Header photo: Measuring UN SDG Indicator 11.2.1: the proportion of the population with convenient access to public transport. What percentage of Baltimore’s population lives within a 0.5 km walk of a transit stop?

OpenStreetMap US is excited to announce that we have been awarded a Geospatial Data Analytics Services Grant for the Azavea Summer of Maps program. The Azavea Summer of Maps program is a 12-week fellowship where geospatial data analysis students work alongside experienced mentors to complete projects for nonprofit organizations. OSM US has been partnered with SoM Fellow Eugene Chong, a student in the Master of City Planning and Master of Urban Spatial Analytics programs at the University of Pennsylvania studying transportation and GIS.

Maggie: I am very excited to be working with you this summer. Could you please share a little bit about what we are working on?

Eugene: I’m excited too! I’ve gotten to use OSM in some of my school work, and I was amazed by what an incredible resource the mapping community has put together. I’m really looking forward to getting to know OSM and the community better and, hopefully, play a small role in helping it grow.

This summer, I’ll be using OpenStreetMap to track (and map) progress made on UN Sustainable Development Goals in several American cities, including Baltimore, Minneapolis, and New Orleans. The two specific indicators I’ll be looking at are:

  1. The proportion of the population that has convenient access to public transport by sex, age, and persons with disabilities (UN SDG 11.2.1)
  2. The average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use by sex, age, and persons with disabilities (UN SDG 11.7.1)

I chose these indicators because they are well-suited for tracking via OpenStreetMap - their progress can be measured with data commonly found in OSM. More broadly, they’re also important development questions. Equitable access to public transportation helps provide greater economic opportunity to a larger percentage of the population, and it does so in a more sustainable way than private vehicles. Open spaces in urban areas, like parks, playgrounds, and plazas, are critical infrastructure that help reduce the urban heat island effect, collect stormwater runoff, remove pollutants from the air, and serve as community gathering and recreation spaces.

Maggie: What questions do you want to answer?

Eugene: There are two types of questions I’m hoping to answer. The first is measuring progress on the SDGs themselves. How are we doing in terms of public transportation access and open space in these cities, and how should we measure it? While the UN has given some guidance for how to track progress towards these goals, their methodology will need to be adjusted to fit the data available on OpenStreetMap.

The second set of questions relates to the suitability of OpenStreetMap itself for measuring these SDGs. Does OSM provide the right data for analyzing these indicators, and is that data mapped well enough in these cities to do so reliably? For example, for the transit SDG, the UN recommends looking at public transport that runs at least once every 20 minutes, but the interval=* tag is only used about 9,000 times globally (compared to over 190,000 bus routes mapped), so for now, we probably can’t take transit headways into account. Map completeness will always be a challenge for OSM, and researchers have taken several different approaches to studying the question, like using reference datasets and looking at map contribution trends. I’d like to apply some of those approaches to the map features relevant to these indicators and hopefully come away with an understanding of how well we can measure these SDGs using OpenStreetMap.

Maggie: How can the community support your efforts?

Eugene: The OSM community has been very supportive already. I’ve leaned heavily on many of OSM’s and the OSM community’s existing resources, like the Open Source Routing Machine, the OpenStreetMap History Database, OSM R packages, and, of course, the Wiki. In addition, the mappers on the OSMUS Slack channel have been very helpful with my questions about OSM’s data structure and various tagging schemas and standards.

Maggie: What can we look forward to seeing at the end of the summer?

Eugene: I’m planning to deliver a series of maps and infographics that show the progress that has been made on the two SDG indicators in the selected study cities, based on data from OSM. These graphics will be accompanied by a report that details the methodology I use for measuring SDG “progress,” discusses how access to public transportation and open space differs across demographic and socio-economic lines, and assesses the “completeness” of the OSM map features used in the SDG analysis.

I will also be developing a tutorial downloading, visualizing, and analyzing OSM data in QGIS in collaboration with Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY), an OSMUS partner organization based in Maryland. This tutorial is intended for beginners to OSM and QGIS, and we hope that it can be used by civic organizations interested in using OSM data in their work.

Maggie: Thank you Eugene! And thanks to Azavea for the opportunity to participate in their Summer of Maps program and work with Eugene on this exciting project. Look for a blog post and a Mappy Hour presentation from Eugene summarizing the mapping and analysis efforts. Eugene is new to the OSM US community, so if you see him on our social media say hello!


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Photos © Justin Miller unless otherwise noted