Saturday, 1 June 2019

New Book: GIS for Planning and the Built Environment

A bit of a different blog post today, because a new GIS book by Ed Ferrari and me has been published. It’s called GIS for Planning and the Built Environment: An Introduction to Spatial Analysis and it’s an intro text aimed at anyone with an interest in GIS and the built environment, from geography and planning students to aspiring architects and landscape majors, plus people working in professional practice. We’ve included examples from across the world, from the bustling streets of Manhattan to the zig-zagging ski slopes of Austria. We hope you’ll see that we love GIS and what it can do, but we recognise that not everyone shares our passion, so when we were writing the book we also had one eye on the reluctant GISer - that’s why you can use our book to dip in and out of topics as and when you need to. 

Front cover

Want to know how to make better maps? Okay, no problem, head straight to Chapter 6. Desperate to know more about Waldo Tobler (pictured below with the authors in Santa Barbara on a previous GIS  world tour), his famous ‘First Law of Geography’ and why everyone goes on about it? Then head directly to Chapter 7. You'll also learn about the much less well known 'Second Law'. Want a good overview of contemporary GIS for planning and the built environment more generally? Excellent! Read the whole book. Looking for more information on a specific technical topic? Then our comprehensive index is the place to begin.

The authors, with the late Professor Waldo Tobler

There are many GIS texts out there, from the comprehensive to the highly technical. Ours sits somewhere in the middle as what we think is an accessible, easy-to-read reference for anyone with an interest in the topic as it relates to the built environment and planning more generally. We begin by establishing the book’s aims, and set out our hopes that anyone who reads the book will:

  • Obtain the knowledge, skill and experience to understand how the spatial analysis of data about the ‘real world’ can be used to understand planning problems;
  • Be able to apply a broad range of spatial analytic and visualisation techniques using industry standard GIS software packages; and
  • Understand how maps and data can be used effectively as evidence for planning- related issues.

In the introduction, we also include a little guide to what you’ll find inside so that, for example, if you want to know more about data (including open, big and ‘bad’ data) we tell you to head straight to Chapter 4. In here you’ll also find a bit more on the parts of GIS that really can be baffling if you’re just starting out (like what file formats to use, things like dots per inch, and more about ‘the mighty shapefile’!). 

An example of new Ordnance Survey data we use in the book - this is Manchester

Although we recognise that much of what might be considered core elements of GIS and spatial analysis change little over time, we also recognise that things have changed a lot in the past decade, with new technologies and platforms like QGIS and CARTO helping shape and re-shape an already vibrant discipline. New open data sources have added fuel to the GIS fire and social media has fanned the flames to such an extent that maps are now everywhere, or so it seems. We cover some of this in Chapter 5, where we note that such developments have often led to the creation of what one might charitably describe as ‘bad maps’, and which the book's authors have been guilty of many times! 

But because we’re optimistic people, we do of course focus mainly on the positives, with reference to GIS and cartographic pioneers like Kenneth Field, Anita Graser, Gretchen Peterson, Joshua Stevens and the inspirational Atlas of Design series, where you’ll find some truly breathtaking examples of what can be done with spatial data. We also offer a good bit of advice on how to avoid common pitfalls in your work, so if you’re a student doing GIS and you want to get better grades/marks then we can probably help with that too!

But this an introductory text, and we don’t try to cover everything (far from it) because we thought that would be overwhelming. But we aim to cover the most important things for those working within built environment disciplines more broadly. That’s why the book is peppered with examples of GIS in the real world that people might be able to understand without having to look up a reference book!  Often, we use separate boxes for these, like when we were trying to explain the topic of generalisation in GIS, as you can see below.

Our new book is in part an attempt to bring GIS back to the forefront of planning and built environment disciplines, but also partly an attempt to show how it can help us understand the world just a little bit better, so long as we don’t get carried away with ourselves. We’ll end here with what we say in our concluding remarks in Chapter 9: 

“GIS lets us see. It opens up a world of visualisation that spreadsheet models can never hope to rival. It helps us make links between phenomena on the basis of the attribute that is common to so much of what goes on in our world – the attribute of where.”

We hope you’ll agree and that you’ll find our book useful if you choose to take a closer look - if you want to find out more, head to the book's homepage.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Did you realise wards were actually very interesting?

More map and data fun today. I know there's a massive market for blog posts about administrative geographies, so here I am. It's partly inspired by the fact that I look at this kind of data all the time and get to know it quite well, and partly because of this Twitter exchange some time ago with Mags Hall and Allan Faulds, who truly do know too much about this kind of thing.

