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  • Shannon Curley, SUNY Geneseo

How to Use Humanitarian Openstreetmap Data in Research

You have a great research idea. You know the location and the type of data you need. But where can you get the data sets from? Openstreetmap [OSM] can be a great source for many projects because it offers vast, detailed data sets from all over the world.

There are two ways to access and download OSM data. First, you can use an outside website, such as Humanitarian Data Exchange [HDX]. The geo-datasets on this site have the advantage of being broad, detailed, and updated on a weekly/monthly basis. In addition, there is an excellent search feature where you can filter data by location, format, and organization. Most importantly, you will want to check the “geodata” box in the search to ensure the data can be used in a mapping application. These data work great if you are creating a small scale map or if you have another layer to use for clipping the large downloaded file. Since many regions mapped on OSM do not have detailed or accessible geo-databanks, unique datasets can be made by joining the OSM data with other statistics such as those that can be found in a country’s census or through the World Bank.

Alternately, you can further personalize the download process by using the HOTOSM Export Tool. With this tool, you can select the area you wish to download from by typing in coordinates or selecting it on a map. This allows for smaller file size by greatly reducing the amount of extra data included in the download. You are able to further narrow down the download by choosing the exact features you want, taking advantage of OSM’s tagging system. The screenshot below shows the sections of OSM data you can choose from on the left and on the right is the Area of Interest (AOI) which you may select by drawing a polygon or inputting exact coordinate boundaries:

After choosing the type of data you wish to download, you reach the summary page where you can choose to “Publish the Export”, which then prompts a download of your data in a chosen file format. I would recommend choosing Shapefile as it easy to work with in most/all GIS software.

Now that I have shown how to access the data, I would like to showcase some examples of what you can do with it. In the map below, I downloaded an administrative boundaries layer from Humanitarian Data Exchange and joined it with population information from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics as a way to visualize where most of the West Bank’s population lives.

In the next map below, I utilized the OSM export tool and HDX. First, I downloaded the July Peru buildings export from HDX which shows all buildings mapped before July 1st. Then, on July 27th I used the OSM export tool to export building from an area of Arequipa that I knew I had worked on since the beginning of the month. I used this smaller export to clip down the Peru buildings layer and stylized the map to show when the buildings had been mapped for this one we worked on for the Youthmappers Geocenter Internship. For all who are interested in mapping, I hope that my methods and examples can aid and inspire your own research!

Shannon Curley is a junior at SUNY Geneseo with majors in Geography and History and a minor in Environmental Studies. Originally from New Jersey, she enjoys using spatial thinking and research to expand her worldview. Using her experience this summer as a Youthmappers Geocenter Virtual Intern, Shannon hopes to improve and expand the volunteer mapping community at SUNY Geneseo through the GIS Association and Geography Club.

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