Quick-and-Dirty WordPress Site Cloning


Here is a guide to clone a WordPress(.org) blog, on the same server, 10 steps, on Linux, You’ll definitely need admin access to the blog itself, and probably to the database and server too, depending on your setup. I did this recently as I needed a copy of an existing production site, to hack on. If you don’t fancy doing it the quick-and-dirty way, there are, I’m sure, even quicker (and cleaner) ways, by installing plugins.

In the following instructions, substitute X and Y for your existing and new blog, respectively.

0. Do a backup of your current website, like you do normally for an upgrade or archiving, in case anything goes wrong. e.g. under Tools > Export in the WordPress admin interface.

1. Copy all the files:
cp -r /home/~username/www/blog_X /home/~username/www/blog_Y

2. Edit wp-config.php in your new blog directory:

$table_prefix = 'wp_X_';
$table_prefix = 'wp_Y_';

3. Copy all the database tables (prefixed with wp_X_). The new ones should have a prefix wp_Y_ instead. I used the Copy functionality under the Operations tab in phpMyAdmin (see screenshot below).

4. Edit wp_Y_options:
update wp_Y_options set option_name = 'wp_Y_user_role' where option_name = ' wp_X_user_role';

5. Edit wp_Y_options:
Edit the option_value for rows with option_name values of siteurl and home, pointing them to the new location – mine are the same but one might be different, e.g. if you have your WordPress core files in a subdirectory relative to the directory for the site entry-point on the web.

update wp_Y_options set option_value = 'http://your_server.com/~username/wp_Y' where option_name = 'siteurl';
update wp_Y_options set option_value = 'http://your_server.com/~username/wp_Y' where option_name = 'home';

There may be other rows referencing your old blog name, but these are probably from plugins and therefore probably don’t need to be changed.

6. Edit wp_Y_usermeta:
update wp_Y_usermeta set meta_key = replace(meta_key, 'wp_X', 'wp_Y');

(You can edit the affected rows manually, but I had a lot to do – there’s around 5 for each user.)

7. Drop force-upgrade.php in the same directory as wp-config.php and run it from your browser. This rebuilds caches/hashes stored in some of the tables. You can run it repeatedly if necessary, (e.g. if you missed a step above), it shouldn’t do any harm.

You can find force-upgrade.php here.

8. Delete force-upgrade.php. Leaving it is a security risk.

9. Log in to your blog in the new location, as normal. Usernames and passwords should be preserved.


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Lego X Combines Augmented Reality, 3D modelling and 3D printing

Lego has been in the top preferences for architectural toys since forever. And who doesn't enjoy playing with the super colorful Lego pieces. Even in the Richard Rogers exhibition in London in 2013, there one full section was dedicated to the famous bricks, filled with hundreds of lego pieces lying around, to engage people in the architectural thinking of creative modelling. Gravity, a company based in London, has recently  announced an app that will use "location mapping and gyroscopic sensors" to generate digital models of Lego creations.

The program, "scans" Lego pieces real time and creates 3D models on the fly. Using sophisticated algorithms 3D Lego structures seem to be translated into surfaces, such as walls and roofs. The final stage appears to smooth out corners and curves to produce 3d printable objects which can be send directly for 3D printing.

Read more »

Barbican: Before and After the Blitz


Here is an interesting concept by illustrator Russell Bell. He’s taken a pre-WWII (World War 2) monochrome map of the Barbican area of London (the northern-most part of the ancient City of London) and incorporated a modern, coloured map of the main structures that form the Barbican Estate, that was built following the area suffering heavy damage during the WWII Blitz. During the building process, the street layout fundamentally changed, with streets disappearing or changing alignment, and a new lake appearing. By including the modern map as a translucent overlay on the original, the viewer can clearly contrast the old and the new. It’s worth noting that the new is already changing, as a number of the (non-residential) post-war blocks along London Wall, and Milton Court, have already been demolished for further development.

Russell has made a number of prints of his map, see his online shop.

The Barbican Estate’s multi-levelled structure and maze of “highwalks” means it’s famously being difficult to navigate (which makes it a great orienteering venue), despite various lit maps being available throughout the complex. At one point, famously, orange lines were painted on the ground, to help lead people to the Barbican Arts Centre from the entrances to the estate.

Thanks to Russell for the heads-up.


Neoliberal addresses

What does addresses got to do with economic theory and political dogma? turn out that quite a lot. As I was looking at the latest press release from the cabinet office, proudly announcing that the government is investing in (yet another) UK address database, I realised that the handling of UK addresses, those deceivingly simple ‘221b Baker St NW1 6XE‘ provide a parable for the stupidity of neoliberalism.

To avoid doubt: this is not about Open Addresses UK. It’s about the systemic failures of the past 20 years. 

Also for avoidance of doubt, my views are similar to Richard Murphy about the joy of tax. I see collective action and common investment in national assets through taxation as a wonderful thing, and I don’t mind R&D investment being spent on infrastructure that might fail – it’s true for Beagle 2 as much as it’s true for a national address database. So you won’t see here ‘this is a waste of taxpayers money’. It’s the systemic issues that I question here. 

Finally, If I got some specific details of the history of the development wrong – I’m happy to be stand corrected!

The starting point must be to understand what is the point in address database. The best explanation is from one of the top UK experts on this issue – Bob Barr (OBE). Bob identified ‘Core Reference Geographies‘ which have the following characteristics: Definitive; Should be collected and maintained once and used many times; Are Natural monopolies; Have variable value in different applications; and, Have highly elastic demand. We can also call these things ‘Commons‘ because the way we want people to be able to share them while protecting their future – and ideally avoid ‘tragedy of the commons‘.

© Copyright Roger Templeman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Roger Templeman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Addresses are such ‘core reference geography’. Think about all the applications for a single, definitive database of all UK addresses – it can be used to send the post, plan the census, dispatch emergency services, deliver a broadband link to the right property, check for fraud during purchase transactions, and much more. To make sense of the address above, you need to have geographical location, street name and house number and postcode. Ordnance Survey map can be used to set the location, the street name is set by the local authority and the postcode by the Royal Mail. Merge these sources with a few other bits of information and in principle, you can have a definitive set. Do it for the whole country and you have this ‘core reference geography’, which sounds simple…

The story is a bit more complex – as long as information was not digitised and linked, mismatches between addresses from different sources was not a huge problem, but in the mid 1990s, because of the use of digital records and databases, it became important to have a common way to link them. By that time, the Post Office Postal Address File (PAF) became the de facto definitive address database. Actually, it’s been around since the 1970s, used by the Post Office not as a definitive address database, but to serve internal needs of mail delivery. However, in the absence of any other source, people started to using it – for example, in statistical studies (e.g. this paper from 1988). While I can’t find a specific source for the history of PAF, I guess that at some point, it became a product that is shared with other organisations and sold for direct marketing companies and other users. Naturally, it wouldn’t be what you would design as the definitive source if you start all over again, but it was there, and it was good enough, so people used it.

Without raising false nostalgia about the alternatives, imagine that the need for definitive address database happened at a time when all the entities that are responsible for the elements of an address were part of the public sector. There would be plenty of power struggles, feet dragging, probably cross-departmental animosity and all sort of other obstacles. However, as been proven time and again – when it is all inside the sphere of government control, reorganisation is possible. So you could imagine that at the end of the day, you’d get ‘address directorate’ that manage addresses as national commons.

Now, we can get to the core of the story. Let’s look at the definition of neoliberalism that I want to use here. The definition is from a very good article on the Daily Kos that uses the definition ‘Neoliberalism is a free market economic philosophy that favors the deregulation of markets and industries, the diminution of taxes and tariffs, and the privatization of government functions, passing them over to private business.’ In terms of the political dogma that came with it, it is seeing market solutions as the only solution to societal issues. In the UK, this form of thinking started in the 1980s.

By the time that GIS proliferated and the need for a definitive address database became clear, the neoliberal approach was in full gear. The different entities that need to share information in order to create this common address database were pushed out of government and were asked to act in quasi-commercial way, at which point, the people who run them are instructed to maximise the self-interest of the entity and and market their products at prices that ‘the market will bare’. However, with no alternatives and necessity to use definitive information, pricing is tricky. In terms of sharing information and creating a common product, such entities started bickering over payments, intellectual property and control. The Ordnance Survey had Address-Point, the Post Office/Royal Mail had the PAF, and while being still de facto datasets, no satisfactory definitive database emerged. You couldn’t get beyond this point as the orgnaisational structure requires each organisation to hold to their ‘property’, so while the need became clearer, the solution was now more difficult. 

In the second round, what looks like a good bottom-up approach was proposed. The idea was the local authorities are the best source of information to create a definitive address database (National Land and Property Gazetteer) because they are the closest to the changes on the ground and can manage them. However, we are under neoliberal dogma, so the whole thing need to operate commercially, and you go for a public/private partnership for that. Guess what? It didn’t work.

Third round, you merge the company from the second round with entity from the first round to create another commercial partnership. And  you are still stuck, because fundamentally, there is still the demand to control assets in order to sell them in the market.

Fourth and something that deserve as the most idiotic step in the story is the privatisation of the Royal Mail, which need to maintain ‘assets’ in order to be ‘attractive for investors’ so you sell the PAF with it. It all work within neoliberal logic but the implications is that instead of just dealing with a network of public owned bodies which it is possible to dictate what they should do, you now have it in the private sector, where intellectual property is sacred.

In the final stage, you think: oh, I got a solution, let’s create a new entity that will crowdsource/reuse open data, however, you are a good neoliberal and you therefore ask it to come up with a business model. This time it will surely work, ignoring the huge effort to build business models and all the effort that was invested into trying to pay for a sustainable address databases in the past 20 years. This time it’s going to work.

Let’s ask then, if we do believe in markets so much, should we expect to see a competitor address database to PAF/Address-Point/NLPG appearing by now? Here we can argue that it’s an example for ‘market failure‘ – the most obvious kind is when you can see lack of investment or interest from ‘participants in the market’ to even start trading.

If indeed it was all about free markets and private entrepreneurial spirit, you might expect to see several database providers competing with one another, until, eventually, one or two will become the dominant (the ‘natural monopoly’ above) and everyone use their services.  Building such a database in the era of crowdsourcing should be possible. Just like with the early days of OpenStreetMap, you don’t want ‘contamination’ by copying information from a source that holds database rights or copyright over the information that you use. So we want cases of people voluntarily typing in their addresses, while the provider collate the raw data. Inherently, the same way that Google crowdsource queries because people are typing it and giving the text to Google for use, so does anyone who type their delivery address in Amazon.co.uk. This is crowdsourced addresses – not copied from an external dataset, so even if, for the aim of error checking the entry is tested against PAF, they are not derivatives. Take all these addresses, clean and organise them, and you should have a PAF competitor that was created by your clients.

So Amazon is already an obvious candidate for creating it from ‘passive crowdsourcing’ as a side effect of their day to day operations. Who else might have a database that came from people inputting addresses in the UK to a degree that the body can create a fairly good address database? It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to realise that there are plenty.   Companies that are operating at a scale like Amazon probably got a very high percentage of addresses in the UK. I’d guess that also Experian will have it for their credit checks, and Landmark is in a very good place because of all the property searches. You can surely come with many more. None of these companies is offering a competition to PAF, so that tells you that commercially, no private sector company is willing to take the risk and innovate with a product. That’s understandable, as there is the litigation risk from all the messy group of quasi-public and private bodies that see addresses as their intellectual property. The end result: there is private sector provision of address database.

And all the while, nobody is daring to think about nationalising the database, force, by regulation and law that all these quasi-commercial bodies work together regardless of their ways of thinking. And it’s not that nationalisation is impossible – just check how miraculously Circle Healthcare is ‘exit private contract‘ (because the word nationalisation is prohibited in neoliberal dogma).