Did you know that the UK's biggest ward accounts for 2% of the total area of the UK? You did? Ok then, did you know that only one UK ward out of more than 9,000 begins with 'z'? Perhaps you did. But did you know that 'Plumpton, Streat, East Chiltington and St John (Without)' is the longest ward name in the UK, and also perhaps the best? How about the fact that there are 11 UK wards bigger than Greater London and the smallest ward in the country (in the City of London) is not very big at all - 0.044 square km (about 6 football pitches). The ward that you'd most like to drink? Why, that's the ward of 'Speyside Glenlivet' (in Moray), surely.

Time for some maps now. They all have the name of the local authority they're in in the top left, with the ward name along the bottom.

Not quite as big as Trinidad and Tobago, but close enough

It's small, ancient and has about 320 people

Zetland ward, in Redcar and Cleveland

If you're a local Councillor in the UK's biggest ward you have an awful lot of ground to cover, as you can see below for the journey between Achiltibuie and Kinloch Hourn, which are both in the same ward. Extra points if you can pronounce Achiltibuie (I can but I have a bit of an advantage on the Highland-place-names-as-Shibboleth thing).

The route between Achiltibuie and Kinloch Hourn (in same ward)

There are two really, really big wards in the UK. One is shown above and it's Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, and the other is North, West and Central Sutherland. Both are in the north west Highlands, and are more than 4,800 sq km in size (that's over 1,800 sq miles, which is close to 3x Greater London or 18 City of Edinburghs). The biggest ones in other parts of the UK are a good bit smaller, and here they are below. Overall, the 10 biggest UK wards account for more than 10% of the land area of the UK, and the 100 biggest account for just over 30% of the UK's land area. You could fit almost 3,000 of the smallest UK wards in Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh but I don't think it's a very sensible idea so I'd advise against it.

By far the biggest ward in England

Just a smidgen bigger than Torr Head and Rathlin

The biggest ward in Wales is also a donut ward

The other humongous ward 

All this isn't supposed to be profound or anything like that, just a bit of map trivia, so read on for a bit more about the little wards. The smallest wards in the UK are all in the City of London, and we've seen the smallest of those above (Queenhithe) so let's look at smallest ones in different parts of the UK instead.

Northern Ireland's smallest ward

Scotland's smallest ward

The smallest ward in Wales

Not the street of Charles Booth fame, but it is small

Wards are actually very important though, and they represent a very important part of local democracy in the UK, so there are some practical implications to this kind of thing, particularly when you consider the different areas people represent and how widely they can vary, even within a single local authority. For example, in Northumberland the biggest ward is more than 1,100 times the size of the smallest. In the Highland Council area in Scotland the biggest ward is over 1,300 times the size of the smallest.

But did you know that wards can also be mapped with a basemap in greyscale? You didn't? Okay, here's proof, with a selection of wards covering more than 100 sq km.

Lots of big wards in this neck of the woods

Not anywhere near Bolton

Another donut ward - I'm not sure how many there actually are

10th biggest ward in Northern Ireland

Yes, the Isle of Skye is a single ward (pop about 10,500)

I like the name of this ward

Notes: I used ward boundaries for 2018 from the ONS Open Geography Portal. This file contains 9,114 wards for the UK, with 7,446 in England, 462 in Northern Ireland, 354 in Scotland and 852 in Wales. Scotland has relatively few wards compared to Northern Ireland and England but I won't go into that here. My favourite ward? Not sure, but Aird and Loch Ness is definitely a contender - see below. It contains all of Loch Ness, is pleasingly-shaped and is only a little bit smaller than Luxembourg. Then there is 'Highland' ward which is not in 'Highland' (the council area) but is in the Highlands but in the Perth and Kinross council area. I have loads more of these maps but that's enough for today.

The midgie capital of the world (at least in my experience)


Monday, 13 May 2019

All populated places in Great Britain in a single file

A data-sharing post today with details of a new file I've made to share with the world - or at least anyone who's looking for a comprehensive place names file of Great Britain to use in their maps. The short version: I've taken the 'populated places' from Ordnance Survey's massive Open Names dataset and made it available as a single shapefile, geopackage and geojson. You can see all the files, including a ready-made QGIS project file, in the project repository. I've also added this file to the Resources section on my personal web page, where you'll also find (e.g.) all buildings in Great Britain, parliamentary constituencies, and more. Here are some examples of what the file looks like. 

