Agenda for Cities: Investing in Mapping the Cities

Agenda for Cities: Investing in Mapping the Cities

Scotland has a proud tradition of open data access. Indeed, General Register House was built in 1774 for just such a purpose: to make Scotland’s record accessible for public consultation. The investment, equivalent to £139 million in current economic values, was considered essential for businesses, property interests, and civil society to function efficiently. Access to records was free – then.


Easy Access to Open Data? People like to know about their area both in the past and the present. They identify with it, and this contributes to place-making, and to a greater sense of community. So providing local residents with data and easily accessible maps contributes significantly to that process.

This is the most important single thing that the Scottish Government could support that would have far reaching effects across all cities, as well as towns and villages.

As things stand various layers of government and publicly funded bodies collect data, approximately 80% of which is mappable. Yet these public bodies often charge for supplying such data, or make it available only under restrictive licences, or present it in a complicated format. Rarely is any mapping facility provided with the datasets. Collectively these constraints severely limit the utility of the data collected, and excludes all but specialist users.


OpenStreetMap (OSM) So how can the public get better access to spatial data? From the least likely source is the answer. To the amazement of the Scottish OSM community it is historians and volunteers who have walked every street in Edinburgh and recorded thousands of buildings, gardens, boundary walls and many other features. The result has been to develop the most accurate OSM map in the UK (see and compare this with the OSM for other UK and world cities). House numbers have been placed where the main doors are located for over 60,000 residential properties. For local people and visitors alike the locations of convenience stores, pubs, retail shops and many other features identified on the Edinburgh OSM enables people to discover the city.

The accuracy of the OSM Edinburgh – to between 1 and 3 metres – means that for all practical purposes it is comparable to the Ordnance Survey yet suffers from none of the restrictions associated with using Ordnance Survey maps. (For the approach and for results see Once a town or city has been mapped then open source tools can accurately locate and map 100+ addresses per second – a performance that far outstrips proprietary tools. The methodology is robust, can be rolled out to towns and cities, and offers engagement with local people.


Benefits? Just one benefit of mapping a city is that it raises awareness of localities and their needs, and encourages citizenship. It is the essence of community-building: the first step is knowing your neighbourhood. Organisations and societies can map their interests, and memberships; residents can identify play parks, and other local amenities; school-children can learn about their places and develop a spatial awareness; family historians can trace kinship patterns; tourists can navigate to and from points of interest off the beaten track; small and medium sized business (SMEs), creative industries and professionals who cannot afford to subscribe to the Ordnance Survey can now map customers and clients to enhance their business.

Mapping, and OSM specifically, enhances economic development and enriches civic participation. OSM data is free to use, copy, transmit and adapt and needs only an acknowledgement to the OpenStreetMap Community (data is licensed under ODbL and cartography under CC-BY-SA. See also The map can be updated – it is not controlled by multi-national companies, public bodies or Councils – and remains current, unlike Google for example. Organisations and individuals can report and edit changes of use – and Councils can link their planning, transport and other functions directly to it. In fact, City of Edinburgh Council has adopted OSM for both their Transport portal and Lothian Buses even though they have paid for access to the Ordnance Survey data! See and


Why wait? In 1774 administrators recognised that information formed part of the Scottish Enlightenment. Can our current administrations, local and national, show the same foresight? We need ‘smart’ Scottish cities in the 21st century to advance competitiveness, stimulate innovation and regenerate communities.


Agenda Item. So let the Scottish Government do something substantive and creative by making a modest investment in OpenStreetMap for all towns and cities in Scotland. It is the best way to connect with all of Scotland’s citizens.



Why the contribution is important

Mapping our cities is important because it:

  1. empowers our citizens through improved flows of information
  2. enriches civil society by providing spatial data to assist clubs and organisations
  3. improves transparency and public accountability
  4. supports our businesses by facilitating spatial analysis of customers, suppliers etc.
  5. encourages tourists to explore under-visited parts of the city
  6. engages with volunteers and partners in the construction of the map
  7. improves public administration by providing accessible, mappable data and thereby allowing for systematic analysis and modelling of socio-economic data
  8. reduces dependence on Ordnance Survey and potentially restrains subscriptions
  9. reduces FOI requests
  10. allows comparisons in standards of service delivery to be made between different cities.

by richardrodger on October 14, 2015 at 02:39PM

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Average score : 4.5
Based on : 6 votes


  • Posted by Tim October 15, 2015 at 20:32

    Great idea! And great for active transport planning and even for resilience and disaster planning/response e.g.
  • Posted by Johnmuir October 22, 2015 at 20:25

    Great idea and should utilise the massive amounts of data collected by the Scottish Government in 2004 et seq to produce noise maps of every major transport area and urban quiet areas, in order to comply with the EC Environmental Noise Directives.
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