To avoid trolling from open data advocates: I wish the best to Open Addresses UK. I think that it’s a super tough task and it will be great to see how it evolves. If, like OSM, one of the companies that can crowdsource addresses can give them their dirty data, it is possible that they build a database fast. This post is not a criticism of Open Address UK, but all the neolibral dogmatic people who can’t simply go for the most obvious solution: take the PAF out of Royal Mail and give it to Open Addresses. Considering the underselling of the shares, there is an absolute financial justification to do so, but that’s why I pointed the sanctity of private companies assets…

So the end result: huge investment by government, failing again and again (and again) because they insist on neoliberal solutions instead of the obvious treatment of commons – hold them by government and fund them properly.




Bad Maps

<rant> Three maps with glaring errors which I came across yesterday. I’m hesitant to criticise – many of my own maps have, I am sure, issues too (i.e. my Electric Tube map, on the right, is deliberately way off.) But I couldn’t resist calling out this trio which I spotted within a few hours of each other.

1. Global Metropolitan Urban Area Footprints


This is, in itself, a great concept. I particularly like that the creator has used the urban extent rather that administrative boundaries, which rarely follow the true urban extent of a city. The glaring error is scale. It looks like the creator traced the boundaries of each city’s urban extent in Google Maps (aerial view) or similar. All well and good, but a quirk of representing a 3D globe on a 2D “slippy” map means that the scale in Google Maps (and OpenStreetMap and other maps projected to “WebMercator”) varies with latitude, at a fixed zoom level. This hasn’t been accounted for in the graphic, with the result that all cities near the equator (i.e. most of the Asian and African ones) are shown on the map smaller relative to the others, while cities near the poles (e.g. London, Paris, Edmonton, Toronto) are shown misleadingly big. This is a problem because the whole point of the graphic is to compare footprints (and populations) of the major cities. In fact, many of those Chinese and African cities are quite a bit bigger relative to, for example, London, than the graphic suggests.

2. Where Do All The Jedi Live?


The map is in the Daily Mirror (and their online new media) so it doesn’t need to be a pinnacle of cartographic excellence – just a device to get a story across.However, Oxford and Mid Sussex – 40% of the datapoints – are shown in the wrong place – both are much closer to London than the map suggests. The author suggests they did this to make the text fit – but there better ways to accommodate text while having the centroid dots in the correct location. It might take a little longer but then it wouldn’t be – quite simply – wrong. I’m somewhat disappointed that the Mirror not only stoops to the level of Fox News in the accuracy of their mapping, but appears to have no problem with maintaining such an error, even when readers point it out. It’s sloppy journalism and a snub to the cartographic trade, that just relocating whole cities for artistic purposes is not an issue, particularly as so many people in the UK have relatively poor spatial literacy and so can be potentially easily manipulated.

3. A London map…


I’m not really sure where to begin here. I’m not sure if any of the features are in fact in the right place!

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27/01/15 Imagine Cambridge in 2065: latest from Cambridge Network’s CEO – Cambridge Wireless (press release)

Cambridge Wireless (press release)

27/01/15 Imagine Cambridge in 2065: latest from Cambridge Network's CEO
Cambridge Wireless (press release)
... UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor; Professor Frank Kelly, Master, Christ's College; Professor Sir Alan Wilson, Professor of Urban and Regional Systems in the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL; and Bronwen Maddox, Editor, Prospect (Chair).

and more »

The Rivers of London


This is a new work by Stephen Walter, in his characteristic hand-annotated, monochromatic style. It features London’s watery features, in particular the many waterways. The iconic River Thames (which should always appear on any good London map) is the natural centrepiece, but London has numerous more minor rivers, streams, channels and culverts which form the base of this work. The choice of water is a particularly good one – London’s waterways are scattered throughout the capital, rather than intensifying in the centre as tube lines and houses (the focus of some of the artist’s previous works) do. This results in reasonably even areas of white space, complementing the intense detail for the rivers (and surrounding lands) themselves that are a hallmark of Stephen’s style. The completed work therefore doesn’t overwhelm with information or feel unevenly cramped, so it is rather pleasing to the eye as a complete piece. The artist has used several different font styles to denote different kinds of features, and included various historical annotations, such as marks of major floods.

The work can be viewed on the TAG Fine Arts website or at their studio in Islington, where it can also be purchased, as part of an edition of 50.

If you are a long-time Mapping London reader and are thinking that this style looks familiar, you’d be right, we’ve featured works by Stephen Walter a couple of times before. We’ve also previous featured maps of underground rivers and even tube-style maps of the waterways.

As an aside, prolific London blogger Diamond Geezer‘s 2015 project is walking the Unlost Rivers of London, many of whom are included on the map here.

Thank you to TAG Fine Arts for the complementary ticket to the London Art Fair, where The Rivers of London was on display, along with several over map-related artworks, such as some works by Adam Dant. The photographs here are from their website.


Imagine Cambridge in 2065: latest from the Network’s CEO – Cambridge Network

Cambridge Network

Imagine Cambridge in 2065: latest from the Network's CEO
Cambridge Network
... UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor; Professor Frank Kelly, Master, Christ's College; Professor Sir Alan Wilson, Professor of Urban and Regional Systems in the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL; and Bronwen Maddox, Editor, Prospect (Chair).

OpenLayers 3 and Vector Data

As part of a project to move most of my OpenLayers 2-powered websites to OpenLayers 3, I have recently converted two more – DataShine: Travel to Work Flows and the North/South Interactive Map. Unlike the main DataShine: Census website, both of these newer conversions include vector geospatial data, so there was additional learning involved during the migration process, mainly relating to vector styling.

northsouth2North/South Interactive Map

For the North/South Interactive Map, I made use of the loading in of remote GeoJSON files.

Vector Layers

Here’s a vector layer:

layerPoints = new ol.layer.Vector({
    source: pointSource,
    style: function(feature, res) { return pointStyle(feature, res); }

The pointSource is a ol.source.GeoJSON, which requires the projection of the files to be defined, as well as that to be displayed, when defining the source for the Vector layer:
pointSource = new ol.source.GeoJSON({
    url: '...',
    defaultProjection: 'EPSG:4326',
    projection: 'EPSG:3857',

    attributions: [ new ol.Attribution({ 'html': "..." }) ]

If you wish to do further operations on your data once it is loaded in, you need to add a listener to a remotely loaded (e.g. GeoJSON file) source included within a Vector layer:

pointSource.once('change', function()
    if (pointSource.getState() == 'ready')
    { var features = pointSource.getFeatures(); ... }

Here’s a typical style function. I’m using a property “highlight” on my feature to style such features differently:

function pointStyle(feature, resolution)
    return [
        new ol.style.Style({
            image: new ol.style.Circle({
                radius: (feature.highlight ? 7 : feature.radius ),
                fill: new ol.style.Fill({ color: feature.fillColor }),
                stroke: new ol.style.Stroke({ width: feature.strokeWidth, color: '#fff' })
            text: new ol.style.Text({
                text: (feature.highlight ? feature.label : ""),
                font: '9px Ubuntu, Gill Sans, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif',
                fill: new ol.style.Fill({ color: '#fff' })


To detect clicks, I used an ol.interaction.Select – N.B. if you don’t specify which layers it applies to, it tries to apply them to all Vector layers!

var selectClick = new ol.interaction.Select({
    condition: ol.events.condition.click,
    style: function(feature, res) { return pointStyle(feature, res); },
    layers: [layerPoints]

selectClick.getFeatures().on('change:length', function(e)
{ ... }


In my function here I remove the flag from any already highlighted features and call features[i].changed(); to get the non-highlighed style. You don’t need to call this on what you’ve actually clicked on, as this is done implicitly. here’s likely better ways of showing selected/highlighted features, using ol.FeatureOverlay, but i couldn’t get this to work.



There’s quite a nice new utility function which means it was little effort to get an “old style” location indicator in, at the bottom of the North/South interactive:
new ol.control.MousePosition({ projection: "EPSG:4326", coordinateFormat: ol.coordinate.toStringHDMS, className: 'olControlMousePosition' })


DataShine: Travel to Work Flows

This loads vector data in as generic JSON through a regular (non-OL) AJAX call rather than GeoJSON so the processing is a bit more manual. This time, my source for the Vector layer is a simple ol.source.Vector which can be emptied with source.clear(); and reused.

I’m creating lines directly from the JSON, converting from OSGB grid and specifying colour (for the style) as I go – note my use of rgba format, allowing me to specify a partial transparency (of 60%) for the lines:

var startLL = ol.proj.transform([data[start][2], data[start][3]], "EPSG:27700", "EPSG:3857");
var endLL = ol.proj.transform([data[end][2], data[end][3]], "EPSG:27700", "EPSG:3857");
var journeyLine = new ol.geom.LineString([startLL, endLL]);
var lineItem = new ol.Feature({ geometry: journeyLine });
lineItem.strokeColor = 'rgba(255, 0, 0, 0.4)'; lineSource.addFeature(lineItem);

As previously blogged, I’m also using hand-crafted permalinks in both websites, and drag-and-drop KML display and UTF grid mouseovers in the latter, and both have also had their stylesheets tweaked to allow for easy printing – again made possible with OL3.

I’m about ready now to tackle my most complicated OpenLayers project by far, the Bike Share Map.

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Legible London Walking Maps


The Legible London project has been producing clear, attractive maps of parts of London, to help people navigate unfamiliar streets by foot, for a few years now. The maps appear on numerous way-marking plinths around the capital, helping people to get from A to B effectively. During the Olympic Games in 2012, paper Legible London maps were made available at key stations, to encourage people to walk rather than overload the tube/train network, but generally, the maps are not available online. Recently, however, the project has created maps for several of London’s signed long-distance walks, and these are available for download.

As an example I’ve picked Section 7 of the Jubilee Greenway, one of London’s long-distance paths that was put together for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, also celebrated in 2012. This particular path spends quite a lot of time on the Greenway (aka the Northern Outflow Sewer!) in east London, but also includes some more classically touristy sections. Section 7 is a nice balance between the industrial and touristy parts of London, going through the industrial/changing Deptford waterfront and residential Rotherhithe but also passing the Cutty Sark of Maritime Greenwich and Tower Bridge. Direct link to the PDF.

The maps use a clear and consistent colour theme, with a relatively small number of colours resulting in attractive cartography. Only major buildings and landmarks are shown, in yellow, with a selection shown in 3D on some of the inset maps. The route is shown clearly, with a red line, and with links to stations, and diversions, as red dashes.

You can download section maps for most of London’s long-distance paths, on a new part of the TfL website.

Hat-tip to Diamond Geezer for spotting the new maps.


Geographic Information Science and Citizen Science

Thanks to invitations from UNIGIS and from Edinburgh Earth Observatory / AGI Scotland, I had an opportunity to reflect on how Geographic Information Science (GIScience) can contribute to citizen science, and what citizen science can contribute to GIScience.

Despite the fact that it’s been 8 years since the term Volunteers Geographic Information (VGI) was coined, I don’t assume that all the audience is aware of how it came about. I also don’t assume knowledge of citizen science, which is far less familiar term within GIScience. Therefore, before going into a discussion about the relationship between the two areas, I start with a short introduction to both, starting with VGI, and then moving to citizen science. After introduction to the tow areas, I’m suggesting the relationships between them – there are types of citizen science that are overlapping VGI – biological recording and environmental observations, as well as community (or civic) science, while other types, such as volunteer thinking there are many projects that are non-geographical (think EyeWire or Galaxy Zoo).

However, I don’t just list a catalogue of VGI and citizen science activities. Personally, I found trends a useful way to make sense of what happen. I’ve learned that from the writing of Thomas Friedman, who used it is several of his books to help the reader understand where the changes that he covers came from. Trends are, of course, speculative, as it is very difficult to demonstrate causality or to be certain about the contribution of each trends to the end result. With this caveats in mind, there are several technological and societal trends that I used in the talk to explain how VGI (and the VGI element of citizen science) came from.

