Category: Blog

I’ve been playing around with open data from OpenStreetMap and Natural England to make a pretty map of “green and blue infrastructure” in London. Here’s the result: You can download a PDF version suitable for printing here: natural_london. I’m pretty happy with the result, my first real attempt to produce something useful with QGIS. The data I used was: OpenStreetMap shapefiles for most features from Geofabrik, supplemented by… Manually retrieved commons and marshes using the Overpass API (not yet present in Geofabrik shapefiles) Natural England shapefiles for orchards, deciduous woodlands and sites of special scientific interest Ordnance Survey Boundary-Line shapefiles for the Greater London and London borough boundaries There’s no reason the Natural England data couldn’t be manually added to OpenStreetMap, giving us a complete dataset of natural features. I just chose to get on and do it this way rather than wait, or try to add all the data across areas…

One of the odd things about contributing to OpenStreetMap is that you have no idea who is using the maps and the data. You spend hours, weeks, months, years even building up a wonderfully comprehensive database of geographic features in the area, all because it’s fun, because you believe in the project’s ideals or you need the data for your own project. But does anyone else use it? It would be depressing if the answer was “no”. So I get cheered every time I see documents like this: That’s an excerpt from a presentation by Southwark Living Streets. They took the Mayor of London’s transport advisor around Elephant & Castle to show how unfriendly and dangerous the area is for pedestrians, and illustrated the whole thing with OpenStreetMap. The chap who made this loves OSM, he told me he realised how useful it could be when he noticed we had…

“It’s the economy, stupid” has become something of a mantra among many in the Green Party in recent years. Wary of repeating the crash in votes the party experience in the early 1990s recession, we have sought to persuade the public that we have something credible to say on the pressing economic issues of the day. Caroline Allen has said: I do not believe we will succeed solely by telling people what we are against, we must articulate a positive alternative. I believe we have a good framework but need to do more work here. But beyond commentary and our “one million green jobs” proposal, I’m not what our positive economic programme for the nation is. Let me explain. Green commentary Greens have some compelling things to say about our present economic troubles. For example, we have suggested that technological innovation may not be able to keep up with rising resource…

Last weekend my friend Rob and I cycled the Dunwich Dynamo, an annual exercise in mass masochism where more than a thousand people cycle a 120 mile route overnight from London Fields to Dunwich in Suffolk. Neither of us had done anything like this before. The furthest I’d ever gone in one day was 45 miles, but I’d heard it wasn’t all that hard so we went for it. As the day got nearer I read all the comments by seasoned Dun-runners on the Facebook group and started to get doubts. Energy gels? Tongue-in-cheek rules about getting through the pain? This post is for anyone in my position, intrigued but unsure, and perhaps halfway through and (like Rob and me) really regretting their folly. Because it felt terrible at times, but by the end, and days later, I am so very happy I did it. Preparation I read every sort…

In the days since I wrote my first blog post on the Rothamsted GM wheat controversy I’ve spent more time reading up on GM than in the past nine years. It’s been a tortuous few days for me. As a big fan of the Bad Science movement who was loosely involved with improving the Green Party’s science policy; as the author of the 2012 London manifesto on which Jenny Jones and others stood, and somebody who has put a lot of my life in the last four years into helping her achieve great things on the London Assembly and Southwark Council; and as somebody who slightly sits on the fence on the GM debate; I’ve found myself agreeing with all quarters. On the eve of the protest I thought I’d put down a few more thoughts following the debate. There is a lot of nonsense from all quarters (but it’s…

Genetically modified food is one of those subjects that’s not known for reasoned debate. The public and anti-campaigners are often spooked by the Frankenstein weirdness of splicing genes without really understanding the science. Scientists and proponents are often convinced of the science while hastily dismissing wider social, economic and environmental considerations. As policy officer for the London region and author of our recent London elections manifesto it’s not a topic that I often cross paths with. I’ve a personal interest as I spoke against GM at one of the national debate events organised in 2003. I was an undergraduate student at the time, and spoke at my university – Reading – against some eminent scientists. I’m pretty sure 99% of the science I drew on in my argument was probably junk. I remain persuaded by many of the wider arguments I deployed, but like too many campaigners I cobbled together…

While we’re benefiting from all this rain in London, which keeps air pollution at bay, I’ve been wondering about including pollution data in OpenStreetMap-based routing engines. The trouble is that I lack the technical skills to implement this, so I’m writing this post in the hope that somebody might be inspired to give it a go. Air pollution is the second biggest cause of premature deaths in the UK after smoking. Here’s a little league table of nasties taken from Department of Health data: Smoking – 87,000 premature deaths per year Air pollution – 29,000 Alcohol – 22,000 Obesity – 9,000 The main pollutants in cities are particulates (PM10, PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO). Unlike the pea souper fogs of years gone by, these are invisible to the human eye but very deadly. They’re most concentrated on busy congested roads and around airports – so unsurprisingly in central London,…

Six months after the Royal Court brought two quite brilliant new plays to the Bussey Building in Peckham, V-Day London put on an equally exemplary performance of the Vagina Monologues and an accompanying play written in 2009 by the same playwright. Yes, I know, visiting four plays in six months hardly makes me the connoisseur of a thriving theatre scene, but I hear the Royal Court are bringing their Theatre Local project back at the end of May with two brand new plays and more workshops which I won’t want to miss. The Vagina Monologues performance was all the more impressive given that it was performed by a mix of trained actors, amateurs and doubtless all shades in between. I went to the wrap party on Saturday with my friend Bob – a source of fun for some of the actors given a certain monologue concerning a man called Bob…

Kate Chapman and Mikel Maron have written a couple of interesting posts about improvements they’d like to see in OpenStreetMap. Kate’s is the more interesting to me, being based on various experiences with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team projects. Kate, the prolific Andy Allan and others have extensively covered the usability of editing tools. Frederik Ramm has pointed out that many of the editing tasks are conceptually complex so there are limits to how much software can make it easy for newcomers to get stuck in. But I liked Kate’s point about using data. Along with the fun of editing OpenStreetMap, the principal benefit is supposed to be that we offer all this raw data, whereas Google, Bing and co just offer pre-designed maps. But who can actually use this data? Here are some pen portraits to illustrate a few gaps in our toolsets. They are all based on real people…

Those who are inclined to compromise can never make a revolution – Kemal Ataturk Every day I set off on my bike for a pleasant three mile commute to work. I love cycling around London, it’s cheap and fun, and I particularly enjoy the spring when lots of “fair weather cyclists” swell our ranks along cycle routes. Much of London is crap to cycle around, but politicians of all colours claim to support a “cycling revolution”. To achieve that, you’d need to make people from all walks of life feel safe – the number one barrier – and make cycling seem pleasant. Southwark Council did an audit of their roads recently and found that it was impossible to get further than a few hundred metres without using a road requiring “advanced” cycling skills. You need to be happy using “busy roads” with “complex junctions and road features” to cycle to…