Category: Blog

Being actively involved in my local branch of the Green Party means I’ve spent a lot of time wandering around carrying a map of a local ward. Almost nobody seems to know which ward they are in, often because the names are a bit abstract (e.g. “The Lane” in Peckham, which I presume is because “Rye Lane” runs through the middle) or because almost nobody would say they live in the area described (e.g. “Peckham Rye”, which has Peckham Rye Common and Park in the middle and includes areas normally thought to be part of East Dulwich and Nunhead). Since the Ordnance Survey published open data, including political boundaries, it’s been possible to put this information into OpenStreetMap. I’ve finally bothered to start doing this for Southwark – you can see the results on this nice ITO map. Unfortunately the default map on the OpenStreetMap homepage draws the names of…

Read More Problems and possibilities with ward boundaries

Payday loans have been in the news today, with industry figureheads trying to persuade the public that they’re offering the punters a good service. Well, if you’re seriously stuck for cash you need or have loans you’re struggling to service, a much better place to start would be a credit union. London Mutual Credit Union, for example, is a not for profit organisation that provides ethical financial services to Southwark and Lambeth boroughs. These services include savings accounts, current accounts and loans to people who find themselves financially excluded from high street banks. They have no shareholders, and all their profits are returned to members. Unlike Wonga & co they are genuinely providing useful services without looking to make a very sizeable profit off the backs of the idiots and the vulnerable. Anyone struggling financially would also be best off seeking help from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and checking out the…

Read More Never mind Wonga, use a credit union

I was contacted recently by a parent campaigning for a local school to ensure its admissions policy is properly applied. Over-subscribed schools like this one are a common source of frustration and worry up and down the country. Here’s the rub. Which of these two homes would you say is closer to the school, and therefore more likely to secure a place?  By the way, I’m not sure that the location on the left actually is within the catchment area, it’s just a place I randomly chose to illustrate the coming point… Parents at the location on the right were told they were too far from the school. The method they use to calculate safe distances to the school actually suggests that the location on the right is farther away than the location on the left! Why? Because they are calculating distances using a model that measures the distance as if you are…

Read More Why map data sometimes matters

One of the annoying things about open data is that you often need ninja skills to do anything with it. OpenStreetMap contains a wealth of geodata, but most tools make you jump through several steps involving the command line and all manner of data wrangling just to produce a custom map. Maperitive tries to make it much easier to create nice looking maps. It has been in gestation since late 2007, and is now close to being easy to use. It took me about half an hour of playing around to produce my first nice hiking map of Snowdon, although a problem with NASA’s elevation data led me on a frustrating journey to get Ordnance Survey open data in there to fill the gaps. I also had to work out Maperitive’s settings file for the way features are drawn to make the maps look a little neater and, well, British.…

Read More Making open data maps the almost-easy way

Here’s to Jenny Newham’s Southern Fried London, a collection of our finest grease merchants and heart attack hucksters. Thanks also to the weird and wonderful world of the South London Press, one of two locals in my neck of the woods, for bringing the blog to my attention. I embarked on my own obsessive photo-documentary project with a friend in an otherwise ordinary market town many years ago, snapping photos of ugly gardens in Bedford. For a year or so I couldn’t walk along a street without noting ugly gardens and trying to remember their location. Perhaps a precursor to my mapping hobby? The project was intended as a loving tribute to the dull places in which most of us live, and a comment on the influence of the endless gardening TV programmes at the time rather than a criticism of the owners. I doff my hat to anyone who makes…

Read More Southern Fried London hits the spot

It was probably the Peckham Pavilion at the Venice Biennale that cemented Peckham’s place in London’s art scene. Since then there has been a steady flow of journalists, hipsters and artists dropping in to study contemporary sculpture and relax in a trendy campari bar. But this art world has made little effort to reach out to, and integrate with, its host community. So it was with some scepticism that I made my way to the brilliant Bussey Building for the launch of Theatre Local Peckham, the Royal Court’s second outing into a south London community to stage plays and theatre workshops. They’re hosted by Mickey Smith’s CLF art cafe, an unkempt converted factory normally home to drum and bass nights, community meetings and art fairs. But I was wrong to be sceptical. The Royal Court’s artistic director spoke before the play of their Sloane Square theatre being exclusive, a place that…

Read More Theatre takes root in Peckham

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…

Read More Young people should be wary of the Government’s planning bonfire

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…

Read More Getting speed limits into OpenStreetMap

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.

Read More Open scrutiny in the age of 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.

Read More Can crowdsourcing improve open data?