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  • Jimmy Libby, Arizona State University

Whoever You Are, Your Data Fits in OSM

I’m a student at Arizona State University attending classes online. I’m also a typical non-traditional student at almost 35 years old, a veteran, and married with a 17-month-old son. Given my demographic data, I’m not exactly what you’d imagine when you hear the word “YouthMapper”. This summer I became a USAID GeoCenter YouthMappers Virtual Intern and found out that it doesn’t really matter who you are, you will be able to contribute to and learn from this program.

When I first heard about the internship, I found out through the ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. The internship sounded like worthwhile experience and as a former Geography major the mapping sounded interesting. I thought it would be amazing to support real world humanitarian projects and strengthen my mapping skills. I applied and figured that as an Urban Planning major, my chances of getting the internship were relatively low.

About a month before the internship started, I received an email letting me know that I was selected for the internship, which was a pleasant surprise. After that, I started to feel a sense of dread. What did I have to contribute to the internship? The internship description mentioned Java Open Street Map (JOSM), did that mean I would spend a good portion of my summer coding? Another thing that gave me a bit of anxiety was that my age and life situation don’t exactly exude “youth”.

When the internship started, I realized that about half of the interns were also non-traditional students, and you couldn’t really tell someone’s age over the video chat. The next sigh of relief was that we wouldn’t be using JOSM until about halfway through the internship and there would be tutorials covering it before we used it. I wasn’t too sure about how JOSM worked and I haven’t coded in Java for several years so I was glad that we would be getting training on that later.

Then I started mapping and found out that it was quite enjoyable. It’s very time consuming but I got to map Davao Del Norte, Philippines and see some things on imagery that I’ll never see in person. We were viewing this imagery with the goal of creating maps of farmland and buildings with the goal of those maps being used to build better infrastructure in the future for this rural region.

Then I got to translate these things to a map by tracing them with nodes, basically creating a virtual connect the dots picture over the satellite image and then labeling the objects with as much information as I had that was relevant to the task. This was all accomplished in a browser application called idEditor It was so much fun looking at these spaces and thinking about how they are being used that it took some restraint not to label things with more information than I could verify.

About halfway through the internship we learned how to use JOSM, and to my surprise no coding was required. JOSM is an open source software that is used to edit OSM data. It was a bit more involved than the idEditor, but once I got going with it, I could map things significantly faster using the JOSM software. Some of the plugins proved to be quite helpful and sped the process up by being able to create objects much quicker, though tagging the objects sometimes did take some more effort.

Figure 1 Unplanned Settlement, Davao Del Norte, Philippines

Some of the concepts that I learned at ASU in my Geography and Urban Planning classes. For example, in the image above from Google Earth, is an unplanned settlement in the Davao region which was a concept that I thought was interesting in my Urban Planning Issues class that I took at ASU, but it had a different meaning after trying to map such a densely populated area. The experience was also a good example of being able to reference software that wasn’t open source but not being able to put that data into OSM. Figure 1 shows much clearer imagery than the images that I mapped, but I could only ethically map those buildings that I could see on the imagery provided for the task which is provided in figure 2. However, knowing that I could find the clearer images in other places was helpful to help understand the imagery I was permitted to use for the map.

Figure 2 Unplanned Settlement, Davao Del Norte, Philippines

Toward the end of the internship we took a short break from mapping in the Philippines to help with a task in Mesa, Arizona. The task was very simple it was to map buildings in the area to help with research regarding heat indexes and heat related deaths in the city. The task was much easier to map than the main task that we had been working on, but one thing struck me as different; the buildings were so similar that you could copy and paste them over each other which made the task quick to work through. The similarities in these buildings reminded me of another concept I had learned in my classes: New Urbanism.

I eventually decided to do some exploring on my own using OSM and it was really an interesting way to connect to some of the concepts that I had learned in school. I decided to explore Seaside, FL which was used in one of my classes as a prime example of New Urbanism and had also been used for this reason in the movie The Truman Show. Below are images comparing Mesa, AZ and Seaside FL to show the similarities between the two cities, even though Mesa doesn’t technically fit into the concept of New Urbanism.

Figure 3 Mesa, AZ

Figure 4 Seaside, FL

Overall the internship has been a positive experience that has reinforced my knowledge of mapping and how cities are built. Despite my initial reservations upon learning that I was selected for the internship, I learned a lot and was pleasantly surprised at just how easy it is for anyone to jump into mapping with OSM. No matter who you are, what your situation is outside of school, your time constraints, age, or knowledge base, I firmly believe that anyone who is pursuing a Geospatial related education can benefit from this opportunity. Don’t let the name of the program fool you: you can do it. No matter who you are, your data and perspective are valuable and fits in the overall OSM puzzle.

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