Of all these trends, I keep coming back to one technical and one societal that I see as critical. The removal of selective availability of GPS in May 2000 is my top technical change, as the cascading effect led to deluge of good enough location data which is behind the two areas. On the societal side, it is the Flynn effect as a signifier of the educational shift in the past 50 years that explains how the ability to participate in scientific projects have changed.

In terms of the reciprocal contributions between the fields, I suggest the following:

GIScience can support citizen science by considering data quality assurance methods that are emerging in VGI, there are also plenty of Spatial Analysis methods that take into account heterogeneity and therefore useful for citizen science data. The areas of geovisualisation and human-computer interaction studies in GIS can assist in developing more effective and useful applications for citizen scientists and people who use their data. There is also plenty to do in considering semantics, ontologies, interoperability and standards. Finally, since critical GIScientists have been looking for a long time into the societal aspects of geographical technologies such as privacy, trust, inclusiveness, and empowerment, they have plenty to contribute to citizen science activities in how to do them in more participatory ways.

On the other hand, citizen science can contribute to GIScience, and especially VGI research, in several ways. First, citizen science can demonstrate longevity of VGI data sources with some projects going back hundreds of years. It provides challenging datasets in terms of their complexity, ontology, heterogeneity and size. It can bring questions about Scale and how to deal with large, medium and local activities, while merging them to a coherent dataset. It also provide opportunities for GIScientists to contribute to critical societal issues such as climate change adaptation or biodiversity loss. It provides some of the most interesting usability challenges such as tools for non-literate users, and finally, plenty of opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations.

The slides from the talk are available below.

Postdoctoral Research Associate – Quantitative Population Geography

There is a research associate opportunity in quantitative population geography at the University of Liverpool. The post details are as follows:
Postdoctoral Research Associate
£32,277 pa
Faculty of Science and Engineering, School of Environmental Sciences, Department of Geography and Planning
Location: University Campus
Ref: R-587244/WWW
Closing date for receipt of applications: Fri, 23 Jan 2015 17:00:00 GMT
This exciting opportunity arises from a recent ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative Phase 2 award, to support a project which focuses on geographic inequalities in the UK and how these have changed over the last 40 years. The project will involve the development of a set of population surfaces for a wide array of socio-economic and demographic variables for the UK Censuses of 1971-2011. These population surfaces enable assessment of changes over small geographical areas. The production of surfaces will allow detailed analysis of, for example, the persistence of social deprivation at the neighbourhood scale or the ways in which housing tenures have changed across the regions of the UK. You should have a PhD in Population Geography, Geographic Information Science, or the broader Social Sciences (with a quantitative focus). Experience in manipulating large datasets and some programming experience would also be desirable. The post is available until 31 July 2016.
For more information, please see: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/AKG036/postdoctoral-research-associate/

A particular flavour of social physics


This review of Alex Pentland’s Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – the Lessons from a New Science was published in the December 2014 issue of Physics World –  which can be accessed here if you sign up for free!

Alex “Sandy” Pentland is a computer scientist with an impressive academic record and an even more impressive history of translating academic outputs into business and consultancy. To say he has entrepreneurial flair would seem to be an understatement; his previous book was a bestseller, and his career is sprinkled liberally with consultancies and spin-outs from his research group. His career defies easy categorization, but he calls the work that he does on network analysis and computational social science “social physics”. In his latest book, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – the Lessons from a New Science he outlines his vision of a discipline that has a history of infighting and intellectual land-grabbing.

The term “social physics” was originally coined in the early 1800s by the philosopher Auguste Comte, who hoped that a mechanistic science could help to unravel society’s complexities. When another scholar, the Belgian astronomer Adolphe Quetelet, started using the term for his own brand of mathematical social science, Comte decided he didn’t want to be a social physicist anymore and became the first sociologist instead. Whether this reflects worst on the egos and caprices of physicists or sociologists rather depends on the reader’s existing prejudices.

Since Comte’s day, attempts by political philosophers, mathematicians and computer scientists to create a definitive calculus of human society have failed in a variety of interesting ways, whether from lack of data, poverty of imagination or dogmatism of approach. The people who you might identify as social physicists nowadays would probably say they worked in complexity theory, network science, machine intelligence or another of the technically challenging, frequently data-led approaches sitting at the nexus of statistics, computational modelling and applied maths. It’s not so much a discipline as an enthusiastic club, formed largely of recovering physicists and computer scientists who take a quantitative approach to understanding people.

Pentland’s definition of social physics is certainly within this wheelhouse. His work focuses on the power of social networks – power to influence people to exercise and lose weight, to enable creativity, and to create “cities of tomorrow” in the mould of Jane Jacobs, the 20th-century journalist turned urban-studies activist. Many of Pentland’s studies are based on user-centred data, often gathered from sensors that are worn on the body and are designed to collect information about social interaction. These data include aggregate information, such as how often these individuals meet one another, but also more detailed evidence about conversational turn-taking and duration of speech.

This micro-level information is synthesized into living, breathing, second-by-second social networks in a manner unimaginable by Stanley Milgram when he carried out his field-defining “six degrees of separation” experiment nearly 50 years ago. With a little statistical magic, Pentland’s team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been able to convert these rich data streams into concrete insights into the functioning of social networks, and create recommendations that have helped to transform businesses and public health projects.

While the work they’ve done is impressive and engages wonderfully with the world it seeks to improve, it feels like there are areas where Pentland’s book runs aground. The worlds of data science, “big data”, “smart cities” and the “Internet of Things” are already having huge impacts on the social sciences – sociologist Emma Uprichard referred last year to the “methodological genocide” that is being visited on her subject – and so tying “social physics” to a specific branch of network theory with an added dash of management science or social psychology seems very specific in scope.

Pentland also seems to flounder when it comes to the contentious political issues that working in social science almost inevitably generates. In particular, the ways in which he discounts the concepts of “markets” and “class” seem like a desire to sidestep the thorny issues that characterize divisions between the right and the left. He is prone to techno-Utopianism, and seems to take the view that creating and mediating social networks (perhaps via smartphones or sensing technologies) will solve the problems that plague the modern city. To support this theory, he cites Jacobs’ ideas of community urbanism (themselves partly inspired by the early discussions of complexity science by Warren Weaver), but I would have liked to have seen more of the scholarship that bridges Jacobs’ mid-20th century work and Pentland’s current research. References to this body of work are rather buried in the bibliography, and aren’t really discussed a great deal in the main text. He does, however, give special note to individuals when he discusses the work of his own PhD students – a significant gesture that I suspect many senior academics forget in the white heat of a book deal, and one that makes me rather warm to him as an author.

Some of the ideas that I found most exciting in Pentland’s work were relegated to later sections, such as his Open Personal Data Store, where users would store their personal data (not only biographical but real-time and location based) and decide who has access to it, and at what price. (For example, are the services provided by Facebook worth a certain loss of privacy? How much privacy?) This user-owned model of data could be nothing short of revolutionary. His work in analysing mobile phone data for the whole of Côte d’Ivoire is also fascinating and creates huge opportunities, as well as raising issues around globalism and inequality. This, however, is covered rather briefly.

Social Physics is an engaging and worthwhile read, and a good introduction to some of the ideas fizzing around the discipline. It focuses almost exclusively on Pentland’s own work, but does so in a readable and enthusiastic fashion. On the downside, it left me wanting to hear more of the stories behind the “thousands of hours of sensing” and “hundreds of gigabytes of data” these studies collected. We only really hear Pentland’s success stories, but what happened when things went wrong? What was unexpected? It’s these details and fallibilities that bring research stories to life. This wonderful flavour of science gives us new techniques to understand and tackle social problems, but these techniques raise their own questions – questions that are sometimes too easily dismissed in a zippy “tasting menu” that shows off Pentland’s particular flavour of social physics.

Call for Papers: Annual Conference of the 2015 RGS-IBG


The Population Geography Research Group are delighted to issue our call for papers for the annual conference of the 2015 RGS-IBG, for sessions sponsored by the research group. The conference will take place on Wednesday 2nd to Friday 4th September 2015, at the University of Exeter.


If you are interested in presenting a paper in one of these sessions, please email a paper abstract of 200-300 words to the session convenor(s) listed underneath the session titles below. Abstracts must be with session convenors no later than Wednesday 11th February.


1. Exploiting New Data for Population Research


Co-sponsored by the Quantitative Methods Research Group


Convenors: Adam Dennett (University College London), Ian Shuttleworth (Queen’s University Belfast), Nik Lomax (University of Leeds) and Chris Lloyd (University of Liverpool)
Email contact: a.dennett@ucl.ac.uk


Researchers studying population have long relied on the rich and familiar data contained in national population censuses. However, as the popularity of censuses worldwide is challenged by the ‘data deluge’ and the prospect of free (or at least by-product), real-time (or at least more-timely) and ‘Big’ new datasets, what does this ‘brave new world’ offer population geographers? There is potential to ask and answer new questions but also significant theoretical and methodological challenges in handling and extracting meaning from these proliferating new datasets. The session aims to explore not only these new social and policy questions but also the methods that can be most appropriately used. Scholarly papers are therefore invited from those interested in using these new data to understand human population patterns and processes, particularly (but not exclusively) in the areas of:


Population dynamics and/or estimation
Planning and Policy
Health and epidemiology
Cities and urban sustainability
Crime and Security
Spatial Modelling and GIS


2. Getting My Research Funded: A Workshop for Population Geographers


Co-sponsored by the Postgraduate Forum


Convenors: Nik Lomax (University of Leeds), Keith Halfacree (Swansea University) and Nigel De Noronha (University of Manchester)
Email contact: n.m.lomax@leeds.ac.uk


Attracting research funding is an essential skill for all academics: grant income dictates the quality and scope of work which can be undertaken and is a key contributor to successful progression through an academic career. This session provides an opportunity for discussion of the wide range of funding streams (both UK and international) available to population geographers and will provide advice on how to seek out and apply for this funding. Participants are asked to provide an overview of their research (which could be a shortened version of a presentation given for another session at the conference). A group discussion will follow which focuses on the types of funding which are directly relevant to population geographers. This discussion involves both the presenters and the audience. The focus on relevant funding provides participants with an opportunity to gather advice from experienced academics, who will share their tips on successfully applying for grants and other research income.
The session is aimed at postgraduates and early career researchers with an interest in population geography, but is of course open to anyone with an interest in learning more about identifying and applying for research funding.


3. Exploring the Migration Industries


Convenor: Sophie Cranston (Loughborough University)
Email contact: S.Cranston@lboro.ac.uk


In this ‘age of migration’ (Castles and Millar 2009) research on migration tends to focus on why migrants leave home and what happens to them when they arrive. However, two recent developments in studies of migration challenge this conceptualisation. First, from a mobilities perspective we challenge such sedendarist understandings and see migration as being like a journey where we explore how migrant identity is produced on the move (Cresswell 2006). Second, from a more structuralist approach, we have begun to explore the commercialisation of migration— how migration is mediated by businesses as diverse as brokers, security companies, transporters, non-governmental organisations, recruitment agencies and international human resource management (Gammeltoft-Hansen and Sorenson 2013). We can see research on the migration industries as looking at the provision of services that facilitate, constrain and assist international migration, the central role that industries play in shaping and constraining contemporary mobility patterns and mobile identities.


This session is aimed at those wishing to present research that advances our understanding of the operation of the migration industries from a variety of perspectives. This could include research that looks at:


• Theoretical perspectives on migration industries;
• Empirical examples of migration industries;
• Explanations between different types of migration industries;
• The relationship between the state and migration industries;
• How migration industries mediate patterns of mobility;
• How migration industries shape experiences of mobility.


