Geo NYC: Mapping the Environment

Live notes from Geo NYC’s 8 April 2013 meetup, “Mapping the Environment.”

For April’s meetup we’re highlighting innovative ways maps can help us build a more sustainable, understandable, and livable world. The line-up is amazing, inspiring, awesome. You’ll leave wanting to hug a tree, or a whale, or each other. Promise.

The Twitter hashtag is geonyc.

Update 24 April 2013: Embedded videos from OpenGeo’s Vimeo feed.

Update 16 April 2013: Embedded slides.

7:30 pm, starting now. Heading around the room, introducing ourselves.

7:46 pm, announcements:

7:50 pm, presentation time! Each presentation should last ten minutes; I’ll update this post after each talk.

8:29 pm, announcements:

  • OSM Editathon. 20–21 April. OpenPlans. Alyssa Wright & Liz Barry.
  • Rethinking Regulation Design Challenge. 20 April. OpenPlans. Noan Sheroff & Frank Hebbert.
  • Next GeoNYC meetup: 13 May

8:31 pm, general question and answer session. My notes have been moved into the relevant presenter’s section.

8:45 pm, wrap. Open chat time.

where things come from

Leonardo Bonanni

Founder and CEO of Sourcemap, which is a crowdsourced directory dedicated to answering the question: where do things come from?

It’s a complicated answer. One of the chips in an iPhone uses almost every element in the periodic table (except for the radioactive ones).

How do you find out where things come from and what impacts they could have? Even more interesting when you map it. Sourcemap is a public resource to answer these questions.

In 2009, thing to do seemed to be local everything. Visitors can calculate the carbon footprint of a product using Sourcemap. In addition, can compare different supply chains to see equivalent carbon footprints.

Turns out, companies have no idea where there products come from. So Sourcemap went one step further. Can now crowdmap the entire supply chain. Ten years ago, impossible for a company to know where everything came from. Now, can use Facebook, Usahidi and get that info on Sourcemap.

People who contribute are “supply-chain citizens.” Their stories embedded in video feeds on the map.

New York Public Library’s old computers ended up in a café in Ghana.

Since companies want to know where things come from and want to tell people where things come from, Sourcemap became a company. As a company, they providing information to managers to help mitigate the effects of global climate change.

They’re hiring!

Q: How does validate data?
A: Doesn’t do anything to data. If touch any of it, liable for all of it. As long as poster doesn’t break TOS.
Q: have an API?
A: Yes!


Ilya Rosenfeld

From Vimeo

GeoScript is a library for processing of spatial data.

Several implementations for different scripting environments: Python, Groovy, JavaScript, Scala and Ruby. Python and Groovy most fully implemented.

Utilizes GeoTools under the hood. Basically, GeoScript exposes GeoTools through scripting languages for rapid development.

Why GeoScript?

  • Easy to learn
  • Simple to use
  • Familiar spatial metaphors
  • Choice of a scripting language
  • Versatile products
  • Evolving, free and open source

Succinctness is power.—Paul Graham. Author of Hackers and Painters.

Spatial metaphors and API

  • Geometry
  • Feature
  • Workspace
  • Filter
  • Layer
  • Style
  • Map
  • Projection
  • Function
  • Process

[Mr. Rosenfeld provides some code examples to show how simple and powerful GeoScript is. See his blog post, “GeoScript in Action: Part One” for a nice demo/tutorial.]

Green Map

Wendy Brawer and Thomas Turnbull

From Vimeo

Local NYC green map since 1992. In 1995 launched the Green Map System. Now covers 852 cities in 65 countries.

The Green Maps are about mapping sustainability.

Long time emphasis on paper maps; the Green Map archives are now housed at the New York Public Library.

Green Map currently includes 170 symbols, which can be downloaded.

Green Map works with community groups, NGOs, student groups, etc. They develop workshop and engagement tools in addition to their mapping tools.

In 2007, Thomas Turnbull from Google joined them to help develop technology tools.

Open Green Map (OGM)

  • Lowers technological and financial barriers to online mapping
  • Increase participation: Eight language interface

The Cape Town project used a mix of online and paper maps.

However, Green Map has discovered that their platform is too rigid. Next incarnation will use map as a verb and separate data storage from mapping tools with APIs defined with public standards.

OGM was built on Drupal (MySQL database server). While good for a prototype, Green Map sees limitations now. Drupal has bound presentation and storage closely, and they need to decouple.

They’d like to know: If starting from scratch, what is the best database for spatial data?

Prioritizing Street Tree Planting: Theory & Method

Peter Tiso
NYC Parks & Recreation

From Vimeo

Plant 17,000–23,000 trees per year, which is one tree every two minutes during a working day in the planting season.

Previous prioritization (Fall 2007):

  • Population density
  • Street tree Stocking Level
  • Public Health Neighborhoods (to address asthma)

Simple design fostered community understanding. However, eventually maps became outdated.

2011, new prioritization:

  • Retain simple design
  • 2010 census data
  • LiDAR-derived data

Two-tier system developed by USDA Forest Service. Preferable (tier 1) and possible (tier 2).

Tier 1 based on 2010 Census Neighborhood Tabulation Areas.

Tier 2 based on 2010 census tracts and includes the following variables:

  • Low street tree stocking level
  • More tree requests (from 311)
  • More tree removals

With new prioritization, some of the areas remained from 2007, but some new areas emerged.

The results of this method have been guiding the last several seasons of street tree planting. Prioritization is not a hard rule; simply tells foresters where to look first.

Method can be easily redone with new data.

Shameless plug time: Seven-class land-cover raster available from

Q: Has asthma gone down since tree planting?
A: No way to redo original study. Cannot tell if tree plantings have reduced asthma. In the future, might be able to measure particulate count and compare over time.
Q: When defining parameters, how do you determine weights?
A: Collaborative; Parks & Rec worked with another agency. Tier 1 common to both missions. Tier 2 parks specific. Allowed other agency to have their own tier 2 specific.
Q: When does Parks & Rec rethink parameters?
A: Not on set schedule. When maps become less useful. This is determined when foresters come back to us and tell us.
Q: How much do you take into account citizen need?
A: Use 311 for requests. 2007 map set years on map. First thing thrown out. 2011, didn’t set years. Map is purely advisory; guides forester search.
Q: How do you factor in new development? Such as when developers plant trees.
A: Taken into account when data is updated. Don’t update maps every season.
Q: Possible to combine Parks & Rec data with
A: NYC Parks & Rec able to provide source information for all plantings.

Leaflet: Web Maps for Better Cities

Aaron Ogle

From Vimeo

Tool of choice for JavaScript mapping is Leaflet.


  • Simplicity: What you get is simple and works well. No projection support
  • Performance: Targets fast, contemporary browsers
  • Usability: Lightweight footprint and ready to work out of the box

Leaflet at OpenPlans

Shareabouts: platform for crowd sourcing data about places. PostgreSQL backend. Have done several projects (for different bicycling groups) that are powered by Shareabouts.

Argo: Working with government client with a lot of geo data (GeoJSON). Client wanted to make own maps, but didn’t want to write code.

Argo let them construct and style maps using WordPress-style type admin and existing geoJSON.

Browser-based cost-distance calculations:

Leave a Reply