OpenStreetMap

Small Towns in Europe

Posted by kmpoppe on 1 February 2024 in English. Last updated on 2 February 2024.

TL;DR: There are quite a few places on the continent that still need mapping. If you want to know why and how I came to that conclusion, read on ;-)

Preface

Since March 2023 there’s a handy bot called @SmallTownUSA@en.osm.town on the Fediverse, that posts a daily “task” out to its followers, highlighting “small towns” in the United States of America, that, to use the same phrasing, “seem like they could use some mapping”, along with a screenshot of the (Carto) map of the area.

Sparing the full technical details, the program randomly picks an entry from an overpass export of all nodes that have any place tag and a population tag with a value of less than 1000 (hence the name “SmallTown”) in the USA (currently 11389), asks overpass whether there are 10 buildings or less in 800 meters around that node and if so, posts about it.

As the bot has been doing this for about 10 months now, there seem to be at least 300 places that match the above description. Naturally, I wondered, how Europe would fare in comparison. Chatting with the bot’s developer, Matthew Wildon (OSM, Fediverse), they told me, that they checked France for potential candidates and found none and then didn’t look into it any further.

What’s on on the Continent?

My interest was now piqued. Would a similar “SmallTownEurope” bot make any sense, or would it run out of things to post within a week? Or is Pascal Neis’ Unmapped Places of OpenStreetMap Result Map enough to find areas where mapping is needed?

Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t know the answer to that from purely looking at the map, I needed data. So I quickly got myself the above-mentioned Overpass Exports for Areas in Europe - where I was using the English Wikipedia definition of what’s in Europe: “[…] countries falling even partially under any common geographical or political definitions of Europe”. To cover most of the area of those countries, I also checked the “de facto independent countries with limited to no international recognition” (Abkhazia, Kosovo, Northern Cyprus, South Ossetia, Transnistria) as well as “dependencies and similar territories with broad autonomy [that] are also found within or close to Europe” (Aland, Guernsey, Jersey, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Greenland, Isle of Man, Svalbard).

Way to go!

263845 nodes fall into the definition of this survey (any place tag and a population tag with a value of less than 1000 and more than 0). I then asked poor Overpass for each one how many buildings there were in an 800-meter radius. That took about 3 days 😅

The beauty of knowing the buildings count for every node now is that we can easily adjust the parameters we’re looking at. When looking through the matches in Germany I found that some very well-mapped places could be considered “false positives”. 5 people living in a dwelling with 7 buildings is a very reasonable idea, but matches the “less or equal than 10 buildings” rule, so to get to my final numbers I added the filter “more people living there than buildings mapped”.

In the end, I arrived at 89338 matching towns (or 33.86%) with the 4 highest countries (Spain, Russia, Ukraine, Romania) making up 82.1845% of those matches (73422).

4 countries do not have a single match: Belgium, Malta, Norway and Switzerland

You want numbers, you say?

Alright then.

Table 1: Ordered by total matches in a country

Rank Country Matches Total Percent
1 Estonia 1 256 0.3906
1 Iceland 1 80 1.2500
1 Ireland 1 46 2.1739
1 Netherlands 1 1410 0.0709
1 Slovakia 1 1863 0.0537
6 Greenland 2 22 9.0909
7 Latvia 7 97 7.2165
8 France 10 9484 0.1054
9 Northern Cyprus 11 15 73.3333
10 Cyprus 19 55 34.5455
11 Germany 26 9991 0.2602
12 Finland 29 177 16.3842
13 Austria 31 8955 0.3462
14 North Macedonia 32 39 82.0513
15 Denmark 38 3798 1.0005
15 Hungary 38 1915 1.9843
17 Moldova 44 240 18.3333
18 Kosovo 49 95 51.5789
19 Albania 59 102 57.8431
20 Czech Republic 68 12895 0.5273
21 Montenegro 69 197 35.0254
22 United Kingdom 77 710 10.8451
23 Azerbaijan 97 109 88.9908
24 Poland 101 9586 1.0536
25 Slovenia 106 1695 6.2537
26 Bosnia and Herzegovina 115 434 26.4977
27 Armenia 133 527 25.2372
28 Sweden 223 1230 18.1301
29 Bulgaria 304 598 50.8361
30 Kazakhstan 351 479 73.2777
31 Belarus 395 4810 8.2121
32 Turkey 598 972 61.5226
33 Croatia 810 1572 51.5267
34 Georgia 883 1462 60.3967
35 Portugal 952 1562 60.9475
36 Lithuania 2328 16685 13.9527
37 Greece 2365 3156 74.9366
38 Italy 2597 16800 15.4583
39 Serbia 2953 3871 76.2852
40 Romania 7940 9840 80.6911
41 Ukraine * * *
42 Russia 20112 48180 41.7435
43 Spain 28983 52081 55.6499

