Mon 17 Jan 2022 11:22AM

Please help! Mapping university green/edible spaces

P Pia Public Seen by 74

Hi all, I am a UCL alumnus currently planning a UCL-funded project to get students, staff and community members mapping the green spaces at UCL that already/could be used to develop urban gardening sites. University campuses have so much redundant space that could go to sustaining community food banks and feeding students, something that looks unlikely to change on an infrastructural level. It's time for some grassroots guerilla gardening!

Over the next 6 months, I will be setting up an in-person UCL network to map the campus and surrounding areas, hoping to provide accessible and complete information about how students can garden urban spaces easily and legally. Mapping in a team using OSM is new for me, and so I would really appreciate advice and ideas, as well as mapping workshop suggestions/recommendations (how to run them, activities to do, who could help me facilitate them...). If anyone would like to get involved, that would be fantastic.

I hope that if this goes well at UCL, Open Street Maps might eventually be able to coordinate a collaborative national or global effort to get universities mapping edible campus spaces! Perhaps a new layer for the map...?

Thanks in advance for your advice and suggestions.



Jez Nicholson Mon 17 Jan 2022 3:13PM

Hi Pia, I'm sure that OSMUK can help. We might be able to hook you up with a facilitator, or people organising team mapping. Many tools are available to assist.

If I were you, my first port of call would be attending the (online) Missing Maps February Mapathon session on Tues 1 Feb https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/missing-maps-february-mapathon-tickets-241232180947 This is an example of group tasking, plus the training is excellent.

I was going to suggest doing some streetview-style photography, but you'll have to find out about the legality of photography on UCL private land. https://www.mapillary.com/app/?lat=51.52408678178551&lng=-0.13411602531596145&z=16.442539295032898



Pia Tue 18 Jan 2022 9:28AM

Thank you, Jez! Those suggestions are really helpful. I will definitely attend the Feb 1st Mapathon.

I am only now getting to know OSM myself, and so the opportunity to find a facilitator for a workshop on how to use it, how to create projects, how to use features and tags etc... would be fantastic!

I believe that there is space in our budget for a paid facilitator rather than a volunteer, although I will have to check the rate that UCL offers to external facilitators. Would this be something anyone would be interested in?

It would be great if the network I set up could play a continuous and active role in the OSM community, and perhaps ultimately gain chapter status (as seen on the OSM website - although I haven't found much other info about how to do this/what it involves).


Jez Nicholson Tue 18 Jan 2022 10:14AM

I plan to be at Missing Maps, so we might have the chance to chat in person.


Edward Bainton Tue 18 Jan 2022 12:12PM

Sounds an interesting project, Pia.

If you do use street-level photography, please consider uploading the photos to Geograph or otherwise making them available under an 'open' licence.

The only thing I would add is that the general view is that subjective info isn't what the map is for - so "this is green space" is fine; "this is a green space suitable for growing onions" is probably not. But "this is now an onion patch" would be great!


Pia Mon 24 Jan 2022 3:54PM

Thanks Edward, I'll definitely make sure that as many of the resources we produce are open access.

Could you tell me a little more about the 'subjective info' parameters? I'd like to understand what sort of guidelines I can eventually set my mapping team.

The problem is that green space is listed around the campus already, but its soil/access/growing conditions and capacity for use as an edible space is not... this sort of more 'subjective' information is unfortunately exactly what I was hoping to be able to add so that local communities can take initiative re urban gardening in their areas. How do you think I could manage this?


Edward Bainton Mon 24 Jan 2022 8:52PM

I should caveat first that I am a pretty junior mapper (and indeed, I dip in and out of mapping, and am currenty Out). Others much longer in the tooth will have more useful things to say. But to plough on regardless...

One of the cornerstones of the map is 'verifiability'. You can read plenty on this at the wiki page of that name. Discussion pages on the wiki (confusingly URL'd under 'Talk') are often a good place to dig up any controversy, and on this one there has been plenty of back and forth.

As a worked example of a tag straddling the borderline of acceptability (ie, some say it's fine, some not), you could look at the page for Tracktype. Discussion there and elsewhere has absorbed many keystrokes in the past, even more when we add tentative Aussie use of "4x4 recommended" and "4x4 only': the point is made that this factor depends at least as much on the skill and appetite for adventure of the particular driver as any property of the track itself. For an essay on why this exercises many people, you could read imagico's here (RT≠ endorsement).

Your case sounds as if it may be something rather like the Tracktype tag: sort of verifiable, but at least partly a subjective decision about where on a notional scale of growability a particular patch of green falls.

You could perhaps consider points like these (with apologies if this is an egg-sucking lesson):

  • Looks like you've already started to break down your very broad "can we grow here" criteria: you mention soil type and accessibility, both of which could be verifiable in principle.

  • One of yours, "capacity for use as an edible space" may be able to be further broken down into more objective components (and you may find you build a scoring system for your plots en passant ;-). A MECE analysis may be useful?

  • Are there existing objective metrics, perhaps in horticultural or soil sciences, that you could make use of? Or hours of shade at the equinox? etc.

My own rule of thumb in the end is something like the golden rule: would I like to stumble across a tag like this, or would I think it was useless clutter? If the tags are really the records of a local group using OSM because it's a handy GSI, then that's not really ok. If you're recording info that is (at least potentially) both useful and useable by others, that's great. And if you're innovating a tagging regime that could be used by guerilla gardeners everywhere, that's even better.

The last thing I'll say is that when there's a genuine toss-up between forgiveness and permission, I'd opt for forgiveness: ime the feedback of your mapping olders is what makes the map so good, and contributing to it so rewarding.

Have fun, and I look forward to bringing some seed onions when I'm next on Gower Street.


Gregory Marler (former Director) Thu 20 Jan 2022 8:19PM

Hi Pia,

This sounds really interesting and you've had some helpful answers already. Attending a Missing Maps meetup is a good way to do some mapping and meet some local people. Certainly seek out Jez, he knows the community well and he's really good at promoting things that happen in OSM.

What department/part of UCL is being run by? In the Geography Department I know Professor Muki Haklay and Oliver O'Brien are each very knowledgeable about OpenStreetMap and citizen science. Tey would be good people to talk to.


Pia Mon 24 Jan 2022 3:49PM

Thanks Gregory. I am an alumnus of the anthropology department, but we are completing the project through a SHS grant and are working with Geography too. I have in fact been in touch with Professor Haklay, who has given me some ideas too.

I'll be attending the Missing Maps meetup!