Belgian Mapper of the Month:Stefan

Stefan (ponci4520) is 28 years old and just finished his studies in resource and sustainability management (Joint Degree for Sustainable Development). Right now, he is looking for a job. He uses OpenStreetMap not only on a daily base for personal use, but also for his university research in order to visualise the distribution of cultural resources in cities. In future, Stefan would like to learn how to build his own map layers to show otherwise invisible buildings and infrastructures.

How did you discover OpenStreetMap?

The first time I heard about OpenStreetmap was at university. It was also mentioned in an edition of Arte, titled “Le dessous des cartes”. But I only really started mapping after participating in a conference on the use of maps for the visualisation of sustainable economy and community initiatives. This initiative, called Transformap, hopes to produce thematic maps based on OpenStreetMap. After this conference, I took part in a monthly meeting of the OpenStreetMappers user group in Graz, Austria - where I was studying at that time. It is a very active group. Unsurprisingly, Graz is very well mapped. That motivated me to participate, so I started to map my own area, Hesbaye.

Do you use OpenStreetMap?

I spend a lot of time looking at maps. There is no other media that helps to understand, discover, or rediscover an area as well as maps. Maps also have the enormous potential to participate in the development of an area. I also have a smartphone with an OpenStreetMap navigation application, called OsmAnd. I use that app for navigation as well as an “ordinary” map of the place that I am visiting.

What kind of mapper are you?

Until now, I mostly did remote mapping in the area where I live: Hesbaye in the Liège province. But slowly, I started to follow some roads and visiting nearby areas to compare the map with the reality. I really like to discover new places thanks to OpenStreetMap. I do not have a real speciality, but by mapping my village, I learned a lot, especially concerning historical buildings. Since I want to show this patrimonium to others, I focus more on this topic at the moment.

What is your biggest achievement as a mapper?

Mapping the village I come from, though that is more like a never-ending marathon than an achievement. When I started, the Hesbaye region was barely mapped. However, nowadays, I notice that there are more and more mappers active in this area. Although I only contributed part of the data, I am very pleased that the map is getting more and more details.

How can we motivate more people to contribute to OpenStreetMap?

By organising Map-Jams and or workshops, e.g. in the Re_lab in Liège. By giving introductions to new mappers and teach them how they can use the different tools (JOSM, GPS, data imports) By organising regular meetings (once or twice a month) for mappers. By making a brochure with information for public services, companies, NGO’s, computer scientist, etc. to promote the use of OpenStreetMap.

What is the strength of OpenStreetMap?

OpenStreetMap proved itself a couple of times to help people in need, e.g. after the earthquake in Haïti, or more recently during the ebola outbreak in West-Africa. The humanitarian intervention was more effective because the area was mapped by volunteers. The major asset of OpenStreetMap is without doubt its “open source” character. It is de-facto a common asset that belongs to humanity: everybody can participate – of course you need an internet connection and a computer. Nevertheless it remains accessible for a large group. Those values are important and provide an alternative paradigm for the mantra of growth and commercial gain. I also believe that OpenStreetMap is a nice example of bottom-up internet organisation.

What is the biggest challenge for OpenStreetMap?

Exactly this internet governance. Unfortunately there are more and more examples of increased top-down control on the internet (for security reasons, economic issues, etc.). As often, there are good arguments for both sides, but I am convinced that open source software proves that the internet is a collaborative project that is for the benefit of all.

Anything else that you want to mention?

OpenStreetMap is really not difficult. It is a community with a lot of passionate people who use patience and enthusiasm to help anyone who wants to get their head around open source software. You can start by exploring the different OpenStreetMap maps and the rest will happen automatically!