Friday, 30 May 2014

A tribute to County Series

About two years ago I was asked to help produce a newsletter for the local Civic Society. Since then we have used a mix of Open Street Map, Ordnance Survey Open Data and other sources to create maps which illustrate articles on various events, local walks, the historic townscape, development proposals, the visibility of wind farms, and the like. 

When we look at the history of the townscape we also make extensive use of old Ordnance Survey maps. Recently the National Library of Scotland provided access to images of the Ordnance Survey Six-inch maps of England and Wales, produced between 1842 and 1952. The level of detail in these mean that they are a fascinating source of information on how the town has developed over the last 150 years or so. 

It occurred to me that it might be interesting to bring these themes together, and try to recreate a similar style using Open Street Map data and some of the related tools. This is my first attempt, using QGIS, and based on OSM data loaded into a Postgis database,.  

I wouldn't want to pretend that this is as attractive as the originals. It certainly isn't as clean and uncluttered as modern styling. That's not really the point ,but even within the intended scope, it would benefit from more work. However, I think the basic principles are becoming clear. Even at this stage, I thought it might be of interest to others, and I'd welcome suggestions from those with more experience on how best to take it forward.

As I expected, all this taught me something about using the different style options in QGIS. But it turned out that there were also some interesting challenges in standardising the quirks in OSM data at this level of detail. 

Taking a step back, I suspect there is untapped potential for groups who need static maps of a local area at quite a high level of detail. These groups have a choice of mapping tools that are sufficiently accessible for those without specialist expertise. OSM is in a unique position to provide the map data that these groups need. But there are still hurdles to overcome for anyone who wants to produce detailed local maps using OSM data. Mapping tools make it easy to access raw OSM data, but some of that raw data is notoriously difficult to use in practice. Exploring techniques for making the data more accessible may be of wider value than exploring techniques for producing a particular style of map. 

More of that later.