Castles, S., and M. J. Miller. 2009. The age of migration : international population movements in the modern world. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cresswell, T. 2006. On the move: Mobility in Modern Western World. New York; London: Taylor Francis Group.
Gammeltoft-Hansen, T. and N. Nyberg Sorenson. Eds. 2013. The Migration Industry and the Commercialization of International Migration. London: Routledge


4. Mobilities and Immobilities in Europe after the Global Economic Crisis


Convenors: Darja Reuschke and David McCollum (University of St Andrews)
Email contact: darja.reuschke@st-andrews.ac.uk


Population geographers and sociologists have paid much attention to immigration and work-related mobilities of highly skilled people. This research has drawn the picture of highly mobile societies and ever-increasing mobility demands put in place in the work sphere. Little attention has been paid to immobility and immobile groups including the sick and disabled, single parents and other households on low incomes. Some commentators have argued (before the crisis) that this mobility dialectic does not match the reality of the vast majority of the population. How has the Global Economic Crisis impacted on mobility and immobility in Europe? Have high unemployment rates and under-employment in most of European countries decreased internal migration? How have immigration patterns in Europe been developed over the past years and who is mobile and who is not? Have we reached ‘peak mobility’ on the grounds of little employment opportunities elsewhere?
This session seeks answers to this set of questions to understand contemporary living and work choices of people and households in Europe. It particularly seeks to shift the focus on spatial immobility and resources (e.g. in the neighbourhood) that have helped people and households to cope with the slacked economic situation in place. We are also particularly interested in papers that expand the ‘job’ focus of existing population and employment research through looking at people becoming self-employed in situ or the informal economy.


OpenLayers 3


This post is cross-posted from oobrien.com.

OpenLayers is a powerful web mapping API that DataShine uses to display full-page “slippy” maps. DataShine: Census has recently been upgraded to use OpenLayers 3. Previously it was powered by OpenLayers 2, so it doesn’t sound like a major change, but OL3 is a major rewrite and as such it was quite an effort to migrate to it. In due course, we plan to migrate the other DataShine websites to OpenLayers 3 too, although each website is quite different under the covers so will prove a challenege too.

Here are some new features, now in DataShine, which are made possible by the move to OpenLayers 3.

Drag-and-drop shapes

One of the nicest new features of OL3 is drag-and-dropping of KMLs, GeoJSONs and other geo-data files onto the map (simple example). This adds the features pans and zooms the map to the appropriate area. This is likely most useful for showing political/administrative boundaries, allowing for easier visual comparisons. For example, download and drag this file onto DataShine to see the GLA boundary appear. New buttons at the bottom allow for removal or opacity variation of the overlay files. If the added features include a “name” tag this appears on the key on the left, as you “mouse over” them. I modified the simple example to keep track of files added in this way, in an ol.layer.Group, initially empty when added to the map during initialisation.

Nice printing

Another key feature of OL3 that I was keen to make use of is much better looking printing of the map. With the updated library, this required only a few tweaks to CSS. Choosing the “background colours” option when printing is recommended. Printing also hides a couple of the panels you see on the website.

Nice zooming

OL3 also has much smoother zooming, and nicer looking controls. Try moving the slider on the bottom right up and down, to see the smooth zooming effect. The scale control also changes smoothly. Finally, data attributes and credits are now contained in an expandable control on the bottom left.

A bonus update, unrelated to OL3, is that I’ve recreated the placename labels with the same font as the DataShine UI, Cabin Condensed. The previous font I was using was a bit ugly.

For notes on UTF Grids and Permalinks, both of which required a lot of work to reimplement so that DataShine with OL3 behaves like the version with OL2, see the developer blog post.


Above: GeoJSON-format datafiles for tube lines and stations (both in blue), added onto a DataShine map of commuters (% by tube) in south London.

OpenLayers 3 and DataShine


OpenLayers is a powerful web mapping API that many of my websites use to display full-page “slippy” maps. DataShine: Census has been upgraded to use OpenLayers 3. Previously it was powered by OpenLayers 2, so it doesn’t sound like a major change, but OL3 is a major rewrite and as such it was quite an effort to migrate to it. I’ve run into issues with OL3 before, many of which have since been resolved by the library authors or myself. I was a bit grumbly in that earlier blogpost for which I apologise! Now that I have fought through, the clouds have lifted.

Here are some notes on the upgrade including details on a couple of major new features afforded by the update.

New Features

Drag-and-drop shapes

One of the nicest new features of OL3 is drag-and-dropping of KMLs, GeoJSONs and other geo-data files onto the map (simple example). This adds the features pans and zooms the map to the appropriate area. This is likely most useful for showing political/administrative boundaries, allowing for easier visual comparisons. For example, download and drag this file onto DataShine to see the GLA boundary appear. New buttons at the bottom allow for removal or opacity variation for the files. If the added features include a “name” tag this appears on the DataShine key when you “mouse over” them. I modified the simple example to keep track of the layers added in this way, in an ol.layer.Group, initially empty when added to the map during initialisation.

Nice printing

Another key feature of OL3 that I was keen to make use of is much better looking printing of the map. With the updated library, this required only a few tweaks to CSS. Choosing the “background colours” option when printing is recommended. Printing also hides a couple of the panels you see on the website.

Nice zooming

OL3 also has much smoother zooming, and nicer looking controls. Try moving the slider on the bottom right up and down, to see the smooth zooming effect. The scale control also changes smoothly. Finally, data attributes and credits are now contained in an expandable control on the bottom left.

A bonus update, unrelated to OL3, is that I’ve recreated the placename labels with the same font as the DataShine UI, Cabin Condensed. The previous font I was using was a bit ugly.

Major reworkings to move from OL2 to OL3

UTF Grids

With OpenLayers 3.1, that was released in December 2014, a major missing feature was added back in – support for UTF Grid tiles of metadata. I use this to display the census information about the current area as you “mouse over” it. The new implementation wasn’t quite the same as the old though and I’ve had to do a few tricks to get it working. First of all, the ol.source.TileUTFGrid that your UTF ol.layer.Tile uses expects a TileJSON file. This was a new format that I hadn’t come across before. It also, as far as I can tell, insists on requesting the file with a JSONP callback. The TileJSON file then contains another URL to the UTF Grid file, which OL3 also calls requiring a JSONP callback. I implemented both of these with PHP files that return the appropriate data (with appropriate filetype and compression headers), programmatically building “files” based on various parameters I’m sending though. The display procedure is also a little different, with a new ol.source.TileUTFGrid.forDataAtCoordinateAndResolution function needing to be utilised.

In my map initialisation function:

layerUTFData = new ol.layer.Tile({});

var handleUTFData = function(coordinate)
  var viewResolution = olMap.getView().getResolution();
  layerUTFData.getSource().forDataAtCoordinateAndResolution(coordinate, viewResolution, showUTFData);

$(olMap.getViewport()).on('mousemove', function(evt) {
  var coordinate = olMap.getEventCoordinate(evt.originalEvent);

In my layer change function:

layerUTFData.setSource(new ol.source.TileUTFGrid({
  url: "http://datashine.org.uk/utf_tilejsonwrapper.php?json_name=" + jsonName

(where jsonName is how I’ve encoded the current census data being shown.)


var callback = function(data) { [show the data in the UI] }

In utf_tilejsonwrapper.php:

header('Content-Type: application/json');
$callback = $_GET['callback'];
$json_name = $_GET['json_name'];
echo $callback . "(";
echo "
{ 'grids' : ['http://datashine.org.uk/utf_tilefilewrapper.php?x={x}&y={y}&z={z}&json_name=$json_name'],
'tilejson' : '2.1.0', 'scheme' : 'xyz', 'tiles' : [''], 'version' : '1.0.0' }";
echo ')';

(tilejson and tiles are the two mandatory parts of a TileJSON file.)

In utf_tilefilewrapper.php:

header('Content-Type: application/json');
$callback = $_GET['callback'];
$z = $_GET['z'];
$y = $_GET['y'];
$x = $_GET['x'];
$json_name = $_GET['json_name'];
echo $callback . "(";
echo file_get_contents("http://[URL to my UTF files or creator service]/$json_name/$z/$x/$y.json");
echo ')';


The other change that required careful coding to recreate the functionality of OL2, was permalinks. The OL3 developers have stated that they consider permalinks to be the responsibility of the the application (e.g. DataShine) rather than the mapping API, and, to a large extent, I agree. However OL2 created permalinks in a particular way and it would be useful to include OL3 ones in the same format, so that external custom links to DataShine continue to work correctly. To do this, I had to mimic the old “layers”, “zoom”, “lat” and “lon” parameters that OL2’s permalink updated, and again work in my custom “table”, “col” and “ramp” ones. Various listeners need to be added, and functions appended, for when the URL needs to be updated. Note that the “zoom ended” listener has changed a lot – unlike moveend (end of a pan) which sits on your ol.map, the zoom end is now called change:resolution and sets on olMap.getView(). Incidentally, the mouseover handler is not in OL3 – so use the HTML element for your map ($(olMap.getViewport()) if using JQuery) and is mousemove.

Using the args:

if (args['layers']) {
  var layers = args['layers'];
  if (layers.substring(1, 2) == "F") {
[& similarly for the other args]

On map initialisation:

args = []; //Created this global variable elsewhere.
var hash = window.location.hash;
if (hash.length > 0) {
  var elements = hash.split('&');
  elements[0] = elements[0].substring(1); /* Remove the # */
  for(var i = 0; i < elements.length; i++) {
    var pair = elements[i].split('=');
    args[pair[0]] = pair[1];

Whenever something happens that means the URL needs an update:

var layerString = "B"; //The old "base layer"
layerBuildMask.getVisible() ? layerString += "T" : layerString += "F";
layerString += "T"; //The UTF data layer.
[& similarly for the other args]
var centre = ol.proj.transform(olMap.getView().getCenter(), "EPSG:3857", "EPSG:4326");
window.location.hash = "table=" + tableval + "&col=" + colval + "&ramp=" + colourRamp + "&layers=" + layerString + "&zoom=" + olMap.getView().getZoom() + "&lon=" + centre[0].toFixed(4) + "&lat=" + centre[1].toFixed(4);

Issues Remaining

There remains a big performance drop-off in panning when using DataShine on mobile phones and other small-screen devices. I have put in a workaround "viewport" meta-tag in the HTML which halves the UI size, and this makes panning work on an iPhone 4/4S, viewed horizontally, but as soon as the display is a bit bigger (e.g. iPhone 5 viewed horizontally) performance drops off a cliff. It's not a gradual thing, but a sudden decrease in update-speed as you pan around, from a few per second, to one every few seconds.

Additional Notes

Openlayers 3 is compatible with Proj4js version 2 only. This newer version has a slightly different syntax to use when adding special projections. I use Proj4js to handle the Ordnance Survey GB projection (aka ESPG:27700), which is used for the postcode search.

I had no problems with my existing JQuery/JQueryUI-based code, which powers much of the non-map part of the website, when doing the upgrade.

Remember to link in the new ol.css stylesheet, or controls will not display correctly.

OL3 is getting there. The biggest issue remains the sparsity of documentation available online - so I hope the above notes are helpful in the interim.


Above: A datafile for tube lines and stations, superimposed on a DataShine map of tube commuters.

