy. I was in the same boat until I started to work closely with our London Assembly members, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, so I thought I’d share my experiences from the other side of the valley.

The main misconception I want to address is that all policy advocated by elected politicians can, or should, be found in our written party policy. Another way of stating this myth is to say that the policies we debate and pass at conference provide the bulk of the detailed policy used by elected politicians.

Read More The cut and thrust: how Green Party policy really works

As another flurry of snow hits the office windows here at City Hall, we’ve put the finishing touches to a video by Darren Johnson investigating the future of insulation in London (and the reasons why over a million homes are still bleedin’ cold!)

Read More How are we going to insulate London?

Two parallel worlds are starting to rub up against each other – open data enthusiasts and local activist groups. As Sam Smith has pointed out, embedding the power of open data in other worlds such as local activism has barely begun. Maps are one medium where I’ve been trying to bring these worlds together. Stepping into the ring In the left corner we have people like Rob Hopkins, who has just written a great summary of Transition Town groups mapping wild food, local groups and visions of the future. This wonderful work makes use of relatively open tools like Google Maps, but (so far as I can see) they make absolutely no use of open data, and keep all of their data in their own separate mapping systems. In the right corner we have open data crowds like OpenStreetMap, and after some prodding from me the Greater London Authority and…

Read More Matchmaking open data geeks and local mappers

In recent months I’d had the displeasure of proposing new ways of describing (“tagging”) features in OpenStreetMap. I’ve been trying to expand and improve the tags for environmental features as part of a project I’m working on. Now I’d like to provoke a bit of debate about the use of “subtags” – tags that qualify others, for example saying “this is a garden, and it’s the sort of garden that it used for allotments” rather than saying more simply “these are allotments”. The wiki-based process to agree new tags is a poor excuse for democracy. Under the noses of the hundreds of thousands of OpenStreetMap contributors who refer to the map features page, a relatively small number of people are rolling up their sleeves and debating major changes to the tagging schema on mailing lists and the wiki. Up to twenty or thirty people vote on any proposal, with no…

Read More When is a garden not a garden?

When I read the New Political Economy Network’s excellent pamphlet called ‘Britain’s Broken Economy’, my first thought was “that sounds just like our election manifesto, like the Green New Deal”. I span that thought out into this article for Bright Green Scotland… have a read and pass on to any Labour folk you happen to know.

Read More Why Ed should take a leaf out of the Green book

I’m not really a fan of Malcolm Gladwell and his cohort of star authors who spin one vaguely interesting idea into a entire “paradigm-smashing” book. But he is spot on when he dismisses Twitter as “more of the same… not the enemy of the status quo”. His vaguely interesting idea here is basically that really big changes come about when people with strong social ties are willing to stick it out in a nasty battle to win the day. Social networks with weak ties (e.g. just following each other on Twitter) will fall apart if they try to take on power to make a really big change because in the process they will probably have to suffer a loss of income, physical injury, etc. Twitter messaging won’t motivate them to stick out the hardship. But by pitting Twitter against a political movement as momentous as American Civil Rights in the…

Read More On ineffective venting: twitter and the cuts