Category: Blog

I have noticed a lot of young people enthusiastically supporting the Government’s proposals to radically cut down planning regulations. They join in attacks on groups like the National Trust and Friends of the Earth, calling them wealthy NIMBYs who are protecting their own over-inflated house prices. They buy into the suggestion that the planning system has held back house building, harming a growing proportion of the current generation of young people who are now “jilted”, priced out of home ownership. Is this right? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe the Government’s proposals are bad for young people, and bad for intergenerational justice. Is planning the problem? There can be no doubt that planning regulations are a drag on housing development, adding both the cost of the buildings themselves and the process of putting them up. But that’s like saying that the minimum wage and gender equality laws are a…

I’ve started trying to add speed limits data to roads in my patch of Southwark. Two things made me start looking at them… First, I go everywhere by bicycle, which means speed limits and London congestion are of very little relevance to my journey times. But I noticed that journey planners like CloudMade’s offer wildly optimistic journey times for cars. Even ignoring congestion, I thought, they can’t be taking account of speed limits, which across London are lower than the national assumptions. For example, most main roads have a 30 mph speed limit and a growing number of roads, residential and main, have a safer 20 mph limit. The second reason is that speed limits have been a big issue for cyclists recently, featuring in campaigns around issues like Blackfriars Bridge and Southwark’s Transport Strategy. So here’s a snapshot of our data around Peckham and East Dulwich after a few…

This is the first of perhaps two or three short essays inspired by Emer Coleman‘s masters dissertation on open data, written in a personal capacity and not as part of my job. In this post I want to look at what her proposed model of “iterative and adaptive open government” would mean for scrutiny of the Mayor of London. Her dissertation considers the difference between the New Public Management approach, characterised by public managers setting the goals and other public managers auditing their performance, and an emerging “Open Governance” approach using open data.

I’ve written a guest blog over at the London Datastore about efforts to provide really good open data through OpenStreetMap. My main example is my work on OpenEcoMaps, which mixes imported (and checked) open data with crowdsourced OpenStreetMap data to provide a great environmental geodata resource. My concluding hope? That “this will spur growing interest amongst data hoarders in data collaboration rather than plain old data dumps.” Have a read.

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…

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…

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…

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…

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.

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!)