Visit the new oobrien.com Shop
High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien

Crowdsourcing Urban Form and Function

We have just had published a new paper entitled: "Crowdsourcing Urban Form and Function" in International Journal of Geographical Information Science which showcases some of our recent work with respect to cities and how new sources of information can be used to study urban morphology at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Below is the abstract for the paper: 

"Urban form and function have been studied extensively in urban planning and geographic information science. However, gaining a greater understanding of how they merge to define the urban morphology remains a substantial scientific challenge. Towards this goal, this paper addresses the opportunities presented by the emergence of crowdsourced data to gain novel insights into form and function in urban spaces. We are focusing in particular on information harvested from social media and other open-source and volunteered datasets (e.g. trajectory and OpenStreetMap data). These data provide a first-hand account of form and function from the people who define urban space through their activities. This novel bottom-up approach to study these concepts complements traditional urban studies work to provide a new lens for studying urban activity. By synthesizing recent advancements in the analysis of open-source data we provide a new typology for characterizing the role of crowdsourcing in the study of urban morphology. We illustrate this new perspective by showing how social media, trajectory, and traffic data can be analyzed to capture the evolving nature of a city’s form and function. While these crowd contributions may be explicit or implicit in nature, they are giving rise to an emerging research agenda for monitoring, analyzing and modeling form and function for urban design and analysis."
This paper builds and extends considerably our prior work, with respect to crowdsourcing, volunteered and ambient geographic information. In the scope of this paper we use the term ‘urban form’ to refer to the aggregate of the physical shape of the city, its buildings, streets, and all other elements that make up the urban space. In essence, the geometry of the city. In contrast, we use the term ‘urban function’ to refer to the activities that are taking place within this space. To this end we contrast how crowdsourced data can related to more traditional sources of such information both explicitly and implicitly as shown in the table below. 

A typology of implicit and explicit form and function content

In addition, we also discuss in the paper how these new sources of data, which are often at finer resolutions than more authoritative data are allowing us to to customize the we we aggregate the data  at various geographical levels as shown below. Such aggregations can range from building footprints and addresses to street blocks (e.g. for density analysis), or street networks (e.g. for accessibility analysis). For large-scale urban analysis we can revert to the use of zonal geographies or grid systems.  
Aggregation methods for varied scales of built environment analysis

In the application section of the paper we highlight how we can extract implicit form and function from crowdsourced data. The image below for example, shows how we can take information from Twitter, and differentiate different neighborhoods over space and time.

Neighborhood map and topic modeling results showing the mixture of social functions in each area.

Finally in the paper, we outline an emerging research agenda related to the "persistent urban morphology concept" as shown below. Specifically how crowdsourcing is changing how we collect, analyze and model urban morphology. Moreover, how this new paradigm provides a new lens for studying the conceptualization of how cities operate, at much finer temporal, spatial, and social scales than we had been able to study so far.

The persistent urban morphology concept.

We hope you enjoy the paper.

Full Reference:  
Crooks, A.T., Pfoser, D., Jenkins, A., Croitoru, A., Stefanidis, A., Smith, D. A., Karagiorgou, S., Efentakis, A. and Lamprianidis, G. (2015), Crowdsourcing Urban Form and Function, International Journal of Geographical Information Science. DOI: 10.1080/13658816.2014.977905 (pdf)

Coping with Disorder


….. is a short article by Richard Sennett in the LSE Cities’ programs current Urban Age magazine Governing Urban Futures. He makes the point that all the hype about big cities wanting their own governance is somewhat put into the shade by the fact that globalisation is destroying any prospects that such cities have for actually governing themselves. It’s a great little article and I won’t attempt to precis it here but there is one choice remark that I cannot resist reproducing. Towards the end of the piece after he tells us about how climate change has at least disrupted any long gone perception that we have about the fact that we live in an equilibrium world. He says:

“We should be thinking about the networks linking big cities in the same way. Specific patterns of migration are as unstable in the immediate term as changes in the natural environment; for example, movement across the Mexican-American border is an erratic, convulsive process year-on-year, though the cumulative effect is clear. So, too, is the economy of networked cities – financial flows are not smooth and linear, nor are investments in real estate or primary industry. Open system analysis thinks about networks as trembling rather than placid connections – because the connections are complex they are peculiarly open to disruption.”






Diary of a a citizen scientist by Sharman Apt Russell

The academic literature on Citizen Science is expanding quickly, with hundreds of papers that are published in peer review publications every years about it. These papers are written by professional scientists and practitioners, mostly for an audience of other professional scientists and practitioners. A very common concern of researchers is to understand the motivations and incentives that get citizen scientists involved in projects. Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of research evaluating these aspects through questionnaires and interviews, but there is relatively little on how citizen science is experienced from the point of view of the participants (although it does come out in the research notes of Public Lab or Clare Griffiths’ account of community air quality study).

So what is it like to be a citizen scientist? 

Luckily, Sharman Apt Russell has decided to find out, and because she is a talented author with plenty of experience in creative writing of non-fiction books about science and nature, she is well placed to provide an engaging account of the experience. Covering a period of about year and a half,  her book ‘diary of citizen scientist: chasing tiger beetles and other new ways of engaging the world‘ is interesting, insightful and enjoyable read. 

Sharman didn’t took the easy route to citizen science, but decided to jump in and find out an unknown detail about the life of Tiger Beetles by studying them in the Gila river, near her home. The tasks that she took upon herself (and her family) include chasing beetles and capturing them, grow them in terrariums at home, dismember some and analyse them under microscope and so on. This quest is sparked by a statement from Dick Vane-Wright,  then the Keeper of Entomology at the Natural History Museum that ‘You could spend a week studying some obscure insect and you would know more than anyone else on the planet. Our ignorance is profound‘ (p. 15). This, of course, is not only true about insects, or animals, but also to the night sky, or our understanding of urban air pollution. I think that this can be a crucial statement for the potential of discovery in citizen science in general.

While the story about understanding the lives of the tiger beetles provide the core of the book, Sharman explores many other aspects of citizen science, from online activities, to observing the changes in nature over the seasons (phenology), and noticing the footprints in the sand. Her love of nature in her area is coming through in the descriptions of her scientific observations and also when she describes a coming storm or other aspects of her local environment.

Throughout the book, you can come across issues that citizen scientists experience – from difficulties in following instructions that seem obvious to scientists, to figuring out what the jargon mean, to the critical importance of supportive mentoring by professional scientists. All this make the book a very interesting source to understand the experience. If you want to read her short summary of Sharman’s experience, see her writing in Entomology Today.

One disclosure, though: Sharman has contacted me while working on the book, and she note the interview in her book so I was intrigued to read her description of Extreme Citizen Science, which is excellent.

Leaving the London Eye New Years Eve Celebrations area in double-time

Everyone is getting ready for New Years celebrations, I for one go to see the London Eye Fireworks almost every year. However, as the Mayor has decided to charge £10 to see the fireworks and the requirement of buying it in advance has put me off this year. No doubt I will still be watching it, albeit from a distance. However, if you're one of those lucky ones that have managed to purchase a ticket, and are looking forward to the fireworks, trust me, it's quite a view, and if you go in early enough, you'll get a good spot, when I say early, it's about 8pm. Especially the embankment area, it gets cordoned off after that (well, used to until they started charging), so the number of people is just about right.

The atmosphere is great with everyone in a celebratory mood, London turns into this extremely friendly place, where one feels part of this huge family that has come together to celebrate bringing in the New Year. You get to meet all sorts of people from around the World. When the countdown begins, there's a massive display on the Shell Tower block counting down the seconds until Big Ben strikes midnight, the lights around the London Eye start flashing, and off with a bang go the fireworks timed with music blurring through the speakers along the embankment. The pictures show last year's theme.

Sweet Flavoured theme in 2014
London Eye Fireworks 2014
However, once the fireworks and celebrations are over, you need to head back home or to another party, this is when it becomes a little difficult. The crowd, oh my, the crowd, if you've had a good spot on the embankment, it can take an hour or more to get to the exit at Trafalgar Square along Whitehall due to the number of people trying to get to the stations and back to wherever they want to go. The police generally use a pedestrian traffic management system allowing a certain number of people along Whitehall at a time with a number of break spots. There is also a final barrier at the end of WhiteHall into Trafalgar Square, where people can only exit from the middle of the barrier. The typical route one would take through the crowd to exit from a spot on the embankment is shown in the top map illustration. What happens here though is that you want to get out the quickest way possible, and instinct dictates that you take the shortest route through the crowd, which is through the middle of the crowd flow, where everyone is walking through and you follow the person in front, due to the herding effect, as I explained in my previous post. This is shown in the first picture. However, we don't want to use instincts here, we want to use a better approach to getting through and exiting as quickly as possible. How do we do that?

Typical exit route from the embankment
Exit route skirting the crowd flow (map via Open Street Maps)
We go against our instinct of getting through the dense crowd in the quickest possible way, that is, walking through the middle. Now that most people will be walking through the middle, what we want to do is look at the crowd flow, as long as it's a homogeneous flow, the density of the crowd is the greatest at the middle, so we want to avoid that area, and walk in the areas of least density that is moving in the direction of our exit. The area of least density in our case is the edge of the crowd flow, so as long you skirt the edge of the crowd flow, you will get through to the exit in the quickest possible way. It's only a small change from your typical way of walking in a crowd, just stick to it, and don't let your instincts take over, especially at the end point when you see the barriers, walk around it as shown in the figure. From personal experience, I got through the crowd with my friends to the exit in a little less than half an hour last year. Although I'm aware of this solution as part of my research, I still couldn't help my instincts telling me to go through the middle as well, especially when we were so close to the exit barriers, so it's an innate human trait I suppose, but I had to fight it off. There you go, a simple and effective way that not only works on New Years Day, but in other situations of dense crowds flowing in a homogeneous manner.

Now, hope you all have a really great New Year Celebrations, and hope the New Year is filled with joy and happiness.

Getting through Boxing Day Shopping: A form of self organisation

Boxing Day is a great day to go shopping, you can grab yourself bargains that you could not grab throughout the year, navigating your way through the thousands of bargain shoppers. A few years ago, I decided to brave Boxing Day shopping and became one of those bargain shoppers on a mission, on the most crowded shopping street in Europe, Oxford Street is what I'm talking about. The street that all Londoners try to avoid until hell freezes over, well, not quite, but you know what I mean, if you want to avoid crowds even on a normal day, you avoid Oxford Street.

Boxing Day 2011, Oxford Street
Boxing Day is a whole other occasion. It's an interesting place on Boxing Day, especially if you go in with a determined focus, you can get out of it unscathed by the evening, with bags full of things that you don't really need, but you just end up buying (I'll let other experts explain that behaviour: here and here).

If you just take a step back, and look around at what is happening, people start flocking to shops to spot bargains. In order to get to these shops, they navigate the thousands and thousands of people on the street. You have a shop (or many shops) in mind, and you want to get to each shop as quickly as possible so that you don't miss out on those bargains of the year. In order to get to the next shop in the quickest possible way in a crowd, you start mimicking behavour, humans are indeed great social creatures that navigate the social world through mimicry. We like to copy others, in order to be socially accepted, and at the same time, we like forming our own unique identity, and we work by balancing these conflicting interests.

In this context, we find ourselves mimicking each other whilst navigating crowds. Due to the sheer number of people in our path, we can't normally see our destination clearly, but we know the direction we want to go. For example, I want to walk to Selfridges  through the Boxing Day crowds to grab that sought after bargain (yes, that's where we all want to go on Boxing Day, considering they had an estimated turnover of £2 million in one hour yesterday). How do I get there?

First of all, I can't see my way due to the amount of people present, so I observe the person walking in front of me going in the direction of Selfridges, and I start following them. What I'm actually doing here is I'm passing my decision making power to the person in front as I can't see the path, and I'm trusting that person to take me in the direction I want as quickly as possible through the crowd. There is a term for this kind of following behaviour, known as herding. This is the first step I take in order to get me to my bargain. The transfer of power itself is known as social contagion.