More than 42,000 places in a single file

You can have Gaelic or English place names

You can filter to show different kinds of places

You can also use Welsh place names, or English ones

In addition to the layers and QGIS project, I've also included some comments in the expression boxes in QGIS to explain how you do various things - like using different font size or CASE for different types of place name (e.g. for 'City' or 'Town' or 'Village'). See the screenshots below for more on this and look at the QGIS project if you want to see it in more detail and to change any settings.

This is how you make some labels bold

This sets a different label buffer for different types

This filter is used to show only some places

This determines the font size for different label types

This determines the CASE (e.g. upper/lower) for the labels

This sets the symbol size

That's all for now. Hope you find this useful. I've pasted below the text (including comments) that I've used for the labelling, just in case you want to copy/paste it quickly. As you can see, I've also used this to change 'Kingston upon Hull' to 'Hull' in a kind of find/replace way.




WHEN "NAME1" = 'Kingston upon Hull' THEN 'Hull'




--If you want to show English place names in place of Welsh or Gaelic ones, or vice versa, or any combination of this then you just need to change the variables above.

--For example, in the first WHEN statement we are saying that when the language in the "NAME1_LANG" column is specified as 'gla' (for Scottish Gaelic) then we want to show the "NAME2" (English) label instead of the "NAME1" label (Gaelic).

--The wordwrap function at the start - and end with the 14 and brackets - just wraps place names on more than one line when they exceed 14 characters. Just delete this bit at the start and end if you don't want to do this.

-- You'll also notice that instead of displaying the default name of 'Kingston upon Hull' (which hardly anybody would use) I have used a WHEN/THEN statement to replace it with 'Hull' (which people actually use).

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Suffering from Brexhaustion? Have some more maps

This is the latest instalment in my series of ill-advised mapping adventures. I really don't know why, so long after that EU referendum thing, I am posting this today but I think it must be a mixture of being on Brexopilot and the fact that nobody seems to have mapped all the ward-level EU referendum data that Martin Rosenbaum of the BBC published in February 2017. I say 'nobody' but Owen Boswarva did map Bristol at the time, so I've borrowed some of his ideas for my maps. Note: there aren't maps of everywhere - only some areas released ward-level results data. Here's a little screenshot of the folder with all the maps. Scroll down to see the big versions.

Some explanation first, to describe what you are looking at. I used the ward results file at the bottom of Martin Rosenbaum's February 2017 piece to make these maps. I used shades of yellow for remain and shades of blue for leave. In both cases I used the yellow and blue from the original BBC maps as most people are familiar with that colour scheme. I mapped all 61 local authority areas that had results for all wards (36 'Leave' areas, 25 'Remain' areas). This covers about 15% of the UK but there is a good mix of area types so it should be somewhat representative of the wider picture. Here's a little visual explainer of what the maps show.

I think the local patterns are pretty interesting

The best way to see if an area you are interested in is in the map set is just to scroll down, because I've put all the maps below, in alphabetical order. You can also get them from the Google Drive folder, which by the way you can also get to by using this shorter and easier to remember url: At the very bottom of this post I've added a few more words, should you be desperate enough to read them.

Notes: I thought I would do this when the data came out in February 2017 but other things got in the way. With the recent Brextension (sorry) I thought I might as well finish the job I didn't start back then. Why? Partly because I was curious about what the local patterns actually looked like on the ground - apparent anomalies, concentrations, strongholds, that kind of thing - but also because I wondered whether there ware many 'islands of Leave' or 'archipelagos of Remain' and that kind of thing. I think if you look at the maps you can see a bit of this. I have used local authority boundaries because that is how the vote was conducted and counted, but I did also have a look at it by constituency (and then thought better of it).

Three Nottingham constituencies (East - Ind, North - Lab, South - Lab)

I was also interested in whether there were neighbouring wards that are really different in their voting. It turns out there are a few but not that many. If you're interested in this subject and haven't already read Martin Rosenbaum's piece on these local results, do take a look - it's really good. I did do a bit of analysis using the same data at the end of 2017, but that was just a few scatterplots. I should note, as Martin Rosenbaum does in his article, that this data was obtained thanks to a major data collection exercise carried out by George Greenwood.

I really would quite like to never hear the word 'Brexit' ever again though. Not because I have warm, fuzzy feelings for the EU but because it's all we ever hear about. So I thought I'd join in the fun and do some almost entirely unnecessary local Brexit voting pattern maps, even if it is just for the historical record. Though, actually, all this might be useful to people over the next six months, even if it's only for national media vox pop location planning (on which note, the KFC on the A127 in Southend seems like a good spot). Happy Halloween etc.

One of a few spots where near things are not that related