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  • Writer's picturePetra Zlatevska

My write up of NEXT11 Conference as a hand-picked blogger: There’s more to maps than meets the eye

On my way to my first ever NEXT in a huge former power station in the no-man’s land known as Gleis Drei-Eck, the first thing that struck me was that I had no idea where I was going. I was just using my google maps to find it and having never been before, I literally followed my gut. And the little strategically placed Data Love stickers.


I have always thought that Barbara and Allen Pease had me in mind when they wrote their book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Why Women Can’t Read Maps”. I used to hate maps. I would rather get lost for two hours than read the Greggary’s,the Sydney map bible when driving to Saturday sport venues during highschool or discovering obscure new restaurants during uni times. On more than one occasion I remember asking my dad to meticulously hand write out the street turning instructions when I had to cross the Harbour Bridge to get to the northern suburbs. It was like having my own bespoke human TomTom at home. With the benefit of age, however, one does improve one’s map reading skills,especially when one does not own a car and walks and bike rides everywhere.The fact that Berlin, in comparison to Sydney, is relatively well-planned out, is also a help.


Ever since the Romans built Europe’s first roads, paving (excuse the pun) the way for the most basic urban transport networks, our cities have been shaped throughout the ages by the challenge of people and how they move around.Christopher Osborne from ITO World, who has consulted the UK Data Office amongst others, spoke in the ‘Bright Data, Big City’ session about a modern day metropolis, London, as a case study for data sharing. The 2003 implementation of the controversial Central London Congestion Charging Scheme ironically put London on the map so to speak as not only a more liveable place but also as a city whose open data policy is helping with ongoing city planning.Here is what former London Mayor and proponent of the scheme, Ken Livingstone had to say about the Congestion Charge a few years ago:


Each day in 2006 there were almost 70,000 fewer vehicles entering the charging zone compared to the number that had been entering each day before charging began… There has been a 72% increase in the number of cyclists on the capital’s major roads since 2000.” (source: http://www.roadtraffic-technology.com/projects/congestion/ ).


Whether this scheme helped London achieve its recent #6 ranking out of 26 cities in the PWC and The Partnership for New York City Cities of Opportunity 2011 survey is debateable, as other factors including business opportunities, culture, liveability, and innovation were also ranked. In the PWC survey, London interestingly scored the worst possible score (16 out of 16) for air pollution. Yet since the Scheme’s eight-year operation, the air quality had actually improved for those living in the inner city. Christopher showed maps which ITO created, collected by using open, available data comparing the reduction in cars entering the Central Zone (shown in by red circles) and increase in bike riders (shown in blue).


Likewise, a new map-app, Map nificent,shows users the area they can reach with public transport from any point at any given time. This mapping project laboured under different and more challenging conditions than the London mapping one above.Given the paucity of open public transport data in the creator’s home town of Berlin and in Germany, generally,has meant that the app focuses mostly on cities in the US and only a handful of European ones.


The last presentation was Wheelmap.org. I first heard about this platform at TEDxBerlin last year and was so taken with it, I featured it in my Column for Blue Wings Magazine. As Raul, a passionate social advocate who spearheaded its creation said in his talk, “I love data, because it helps”. It is Europe’s first and most comprehensive and interactive mapping platform indicating barrierefrei (wheelchair accessible) public places such as cafés, shops, ATMs. Following a three-year grant from philanthropy organisation Ashoska, Wheelmap.org is currently available in nine languages, including the newly added Klingon. More are on the way.

Yet Raul was quick to point out that while his project greatly assists the 1.5 million German wheelchair users and the approximately 185 million global wheelchair users, it also assists the able-bodied with their trip planning, including muttis with prams as well as the elderly with walking sticks. Moreover, it allows all users to have a greater sense of appreciation for their urban, built environment. “How many steps did it just take to enter this room?”, asked Raul. “How many of you paid attention?”. A few people raised their hands. “The answer is four”. There was a bit of an embarrassed silence. Raul’s positive thinking and sense of humour (he singled out the Next11 organisers as rarities for installing a wheelchair ramp but only because he told them in advance he was coming), made his talk one of the most tweeted presentations of the day and one of my highlights.

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