Now, if I take a step back (not literally), and look around, I start to see every one of us is following a person in front of us in order to help us get through the crowd. The herding behaviour leads to multiple layers of people flow forming travelling in the same direction, especially due to the number of people on the street. We can look at this from  an analogy of car traffic on a motorway. On a motorway junction, before entering the motorway, at the slip road, two roads merge into one. Similar merging happens when I'm walking through the crowd, the merging of people travelling in the same direction. This gives rise to our second phenomenon, known as the zipper effect . It's pretty much like zipping your jacket, where each zipper tooth is layered over the other, similarly you're the zipper tooth, and you start zipping against other pedestrians travelling in the same direction.

There's a lot of trust we put in the person in front to get us to our destination. This trust we put in each other leads to our third phenomenon, the emergence of lanes formed of the 'zipped' multiple layers through the crowd. These lanes can be in both directions, and there may be more than two lanes at the same time. Due to the herding behaviour, these lanes generally become homogeneous, and we are unconsciously giving up a part of our identity to become part of this homogeneous flow. This may or may not seem obvious, but the observance, and dissection of these individual steps that lead to these phenomena help us explain the way crowds behave. How we transfer our own identity to the identity of the crowd, leading to the emergence and disappearance of flows and lanes, gives us an understanding of our own identity within a crowd. There is also a term for these types of flows, not a creative name, but one that makes the meaning clear, it's known as lane formation. These lanes are ever changing, and they adapt to people in the crowd just standing, the existence of bus stops, street lamps, etc. along the street. It's interesting to see how we as people are adaptable, and this adaptability also works really well at a macro-scale, the flow lanes adapting to the environment present to us.

Being a part of these lanes, and flowing amongst it then gets me close to my destination, that is Selfridges. This gives me the flexibility to again take control of my decision making and I walk towards it and enter this multi-million pound department store in order to grab that well sought after bargain. Before I know it though, I've again passed part of my decision making to the marketers that get me to buy items that I don't really need. Again, I leave that to the other experts I've linked to, to explain how that's done.

Boxing Day 2011, Oxford Street (showing the emergence of Lanes)
Why am I talking about this? Well, in addition to the fact that this is a blog on crowd simulation and to understand how crowds form and behave, it was one of those things, where I was walking along Oxford Street on Boxing Day a few years ago, I decided to take a picture of the crowd at the time and post it on one of our current social media platforms. However, observing the photo closer, you start to distinguish the lanes that have formed through the crowds, which I thought was quite interesting to observe in my natural environment outside my normal research realm. As you can see with the photo overlaid with the lanes. Also, the current timing seemed quite fitting, as I decided I didn't want to brave it again this year.

Other than that, hope you've all had a great Christmas, have a better understanding of what you do when you go out shopping on Boxing Day, but most importantly, found yourselves some good bargains that you actually do need.

The Bastion of Liberty – Excerpt


We featured Lee’s Bastion of Liberty map, a detailed portrait of London to remind the war-weary 1940s/50s public of the great city that they lived in, in November 2013. We hadn’t seen the map itself, just other references to it on the web, and that’s still the case, but in January this year we got an email from Jan Danielsson, to say he’d found, and bought, a rare copy of the map in an auction in Stockholm. The auction website has an excellent, high-resolution excerpt of the map, we reproduce a couple of excerpts of the excerpt (!) here to give you an ideal of the detail.

Our comments from previous article still stand – it’s a gloriously detailed, colourful map, and it’s striking to see the places that have stayed the same over 70 years, much as the places that have changed beyond all recognition.

If someone living in London has the physical map, we would love to take a look.

Thank you to Jan to emailing us about his purchase and the link to the auction site, and Auktionsverket for posting high-resolution images.




My colleagues Zhao Yiting and Long Ying from the Beijing City Lab have graciously translated our paper called Smart Cities of the Future. I owe them many thanks. It is available in a special issue of the journal Urban Planning International (1673-9493, 2014,  06-0012-19) and you can download both the original English version which is open access and the new Chinese version by clicking on ‘English’ or ‘Chinese’ in this text. Here is the abstract.

摘要:本文初步概括了智慧城市的组成要素。智慧城市是指运用新数字技术进行协同与整合,将现代信息通信技术与城市传统基础设施有机结合起 来的城市。首先,我们提出了智慧城市的7 个目标:(1)发现理解城市问题的新视角;(2)高效灵活地整合城市技术;(3)不同尺度城市时空数据 的模型与方法;(4)开发通信与传媒新技术;(5)开发城市管理与组织新模式;(6)定义与城市、交通、能源等相关的重大问题;(7)识别智慧城 市中的风险、不确定性及灾害。为实现以上目标,我们的研究需要在六个方面有所突破:(1)通过管理、控制和优化,使智慧城市的基础设施与实 际运行、前期规划更好的衔接;(2)探索城市作为创新实验室的新理念;(3)提供城市模拟技术目录,为未来设计提供指引;(4)探索更加公平合 理的技术方法以实现更好的城市生活品质;(5)探索促进有效公众参与以及公众认知的民主化城市管理新技术;(6)保障更加便捷高效的人口流动 性以及机会获取渠道。文章首先梳理了当前城市技术发展概况,并对智慧城市科学进行定义。我们将目前的智慧城市归纳为6 种情景类型:(1)旧 城的智慧型更新;(2)科技园建设;(3)围绕高新技术的科技城建设;(4)运用当前信息通信技术的城市公共服务;(5)运用信息通信技术开发新 的城市智慧功能;(6)运用网络以及移动客户端开发公众参与新模式。接下来,我们提出了七类可探索的项目领域:(1)智慧城市综合数据库的建立; (2)数据采集、网络分析技术以及新社交媒体的影响;(3)网络及移动行为建模;(4)城市土地使用、交通、经济互动的建模;(5)城市劳动市场 与住房市场交易活动的建模;(6)智慧城市的决策支持,如城市智能技术,公众参与式城市管理以及(7)智慧城市规划架构等。最后,我们期望通 过这项研究,转变传统的城市研究范式,并进一步探索促进智慧城市科学形成和发展的关键要素。


A Vignelli-Style Tube Map


Back in August, one half of Mapping London went on holiday to New York City, and, after I got back, I wrote a few posts on classic maps of that other world city, including a recent remake of Vignelli’s fantastic (but locally controversial) 1972 Beck-esque map of the MTA Subway. Unlike Londoners, New York City dwellers never came to love the radically non-geographical map of their underground system, and the many bright colours – often along the same lines – may not have helped. The remake was a little calmer, and indeed a variant is used by the MTA for their weekend engineering works interactive map.

So I was delighted to discover this Vignelli-esque map for London by prolific designer Max Roberts (we’ve mentioned him before) which is the January “Map of the Month” in Max’s 2015 Calendar. Later on in the calendar, there’s four other original maps of the London network, along with seven of other cities. If you are a connoisseur of metro maps done right, the calendar is a bit of treat. Order right now if you want it for Christmas! Details here.

The geometry of the lines is largely similar to the official Beck map. However, the lines that have more than two normal destinations (e.g. the District Line) are normally split, with a line for each discreet service. Near the start/end of each line, there is a code, the letter representing the line (e.g. D) and a number indicating the service. So the District Line is shown with five different lines, braided together where they are common. The River Thames is shown as murky brown, just as the Hudson is in the New York City original.

Season’s Greetings from Mapping London! We look forward to bringing you more great maps in 2015, including perhaps the most famous London map of all. Until then, have a look at some of our older postings.

Thanks to Max for the review copy of the calendar. The image is from here, Max Roberts retains full copyright over it.

Call for papers – International Conference on Population Geographies 2015


The Spatial Dimensions of Population – Call for papers


The call for papers for the 8th International Conference on Population Geographies is now open. The Conference will be held at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia from 30th June to 3rd July 2015.


Abstracts for papers and posters should be around 250 words and include the title, authors, affiliations, and contact email, and be sent to icpg2015@uq.edu.au. The conference organisers welcome offers of papers on any aspect of population geography or spatial demography, as well as proposals to organise sessions. The deadline for submissions is Monday 16th   February 2015.


Essential details of the conference including themed sessions, conference location, accommodation, and travel are available on the conference website at: http://www. icpg2015.org.

North/South – The Interactive Version.


As a weekend project, I’ve made an interactive version of my London North/South artwork.

As well as the blue and red house silhouettes, assembled in QGIS, I’ve added in GeoJSON files of the River Thames (from Ordnance Survey Vector Map District, like the buildings) and of tube/DLR/Overground stations – the location/name/network data is from this GitHub file and I’ve applied a custom styling in OpenLayers 2, with station name styling inspired by the NYC Subway signs. The positional information comes from an OpenLayers control – I’m using a utility function to modify the output to use degrees, minutes and seconds. Finally, the naming popup is a set of UTFGrid JSON files (with 2-pixel resolution) based on OpenStreetMap data for polygons. Where the polygon has a building, leisure or waterway tag, I’m extracting a name, if available, and showing it. The coverage here is therefore only as good as building naming is in OpenStreetMap. I could potentially add in street names in the future.

Try it out here.

Visit the new oobrien.com Shop
High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien

Understanding Household Energy Use in England & Wales

Household energy use is a key indicator for understanding urban sustainability and fuel poverty, and is a timely topic now that winter has arrived. The LuminoCity3D site maps domestic energy use in England and Wales at 1km2 scale using data from DECC. This map has also just been published as a featured graphic in Regional Studies Regional Science. The household energy use distribution is really fascinating, with large scale regional variation and fine scale intra-urban patterns identifiable-


Average domestic energy use 2012, click to view interactive map


The lowest energy use per-household is found in cities and towns in the South-West region such as Plymouth and Exeter, and also along the South coast. While the highest energy use per-household is found in commuter belt towns around London. The variation within city-regions is very high, with for example London and Manchester averages varying by up to a factor of 5, from a mere 8kWh to over 40kWh per year.

The main drivers of energy use are generally housing type (more exposed walls=more energy use; larger house=more energy use), household size, wealth and climate. Often these factors are correlated at household and neighbourhood levels- so for example wealthier households in England and Wales are more likely to live in large detached houses, and these households tend to be clustered together. These trends produce the high energy use pattern seen in London’s commuter belt, as well as in the wealthier suburbs of other large cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. South West England on the other hand benefits from the mildest climate in the UK, has a relatively high proportions of flats and generally lower average household sizes, thus resulting in the lowest energy use.

We can see how these factors play out for London in the map below. The height of the hexagons shows density, with higher density areas clearly using less energy. City centre households have considerably lower energy use, with a strong bias towards Inner East London where incomes are lower.


London average domestic energy use 2012, click to view interactive map

Energy use areas correlate strongly with the most prevalent housing type map (also on the LuminoCity3D site), with flats and terraced housing the lowest energy users, and detached and semi-detached areas the highest.


London most prevalent housing type 2011, click to view interactive map

The relationship with household size is less clear cut, but it can be seen that average household sizes are smaller in the city centre. On the other hand, areas with high average household sizes such as Stratford and Wembley, do not have particularly high average energy use.


London average household size 2011, click to view interactive map

Overall domestic energy use patterns tend to mirror transport sustainability, in that higher density city centre areas perform more efficiently compared to low density suburbs. On the other hand the link to city size (which tends to be strong in transport sustainability relationships, with bigger cities reducing car use) is much weaker, and the most efficient locations are often small and medium sized towns and cities. It is not clear in this analysis whether more recent green policies (such as improved insulation or CHP schemes) are having much effect, but several cities with green reputations like Brighton and Bristol are amongst the best performing cities.


