SOTMEarlier this month, I attended State of the Map 2012, the sixth annual international OpenStreetMap (OSM) conference, held in Tokyo, Japan. This was my first OSM conference and I arrived with expectations of the standard conference meet and greet. Sure there would be new perspectives, maybe new technologies or methodologies, but I never expected my most significant take away from State of the Map would be a lesson in humility.

On the first afternoon of the conference, a Japanese mapper named Kinya Inoue (Ikiya) told a story of mapping his hometown of Fukushima before and after the March 2011 disasters. With the succinctness of true poetry, Kinya spoke of the power of open data, and then the grief, fear, and intimate encounters with death that only a crisis can wield. As Kinya voice faltered and tears fell, I recovered some of my own inspiration. Building open tools is not a competition of features and speed it’s about being part of a movement that gives power to other voices. Openness is about Kinya Inoue.

In the presentation “Fukushima mapping: Before and after the disaster,” Kinya paints with GPS tracings a picture of Fukushima before the disasters of 2011. “I love Fukushima’s nature and coastlines….I loved to visit in every season.”  While Kinya’s logs were impressive in their breadth, earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster quickly transformed data into history and mapper into survivor.

I have always been interested in crisis mapping. However becoming a disaster victim myself has made me realise that I can only do so much as a Mapper…In the year following the disaster, I didn’t visit or map the coastlines I had visited so often in the past. I was scared, but I was also grieving.

My own history with OpenStreetMap began in the summer of 2007 during an artist residency in Madrid, Spain. While my colleagues worked all day (and partied all night) I decided that I didn’t want to spend my days in front of a computer. In that time and place my mind was racing to make connections and find inspiration. I discovered OpenStreetMap and saw my ticket out of the computer lab; in the name of art I mapped the city’s metro stations.  For two weeks I traveled the metro taking what felt like thousands of photos and waypoints. I tried to be accurate in my collection and photojournalism but at the end of the day I was mapping because I wanted to be outside. I wanted to experience a city in all its richness and all its color. For me, maps have always been a way to explore the world, as much a reflection of where I am as who I am.

These days I often think of OpenStreetMap in terms of data points with question of accuracy (no more mislabeled roads) and speed (disaster logistics) and access (hospitals in Africa) worked out in my head. Kinya reminded me that OpenStreetMap can also capture the ephemera of life and death, memory and hope. “These GPS logs are full of memories and people’s lives before the disaster. I hope they can be used as the region rebuilds in the future.”

When mapping tools are open, not only does the ownership of data change hands but the authorship of its meaning shifts as well.  With OpenStreetMap Kinya not only creates data but also creates meaning.

For example, in the aftermath of the Fukashima disasters, the authority data provider (contractors and the Japanese government) gave very little information to its citizens about risk of radiation exposure, and in fact sub-contractors have been accused of purposely providing inaccurate information. During this time Kinya returned to collect over 7,000 waypoints that mapped the distribution of radiation levels over an expanse of 2,400km. The meaning he creates in his maps questions the assumption of “safe” when radiation still lingers.

But it goes further than creating meaning and to the act of creation itself.  Yes, Kinya’s maps challenge the status quo but his experience of creating those maps are a destination on its own. Kinya recalled that during one of his long journeys of data collection, months after the earthquake, he encountered a tsunami victim washed on shore. He went off to collect data in hopes of building an informed future and returned to give identity and peace to a lost mother. “From this experience, I realized that OSM teaches us many things and gives us many things. Thank you for OSM.”

Like explorers past, Kinya ventures to make meaning of a changing home. And in the face of great sorrow, he returns with information to help build a new tomorrow.  I see Kinya’s journey as a reflection of open tools and open mapping, at its best lived large with a heart full of humanity and gratitude.


OpenGeo staff will be at a handful of conference this fall and we’re hoping to see you there. Following Alyssa’s trip to Tokyo Ken and Ilya headed to Orlando for the Annual NSGIC conference where they were blown away by the hunger for open source at the state government level. If you missed us in Japan or Florida maybe you’ll see us at one of these upcoming events:

  • OGC Standards Exposition, September 19: Eddie and Ilya will be participating in this OGC showcase to demo and display implementations of OGC standards in OpenGeo projects.
  • 2012 Texas GIS Forum,  Oct 1-4: OpenGeo is proud to be a silver sponsor of this great event. If you’re in Austin make sure to catch Paul Ramsey’s keynote!
  • GEOINT 2012 Oct 8-11: OpenGeo will be exhibiting and presenting at GEOINT 2012 in  Orlando Florida. If you’re at the conference come see us at booth #1820.
  • International Conference of Crisis Mappers, Oct 11-14: Veteran crisis mappers Galen and Jeff will be attending the fourth annual ICCM hosted by The World Bank. This is always a great event and we’re especially excited that it’s right in our backyard.
  • State of the Map USA, 2012 Oct 13 – 14: Fresh off her trip to Japan, Alyssa will be headed to Portland to represent OpenGeo at the US version of State of the Map. The  energy and excitement in this community is contagious, OpenGeo is looking forward to getting more involved.
  • MilOSS WG4: Oct 15-17: Rounding out the fall conference season is the MilOSS WG4 conference in Washington DC. Eddie is giving a presentation on the slew of new processing features available in OpenGeo Suite 3.0.

If you’ll be at any of the above conference, or just want to catch up, don’t hesitate to send us an email! We hope to see you out there.