Table 2: Ordered by percent of towns matched

Rank Country Matches Total Percent
1 Slovakia 1 1863 0.0537
2 Netherlands 1 1410 0.0709
3 France 10 9484 0.1054
4 Germany 26 9991 0.2602
5 Austria 31 8955 0.3462
6 Estonia 1 256 0.3906
7 Czech Republic 68 12895 0.5273
8 Denmark 38 3798 1.0005
9 Poland 101 9586 1.0536
10 Iceland 1 80 1.2500
11 Hungary 38 1915 1.9843
12 Ireland 1 46 2.1739
13 Slovenia 106 1695 6.2537
14 Latvia 7 97 7.2165
15 Belarus 395 4810 8.2121
16 Greenland 2 22 9.0909
17 United Kingdom 77 710 10.8451
18 Lithuania 2328 16685 13.9527
19 Italy 2597 16800 15.4583
20 Finland 29 177 16.3842
21 Sweden 223 1230 18.1301
22 Moldova 44 240 18.3333
23 Armenia 133 527 25.2372
24 Bosnia and Herzegovina 115 434 26.4977
25 Cyprus 19 55 34.5455
26 Montenegro 69 197 35.0254
27 Russia 20112 48180 41.7435
28 Bulgaria 304 598 50.8361
29 Croatia 810 1572 51.5267
30 Kosovo 49 95 51.5789
31 Spain 28983 52081 55.6499
32 Albania 59 102 57.8431
33 Georgia 883 1462 60.3967
34 Portugal 952 1562 60.9475
35 Turkey 598 972 61.5226
36 Ukraine * * *
37 Kazakhstan 351 479 73.2777
38 Northern Cyprus 11 15 73.3333
39 Greece 2365 3156 74.9366
40 Serbia 2953 3871 76.2852
41 Romania 7940 9840 80.6911
42 North Macedonia 32 39 82.0513
43 Azerbaijan 97 109 88.9908

* There shall be no mapping in Ukraine for now

Where do we go from here?

I think it’s clear from the numbers, that working on a single match per day isn’t feasible. That would take 244½ years, and we can’t wait that long, can we?

There is now a MapRoulette Project for all matches except Ukraine and Russia.

If you have any other ideas or questions, let me know in the comments.

Have a lovely day.

K

Discussion

Comment from Friendly_Ghost on 1 February 2024 at 23:39

Awesome data!

If you can update this list on a regular basis, I’m sure some mappers will gladly hunt down cases to “complete” countries. This approach worked very well in the river modernization project.

Comment from chris_debian on 2 February 2024 at 00:18

Hi, K.

This is really good work, and I think the MapRoulette idea is a good one. I’d give the UK a good go, then look at other priorities.

As an aside, the figures for Ukraine may be a false positive, and I believe all map amendments are paused, until the invasion is resolved. This may have changed, but worth checking, before investing any effort.

Well done,

Chris

Comment from watmildon on 2 February 2024 at 05:21

I know it’s very common for new mappers to look at their local area (usually very urban) and wonder “so what’s left”? I originally wanted to help folks find places off the beaten path and I’m so happy to see you’ve found lots of good mapping opportunities!

I am very excited to hear how other ways of presenting this information help drive engagement and help us get to a more complete map.

Comment from kmpoppe on 2 February 2024 at 08:21

@chris_debian, here you go: https://mpr.lt/p/55150 - now also linked in the entry itself. Have fun!

Comment from chris_debian on 2 February 2024 at 11:14

@kmpoppe Hi, just had a go at a settlement in the UK. Could you consider:

  1. Amending the comment that is auto-generated on MapRoulette, so it is more meaningful. At the moment, it looks very automated, and could cause concern from reviewers. I added the additional text “Added buildings to settlement” to my commit.

  2. It’s difficult to know when the task is ‘complete enough’, so when saving the edits, I paused when I was deciding to click on the options. The number of houses/ buildings that can be added, could be huge (many hundreds+ ?).

  3. Related to the last point, and to avoid change sets that are huge, can tasks be split into smaller chunks, that can be completed? I tend to limit my change sets to 50 ‘commits’. Even using AI to assist in the edits (https://rapideditor.org/) the tasks could be potentially endless, and huge. People contributing, will soon lose interest, if each task seems endless.

This is a really good initiative, and my comments are meant to make this work even better, and are definitely not a criticism.

Many thanks,

Chris.

Comment from mmd on 3 February 2024 at 11:56

That took about 3 days 😅

I believe one reason for this long runtime could be your pre-filtering on certain areas (not exactly sure if this how you’ve done it). When using https://overpass-turbo.eu/s/1GQm to analyze all place nodes on a global scale, the runtime should be less than 1.5 hours. It returns about 401k place nodes that would need some additional filtering by location as a post-processing step.

If you like to try this out, I have uploaded the query result here: https://dev.overpass-api.de/misc/test_buildings.xml.gz (file size: 21M)

Comment from osmuser63783 on 14 February 2024 at 18:23

Really interesting analysis, thanks!

That took about 3 days 😅

This sort of thing can be done with Geodesk in a few minutes, though it requires first downloading a planet file or extract and then preprocessing it once (this step takes about half an hour on an SSD for the full planet).

Comment from Skinfaxi on 20 February 2024 at 08:16

Ibwould consider an other aprove: How about a bot that publishes Major approves in small Towns? Together with a “fault-list” it will adress the topic - but in a positiv way of communication.

After 5 years of intensiv mapping i recently lost my Motivation.

I Work in a remote aera and are quiet a bot frustrated about that att discussions tend to adress micromapping Problems instead of focusing on the big picture.

And in the rare cases that i get some Feedback ist cames from “topic-mappers”. They suggest för example that i shall give Details Like the building Material of the benches that i contributed. And they completly ignore the Fakt that the whole area was Not more than “Landuse” totaly without any Infrastruktur.

So i Like to See same “good News” giving me the Feeling that i am Not alone with my idear of making a map instead of a random collection of more or less intressting Details.

In conclution i think ITS worth to try another communication aproach.

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