British Ecological Society & Société Française d’Ecologie meeting, Lille (Day 3)

The last day of the BES/Sfé meeting was in the mood of celebration, so a session dedicated to celebrating citizen science was in place.  My notes from first day and the second day are in previous posts. These notes are long…

Before the session, in a symposium on tree health, Michael Pocock (CEH) presented ‘Monitoring to assess the impacts of tree diseases: integrating citizen science with professional monitoring‘. Ash die-back is important, and in the rest of Europe, (e.g. Denmark, Lithuania or Poland) there are losses of 60-90% but there was very little work done on monitoring the biodiversity impact of the disease in general. There is a clear lack of knowledge on the impacts on biodiversity in general – how suitable are existing surveys, how they can enhance? In a work that he done with Shelley Hinsley they reviewed 79 relevant studies, from volunteers to national professional survey and local studies. They tried to answer questions such as: What kind of things can be impacted? they identified all sort of impacts - trophic networks, structural, cascading, and ecosystem functions. They looked at different receptors in different contexts – from animals and plants on the receptors, to where they are located as context – woodland, or hedgerow. They found that woods are fairly well monitored, but how much professionals will continue to monitor it with budget cuts is an issue. Ecosystem function is very poorly monitored. The recommendations of the report are that current ongoing activities are suitable and maybe should be modified a bit to make them better (e.g. asking another question in a survey) – they didn’t recommend brand new surveys. The report is available here . If we want future proof monitoring that deal with the range of tree disease and other issues – we need a better ‘spine’ of monitoring work (in the report on page 5), but improve the integration of information and synthesis between survey. Co-location of monitoring site can be great, but actually, there are specific reasons for the locations of places in each scheme so it’s not easy to do so. In addition, volunteers based monitoring require investment in maintenance. He completed his talk with more general citizen science issue that we can learn from this work – the national plant monitoring scheme is to be launched in 2015, and there are some specific focused on lichens and other issues that require specialist knowledge in survey programmes like Splash. Mass participation is useful in some cases, but there is an issue how much recording effort is quantified – there is a big differentiation in ability to monitor species across the country and the ability of participants to record information. The retention of volunteers in mass projects is an issue – only 10% continue after a year. In enthusiasts recruitment you get higher numbers 20% that continue to be involved. The most exciting opportunity that he see is in  hypothesis-led citizen science, like the Concker Tree Science project.

The ‘Celebrating Citizen Science’ session was at the  final group of sessions of the conference, but was very well attended. Chaired by  Michael Pocock, who, together with Helen Roy, runs the BES Citizen Science SIG.

Romain Julliard (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle)  provided an overview of citizen science activities in France in his talk ‘Biodiversity monitoring through citizen science: a case study from France’. The starting statement was that unskilled amateurs from the general public can provide good information. The museum have a role in monitoring biodiversity at the national – common species are good indicators, the appropriate for studying global changes and the general public is interested in ‘ordinary Nature’ – the things that we see every day. Scientists alone cannot monitor biodiversity over a big space such as a country, so citizens can help to collect data on a country scale and they are already spread across the country. The trade-offs of using citizens as observers include skills vs. numbers of participants – there are only few experts and enthusiasts. Another issue is sampling design: are you aiming for representativeness of where people are or do you send observers to specific locations to do the survey. There is a need for a simple protocol for volunteers. Much simpler than procedures in a research station professionals. They started with French Bird Breeding Survey in coordination with NGOs like LPO and others – with over 2000 squared that are being observed since 1989 and over 1000 provide long-term monitoring. Now they have skilled amateur schemes – monitoring bats, butterflies and much more. They started their programmes in 2005 with butterfly programme, pollinating insect survey from photographs (Spipoll) in 2010 and garden bird watch in 2012 among others – new programmes especially in the past 5 years . Spipoll provides a good example of the work that they are doing. Pollinators are useful to raise awareness and explain multi-factor pressures on the environment. 2014-12-12 13.14.25The are many sampling sites and thousands of flowers dwelling insects in France. They Spipoll protocol starts with 20 minutes ‘safari-photo’ which mean that you select a flower and take photos of each visiting insects. Second step is to select the best single photo for each insect that was sampled. Third step to name each insect from 630 possibilities – and they create an online tool that helps the identification. Final step – share the collection with other people. Once photos are shared, there are plenty of comments from other participants. The participants are encouraged to help each other observations and there is also expert participation in identification. By now, they have over 600 regular participants, 18,000 collections, and 155,000 photos. Many of the participants are not experts in biological recording but have interest in photography. in terms of data quality they looked for precision, repeatability (how close the process was to the protocol). The social control help in improving quality, and the representativeness can be done in explicit sampling design but also in post-study statistical analysis. Beginners tend not to follow the protocol, but other people are helping them and within 3-4 iterations, people are learning the protocol and follow it.

Helen Roy (CEH) talk (with Harding, Preston, Pocock and Roy) ‘Celebrating 50 years of the Biological Records Centre. She gave some key achievements that also appear in a booklet on the 50 years of BRC. The BRC was established in the 1960s to support volunteer recording in the UK – they have now a team of 14 permanent staff. 85 different recording schemes from flee to bees, ladybirds and many other groups. Recording schemes are running by volunteers coordinators – so support is provided by printing newsletters, publishing atlases, etc. They cover a lot of taxa – plants and animals. Over the decades, they have long-term datasets which lead to distribution atlases. Over 80m records. UK biodiversity indicators for the UK government are collected by volunteers and used in decision-making – they are now growing from 24 indicators to include pollinators and other elements. Another area of importance is biological invasions as it cost the UK over 12 billion EUR a year – and not only to look at existing species but also to look forward about the threats – and because volunteers are so knowledgeable, they contributed to horizon scanning work. Work on surveillance and monitoring extend to the general public with publicity – this way they for example got information that Raccoons are being seen in the UK. Another important aspect of BRC data is the ability to use it to understand the decline of native species – for example understanding changes in native ladybird species. Finally, the information is very important in climate change scenarios and use the information about habitats can help in interpreting data and predict future directions.

In the work of the BRC, technology is becoming an important driver – they share it through the NBN gateway, and also apps and websites such as iSpot, iRecord and other bits are helping in developing new sources of information. In summary, to deal with environmental challenges that we’re currently facing cannot be done without this information and interpretation by volunteers. She finished with a big thank you to the many volunteers recorders.

In ‘How to use data generated by general public of a citizen science program for conservation purpose’ Nathalie Machon (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle) explored another successful French study. They see importance in preserving biodiversity in cities – regulate city climate, dealing with air pollution, contributing to public health etc. In cities, most of the biodiversity is in parks and gardens but the urban matrix is permeable to many animal species such as pollinators. The potential of connection between green spaces is important to create a network in the city. How the structure and management of cities influence biodiversity? was a research question that the programme ‘sauvages de ma rue‘ was set to explore. Since 2011 participants share information about wild-flowers in their own streets. When the programme started, they wanted people to learn to recognise species near them and collect information about the distribution of plants in their area . The protocol is fairly simple – identify street, collect data about plants in different habitats (cracks, walls) and send the information. They created  a guide to help people identify species and also created a smartphone app. Usually people start by providing data about their street, but the programme grew and now they have groups and organisations that deal with naturalist activity and they send a lot of data from many streets in the same place. The organisations can be about sustainability, schools university or nature enthusiasts. They receives 40,660 data points by 2014 which provided the basis for her analysis.

After correction, they had reliable 20,000 data points in 38 cities and 2500 pavements – they check the richness of pavements and the obvious factor is the length (of course) but in about 100m there is a levelling in terms of species. They found that the structure of the street is important – if it is only in cracks, there are less species. The richness is not correlated to population density, but in large urban area (Paris) there is a significant decline toward the centre. They also look at pollination – and found that the number of pollinators is correlated to the human density of the city but not correlated to the distance to the centre of the city, apart from the case in Paris. They also seen increase with habitat types in a pavement. In terms of cities, they discovered that Nantes, Brest and Angers are doing well. However, they are aware that there is an observer effect on the results. Observers were shown to be good as botanists. In summary, they’ve learned that insect pollinated species are easy to recognise and it’s possible to carry out such studies effectively with lightly trained volunteers.

Anne-Caroline Prévot (CESCO – Muséum nationa l’Histoire Naturelle) reviewed her research on ‘Short and long-term individual consequences of participation to citizen-science projects’ in an approach that combines environmental psychology and ecology. There is growing concern on separation between people and nature: extinction of experience (Pyle 2003, Miller 2005) or environmental generational amnesia (Kahn 2002). There is a need engagement of majority of citizens to change their approach. In the psychology field  , there is Stern influential piece from 2000 on environmentally significant behaviour, linking individual to different aspects of pro-environmental behaviour. Identifying social and personal factors . On the other hand, in citizen science programme there are multiple goals – contribute to ecological science ; educate people to acquire knowledge on biodiversity; etc. There is also potential of reconnection to nature – so the  question that she addressed “Did citizen science changed biodiversity representation and knowledge? environmental values? pratcial knowledge? skills?” (all these are based on Stern framework). She looked at the butterfly collection programme and interview 30 regular volunteers who participate every year – They found that they were confident in science, and they discovered new aspects of biodiversity through participation and change their gardening practices. This can change representation but they were environmentally concern to start with. There was no issue of group identity  with this group of volunteers. The second study looked at a programme at school (vigienature école) with 400 pupils from 29 classes in 11-13 age group. They use a questionnaire to understand environmental value and other activities outside schools. In addition, they asked the children to draw an urban garden. Each drawing was analysed for natural elements, built elements and humans. Participation in nature monitoring showed higher presence of nature in drawing but no difference in environmental values. They think that it probably changed representation, but not values, there was no assessment of skills and there was some aspect of group social identity. In summary citizen science initative may change knwoeldge and attitdue of volunteers but this require attention and more evaluation.

Rachel Pateman (SEI) presented the an MSc project carried out by Sian Lomax  under the supervision of Sarah West (SEI) on ‘A critical assessment of a citizen science project‘. It’s an assessment of the science and impact of participants from the OPAL Soil and Earthworm Survey. Aims of citizen science are to answer scientific questions, but also to provide benefit to participants – learning, fun, change behaviours, or information for lobbying on behalf of nature. The challenges are how to find inclusive methods and have good quality data. The participants aim are not simple – there is not simple link between participation and pro-environmental behaviour. The way to deal with that is to evaluate and reflect critically during the development of a citizen science project, and inform the design process (this remind me a lot of Amy Fowler’s thesis, also about OPAL). The OPAL programme is aimed to be educational, change of lifestyle and inspire new generation of environmentalists and greater understanding of the environment. Sian evaluate the soil and earthworm survey which are usually run with an instructor (community scientist) but also can be done by ordering a self obtained pack. The methods – dig a pit, identify worms, and identify properties of the soil and then submit the inforamtion. The aim is that participants wil learn about soil properties and get interested in environmental issues. Sian recruited 87 participants from ages 5 to 60 and also evaluated the observations of participants in the lab, as well as running a questionnaire with participants. She found fairly poor results  (around 40% accurate) in comparison to her own analysis. The results are that 39% identified correctly, 44% functional group, 46% identified as immature – the reliability of the data that adult observers done is better. Results – ID to species level is challenging, especially without help (she didn’t trained the participants) and therefore there is a need of an OPAL community scientist to be an instructor. There was not enough testing of the material at the beginning of the survey and it haven’t been improved since 2009. There is a need to verify records – but should be emphasised further and included in apps. However, despite these limitation, the OPAL survey did yield useful information and they managed to use the data to find abundance of information. Only in 29% of the cases she agreed with participants about the classification of soil granularity. When evaluating the pH of the soil – 63% was within the correct category of acid/alkaline but not correct on the value – the issue might be with the instrument that was provided to participants and yields wrong reading.

From @Simon_Wilcock

In terms of knowledge and experience – the questionnaire was done before, immediately after the survey and then 3 months later. Knowledge increased immediately after but drop-off after – so conclusion is that need to reinforce it after the event. In terms of interest in nature they didn’t find difference – but that because there was high level of interest to start with.

