Google Maps & Mapmaker – Lahore Mapping Project
1. Making the most of Lahore with Map Maker
1. 1. “Collective Cartography; On Crack”
2. 2. “Reverse Urban Planning”
3. 3. Embedding Historic Locations
4. 4. “Rapid Environmental Activism”
5. 5. Availability of Data for Public Use
Google Maps (henceforth referred to as GMaps), after the iconic web search and mail services, is perhaps Google’s most valuable product, due to its ease of integration into web and mobile based applications. Many applications developed specifically for mobile phones have greatly benefited from this integration, and amount of information embedded within the Google Maps database. The Google application for the iPhone, and Blackberry, are prime examples of this connectivity.
Google’s traditional efforts towards putting users first is evident in the approach employed in the Google Map Maker (henceforth referred to as Maker) product- the term citizen cartographer has inspired many people around the world to take to their computers and put their homes and surroundings on the map.
Among the many cities that have embraced the ease of Map Maker’s toolset, Lahore, Pakistan is anomalously exemplary. Current economic and political conditions have Pakistan currently known less for its technological infrastructure than its unfortunately ‘front-seat’ place in the geopolitcs of the region. As technologists and urban scientists, our prime ability is problem solving. Unique problems require the most innovative solutions; commonly throwing the word ‘impossible’ out the window in order to get on with solving problems, one day at a time.
Recently described by a local artist as ’300 years in the past, and 30 years in the future’; Pakistan’s technological momentum is ripe for nurturing. Pakistanis in general, have done a great job with adding data to the maps of Pakistan. As this collective cartography continues, an order to the creative chaos is suggested. Despite its appetite for destruction, Pakistani society is amazingly constructive. The recent revolution in telecommunication infrastructure advancement has brought awareness of mobile technologies much farther than anticipated. Though smartphones are not as prevalent here as they are in say, the United States, the time is ripe to prepare at least Google Maps for an increasing customer base of mobile users of the product. Even if the mobile aspect is not completely feasible, internet usage is high.
Making the most of Lahore with Map Maker
I would like to suggest some ideas I have for leveraging Map Maker.
1. “Collective Cartography; On Crack”
I teach at an institution in Lahore drawing students from all over the city. Lahore can be a big place, depending on what part of it you call home, and where you need to go on that particular day. Because Lahore is also somewhat socially segregated, it’s hard to gather accurate data at the urban, neighborhood level. I’d like to plan a “Mapping Party” as Google calls it, but on a city-wide scale. This could be an event held at a central cultural landmark, where many people from all over the city can come together, and have a mass-making assignment. Some of this can be spurned by an incentive from Google, and some of this can be initiated by the prospect of community and social interaction. This way, different sections of the city can be assigned to different ‘owners’ who are familiar with the details of their assigned regions. They can then then be the masters of the amount of information placed onto the map for their location. I’ve thought about many ways to monetize this, but so far Omer Sheikh (Momers) and I think the user-driven approach, fueled more by purpose and passion has been much more successful. Part of this effort is also to promote the amazing spirit our community has been showing over the last few years, despite the pressing social and financial circumstances. I am convinced that universities should take the lead on this, and we will have good turnout if we plan, and promote such a collective activity properly.
2. “Reverse Urban Planning”
An unfortunately large number of streets and roads in Lahore, and many south asian countries for that matter- remain unnamed. Most of our sense of getting around the city comes through landmark navigation, which is, understandably, not the most dependable means of getting direction. One of the advantages of Maker’s ease of use, is that previously unknown streets will have to be given names. If this effort is concerted with Lahore’s urban planners, then we can further decide the best way forward; who should these names be named after, and who decides? This will likely be a dense discussion, and for good reason. You can’t just go name a street after your favorite band, because it was playing in the back when you were using Maker. On the other hand, for the purposes of modern day mapping (i.e. let’s develop an alternate naming system, existing only on the internet and popular internet-ready culture) we could define a generic street-naming system. I think there’s a lot of learning that we could draw here from the GMaps, and Google Map Maker team’s input here, especially from their pilot GIS projects in Africa. Then, depending on whether we try to obtain funding from private or public sources, we should try to get the street-naming actually implemented in the form of street signs, as is the case in most mapped, developed societies. If the signs are getting expensive; we can try to lease out sponsorship on an annual basis (e.g. a sign looking like Figure 1). The shaded region on the left can be reserved for a sponsor’s name, and ‘minimally visually invasive’ logo. I propose English on the top because it reads easily form L to R. Once the reader is done with English, they are positioned perfectly to begin reading the Urdu label, which is on the bottom, from right to left. I also propose using the Clearview font (or a substitute providing the same comfort and functional readability)- I always found the font to be the most amazing thing about the US highway system (FYI, this is not the font appearing in the image below). OR you can have urdu on the top (when read from left to right, they are ready to begin reading English, on the lower line).
Figure 1: Elementary Street Sign Prototype
3. Projecting Local History
For many people, it isn’t very easy to get a good grip on all the official ‘historical monuments’ in Lahore. This city is home to some of the most beautiful architecture of the Indian subcontinent, and the lack of awareness accelerates citizens’ detachment from their historic buildings and understandably, their history. Using Maker, we can accelerate the population of map with these historic sites, and make them more accessible to everyone.
4. “Rapid Environmental Activism”
e.g. fire, trash, etc – put news on the map (not political but more environmental)
Activism enabled through maps. For example, you can establish different causes, all anchored on the map. Suppose I run a Google Group, “Lahore Tree Huggers”, and this group is a citizen-run environmental protection group that monitors 4-5 key issues with local environmental abuse. Using maps, I can clearly describe the location of say, illegal garbage-burning to a fellow activist, or responsible authorities. (My biggest peeve these days is in fact, this very burning of garbage wherever people deem fit). Depending on how much the GMaps interface has developed, we should be able to toggle on/off different things that we are tracking at a given time. E.g. center the map on Johar Town in Lahore, then have 4-5 check boxes listing ‘Reported Garbage Fire’, ‘Illegal Landfill’- as I’ve tried to quickly illustrate in the user-generated map I have linked to.can be done using Google Earth as that is the primary tool for doing these types of mashups, Maker helps in that it gives a sense of location, and then with that data you fire away on GE with layers and different viewing options, so maybe maker is the starting point for doing all the other fancy stuff for activism. -Omer Sheikh 11/10/09 11:04 AM
5. Availability of Data for Public Use
Just as all data from mapmaker for african countries was made available and now Southeast Asia — just announced last week -Jennifer Mazzon 11/23/09 1:07 PM Any plans for SOUTH Asia Jen? -Omer Sheikh 11/24/09 11:14 AM , data for Pakistan from Map Maker should be made available in popular GIS software formats for use by public agencies and organization and a two way agreement so that agencies can feed back the data to map maker (but this needs to be debated). This is challenging. Though people like me would like to have access to this data so decisions on the ground while, say, planning new localities or fixing things in other areas, but then the people who actually need to use this data are in most cases not even aware of the possibilities of GIS. Some organizations I believe have such data but it is approximate, not accurate and never put to good use. Planners from all civic and public agencies first need to be taught how to use this data. That is an outreach project in its own.