Jodey Peyton (CEH/BRC)  ‘Open Farm Sunday Pollinator Survey: Citizen science as a tool for pollinator monitoring?‘. The decline in pollinators in the UK is a cause of concern. Their estimated value is £510 m a year. The Big Bumbelebee discovery is an example for a project that focus on pollinators. However, we’re lacking abundance data about them. The Open Farm Sunday is a project to open farms to the public (run by LEAF) and about 4 years ago they contacted CEH to do some work with visitors collect information on pollinators

They ask participants to observe a 2×2 m of crop and non-crop area. They have an ecologists on site so they do the same as the participants – carry 2 min observations in both habitats. The event included teaching people the process and giving them information. The forms use to be 4 pages but turned out to be too complex so simplified a form with just 2 pages. They also reduce time from 5 min to 2 min. They run  surveys in 2012 to 2014 with different number of farms – and looked at different factors during the day. They found that public was over-recording (compare to ecologists), not by much – they also got data from other parts of the plant so not only on the flowers because they wanted to report something. Conclusions – on the broad level public data was similar to ecologists. Lots of interest and enthusiasm and understand what they’re seeing. It is great opportunity to highlight the issue of pollinator. Want to run it every second year because of the effort of the ecologists on the day. They also want to deal with challenge of ‘recording zero. Want to see more collaboration with universities and schools.

Charlotte Hall (EarhtWatch Institute) provided an overview of FreshWater Watch: lessons from a global mass Citizen Science programme. The programme focused on fresh water quality. A global programme that look at water quality in urban areas – each location they partner with local research institute, and Earthwatch bring the citizen scientists with the local researchers. The data that is collected is managed by EarthWatch on a specially designed website to allow sharing knowledge and communictation. The evolving motivation of participants, they looked at Rotman et al 2012 model. Initial involvment stemming from interest or existing knowledge, although in the case of EarthWatch they are getting employees of Shell or HSBC who sponsor them, they also work with teachers in Teach Earth and also expanding to work with local groups such as Thames 21 or Wandle Trust. They have over 20 research partners. With such a mix of researchers, participants and organisations, there are different motivations from different directions. They start with training in person and online Research and learning- EarthWatch is interested in behaviour change, so they see learning as a very important issue and include quizzes to check the knowledge of participants. They pay special attention to communication between EarthWatch and the scientists and between EarthWatch and the citizen scientists. There is a community feature on the website for citizen scientists and also for the scientists. There is also an app with automated feedback that tell them about the outcomes of the research they are doing. They have an element of gamification -points on communication, science and skills that participants gained and they can get to different levels. They try to encourage people to move to the next step so to continue their involvement through learning in webinars, refresher session, research updates, points and prizes and even facility for the participants to analyse the data themselves. Involvement in FreshWater watch is exhibiting participation inequality. 2014-12-12 14.43.10They would like to make it shallower but it is very strongly skewed. In Latin America there is better participation, and also differences in participation according to the researcher who lead the activity. This is new citizen science approach for EarthWatch, with different audience, so it’s important to re-evaluate and understand participants. EarthWatch is still learning from that and understanding motivation.

Emma Rothero (Open University) Flight of the Fritillary: a long-running citizen science project linking Snakeshead fritillaries flowers and bumblebees. The work started in 1999, this is a rare plant that is growing only in few places in the UK. The Bees are critical to the flower, and they set a 15% secondary count to evaluate the success of volunteers. They also started winter workshops for discussions. To engage volunteers, they’ve done wide advertising and also used naturalist networks. She described a comparison between three sites where monitoring was carried out this year . In Lugg Meadow the monitoring is done during guided walks and family outreach events. In North Meadow, many people come to see – so they have a gate presence and offered free lunch for volunteers. In Clattinger Farm they haven’t done any specific activity. In 2008 – 20011 only 20 volunteers, now they’ve got 90 volunteers, and about 30-40 who come to winter workshops. Level of volunteering – once 120 , 40 participated twice and 20 three times – there is some enthusiastic people who do it regularly. The volunteers survey show that 88% heard about the monitoring project by word of mouth (despite the advertising and media access), and 87.5% are already recorders – but 88% thought that they had improved their skills. and 65% said that they improve their skills. 54% would like to get involved in other aspects of the project, and 100% enjoyed the activity. In terms of comparison with recounts – they do 4000 1sq m quads using very accurate (1 cm) GPS. They see that there wasn’t difference between recounts in some sites but significantly difference in another site (because of difficulties in frame orientation so implementation of the protocol) – recognising problem in their method. There is also scientific discovery, where they found a case that plants didn’t appear one year but bounced back the next year.

There was no time for much discussion, but a question that was raised and discussed shortly is that most of the projects are ‘top-down’ and led by the scientists, so what is the scope for co-created projects in the area of ecological observations and monitoring?


British Ecological Society & Société Française d’Ecologie meeting, Lille (Day 2)

Notes from the second day of the BES/sfé annual meeting (see first day notes here)

Several talks in sessions that attracted my attention:

Daniel Richards (National University of Singapore) looked at cultural ecosystem services from social media sources. He mentioned previous study by  Casalegno at al 2013 study on social media and ecosystem services . In Singapore they carry out a study for the few green spaces that are used for leisure and nature reserves – the rest of the place is famously highly urbanised. There are patches of coastal habitat that are important locally. The analysis looked at Flickr photos to reveal interest. There are 4 study sites, with 760 photos that were returned and of them 683 related to coastal habitat. They use classification of content, with 8 people analysing the photos. Analysis of Flickr showed different aspects – landscape in one site, and wildlife in another site. In one site there are research photos due to the way it is used locally. Looking closely to one coastal site, focal points in the route where people stopped  to take a picture stood out, and landscape photos. All the photos follow the boardwalk in the area of Changi which is the only route. Simulation showed that after 70 photos they can get a good indication of the nature of the place, no need to look through all the images.

Barbara Smith explored the role of indigenous and local knowledge as part of a multiple evidence base for pollinator conservation. The context is India in agricultural area – looking at places where there is more extensive agriculture and less. The project aim is to record pollinators and then explore the impact of landscape and crop productivity . In this study, the starting point was the belief that traditional knowledge has a lot of value, and it is a knowledge that can be integrated with scientific information.  She mentioned Tengo et al 2013 discussion paper in IPBES on the value of local knowledge, and also Sutherland et al 2014 paper in Oryx about the need to integrate indigenous knowledge in ecological assessment. The aim to collate knowledge of trends, they created a local peer-review process to validate local knowledge. Understanding  factual data collection and separate it from inferences which are sometime wrong. They carry out small group discussions, in which they involved 5-7 farmers, in each of the 3 study area they had 3 groups. They asked questions that are evidence gathering (which crop you grow?) and also verification (how do you know?) they also ask opinion scoping (perceptions ) and then ‘why did you observed the change?’. In the discussions with the farmers they structured in around questions that can be explored together. After the first session, the created declarations – so ‘yields have fallen by 25%’ or [crop yield declined because of the poor soil’ the statements were accepted or rejected through discussion with the farmers – local peer-review. Not all farmers can identify pollinators, and as the size goes down, there is less identification and also confusion about pests and pollinators. The farmers identified critical pollinators in their area and also suggestions on why the decline happen.

In the workshop on ‘Ecosystem assessments – concepts, tools and governance‘ there was various discussion on tools that are used for such purposes, but it became clear to me that GIS is playing a major role, and that many of the fundamental discussions in GIScience around the different types of modelling – from overlaying to process oriented modelling – can play a critical role in making sense of the way maps and GIS outputs travel through the decision making. It can be an interesting area to critically analysed – To what degree the theoretical and philosophical aspects of the modelling are taken into account in policy processes? The discussion in the workshop moved to issues of scientific uncertainty and communication with policy makers. The role of researchers in the process and the way they discuss uncertainty.

In the computational ecology session, Yoseph Araya presented a talk that was about the use of citizen science data, but instead he shared his experience and provide an interesting introduction to a researcher perspective on citizen science. He looked at the data that is coming from citizen science and the problem of getting good data. Citizen Science gaining attention – e.g. Ash die-back and other environmental issues are leading to attention. Citizens are bridging science, governance and participation. Citizen Science is needed for data at temporal, spatial and social scales and we should not forget that it is also about social capital, and of course fun and enjoyment. There is an increase in citizen science awareness in the literature. He is building on experience from many projects that he participated in include Evolution Megalab, world water monitoring day, floodplain meadows partnership, iSpot and OPAL, and CREW – Custodians of Rare and Endangered Windflowers (that’s a seriously impressive set of projects!). There are plenty of challenges – recruitment, motivation; costs and who pays; consideration of who run it; data validation and analysis and others. Data issues include data accuracy, completeness, reliability, precision and currency. He identified sources of errors – personnel, technical and statistical. The personal – skills, fitness and mistakes and others. Potential solutions – training with fully employed personnel,  then also monitor individual and also run an online quiz. Technically, there is the option of designing protocols and statistically, it is possible to use recounts (15%), protocols that allow ‘no data’ and other methods.

The poster session included a poster from Valentine Seymour, about her work on linking wellbing and green volunteering

OpenStreetMappers of London


This is a slightly edited cross post from Oliver O’Brien’s Suprageography blog. It offers a behind the scenes look at one of the graphics we created for the opening essay in London: The Information Capital.

From Ollie:

I contributed a number of graphics to LONDON: The Information Capital, a book co-written by Dr James Cheshire, also of UCL Geography. Two of my graphics that made it into the book were based on data from OpenStreetMap, a huge dataset of spatial data throughout the world. One of the graphics, featured in this post, forms one of the chapter intro pages, and colours all the roads, streets and paths in the Greater London Authority area (around 160,000 “ways” which are discrete sections of road/path) according to the person who most recently updated them. Over 1500 indivdual users helped create and refine the map, and all are featured here. I was pleased to discover I was the 21st most prolific, with 1695 ways most recently modified by myself at the time that the graphic was produced.

The more active users will typically have areas around home and work which they intensively map, plus other, smaller areas such as contributions made during a mapping party or other social event organised by/for the London OSM community. Here’s an example filtering for just one user:


Putting the users together reveals a patchwork of key authors and more minor contributors, together forming a comprehensive map of the city. Detail levels vary, partly as the fabric of the city varies from area to area, but also as some contributors will be careful to map every path and alleyway, while others will concentrate on the driveable road network.


The data was obtained from a local copy of the OpenStreetMap database, for Great Britain, that I maintain for various pieces of work including OpenOrienteeringMap. You can obtain the data files from GeoFabrik (this link is to their new London-only version). The data was captured in early February 2014.

I used QGIS to assemble the data and applied the temp-c colour ramp, classifying across all the contributors – I then changed the ones which were assigned a white colour, to green. The colours used in the book are slightly different as some additional editing took place after I handed the graphic over. The colour ramp is relatively coarse, so multiple users will have the same colour assigned to them. The very long tail of OSM contributions (where only a small number of people make the great majority of edits) mean that this still means that most major contributors have a unique colour assigned to them.


Note that these files actually are for an area that is slightly larger than the Greater London Authority extent – a buffer from Ordnance Survey Open Data Boundary-Line is used to mask out the non-GLA areas.

If you like this thing, it’s worth noting that Eric Fischer independently produced a similar graphic last year, for the whole world. (Interactive version).

How do England & Wales Stay Warm?


One of the more spatially interesting datasets on DataShine: Census is about central heating – do houses have it, and what is the fuel source? The table is QS415EW and here’s what one of the categories look like on DataShine. You’ll notice a distinctive pattern, with city centres and the countryside having low proportions of houses with gas central heating (yellow), while city suburbs and towns have much higher proportions (red). Oil central heating, being more expensive, is rare in urban areas but a practical necessity in the countryside, such as in rural Wales. Solid fuel is popular in Northumberland. Aberdaron in Wales has the highest proportion of households in England/Wales with no central heating at all. Many of the houses in this area are holiday houses, which are presumably most population in the summer. It could be a bit chilly there in the winter!

The latest outputs from researchers, alumni and friends at UCL CASA