Improving OSM - why don’t we? [15]

Posted by marczoutendijk on 15 August 2019 in English (English). Last updated on 31 October 2019.

Why are mappers using landuse=village_green in the wrong way?

More than once in the past few years have I started and participated in various topics on the tagginglist (as well as on the local Dutch forum) where the precise use of the landuse=village_green was discussed.
A Village Green is a situation that is described in the wiki, and I quote:

“… is a distinctive part of a village centre. It’s an area of common land, usually grass but often including flowers, shrubs, small trees and a pond, located in the centre of a village (quintessentially English - defined separately from ‘common land’ under the Commons Registration Act 1965 and the Commons Act 2006).”

The proposal (in 2006) and the final voting (two in favor and none against!) never reached a wide audience (which back in 2006 of course was much smaller than nowadays) so nobody outside the UK really knew or understood its meaning and specific use.

The following text is partly copied from my posting on the tagging list:

Because I found out that the tag is greatly misused, I did an extended research to get more details about its current use.
My research is based on the OSM dataset of 14 july 2019.

The total number of tags for landuse=village_green is: 91645
I then took a selection of 22 countries (see table at end) and compared the uses per country to its use in the UK, because that country seems to be the main reason for the existence of this tag.
In those 22 countries the tag is used 55721 times and there are 5569 unique mappers responsible for using it.
I was surprised to see that in the country where I live, the Netherlands, the tag was used 260% more than in the UK!
Given the original definition you could expect that in the Netherlands (based on the number of cities/towns/villages and assuming that each of those indeed had a Village Green - which isn’t true) there could be at most 2440 Village Greens, not the 5131 we have now. Where, then, are the 2691 others located??

And what about the other countries?
I started first by randomly (worldwide, with the help of overpass) looking at the map to see what people had marked with the tag, but later created a database application which allowed me to load faster the data of the map and inspect it.

My strategy was this:
For each of the 22 countries in my list, I sorted on changeset number to have the data in oldest-newest format. Interesting to see that its first use (12 years ago) wasn’t in the UK but in Germany, where the tag is anyway used more than in any other country. The most recent use was some days before I finished my research.
I took the two oldest uses, the two most recent uses and one in the middle, to create a set of 110 changesets for visual inspection of the tag on the map.
The result (based on my earlier look at its use) didn’t surprise me at all: 65% of the landuse=village_green tag is not used according the definition in the wiki!
Because I first couldn’t believe the result, I started again, but now taking only one country and visited 20 randomly changesets. That made things worse: sometimes (by being very liberal in my judgement of what a village green could be, even accepting a small area of grass somewehere around the village center) the misuse raised to 80%!

What can we conclude from this?

In the wiki talk-page I already announced this problem and suggested to adapt the wiki to allow for different uses, based on consensus reached per country. We do that already for Spain and Germany (as you can read in the wiki), although that use is more according its intended use.

What I see now is a competely different use for landuse=village_green.
The most frequent (ab)use now are all areas covered with grass (anywhere in a village or even in rural areas), the centers of roundabouts, along stretches of highways, and the kind of “green” that you see on the photos on the wiki talk-page.
This wrong use is understandable: the word “village” and the word “green” both lead - for those not being native English speakers nor reading the wiki nor knowing anything about the historical context - to using it for the situations I mentioned above.

There are of course more occurences of faulty tags (other than landuse=village_green) for a given situation, but not to the extent that we see with the landuse=village_green tag.

The number of Village Greens is bound to some upper limit, someday we have all of them in OSM, but then people will still use that tag (as they do now) because it fits their definition, neglecting the wiki.
The situation that we have now: mappers are using a key-value pair (landuse=village_green) for tagging landuse that is not supposed to be tagged that way in at least 65% of the cases I investigated.
In the future that number will rise to the point where almost all use of landuse=village_green is wrong (or not according what wiki describes).

Interested in its use around you?
I have created an overpass that you can run in your own area.
It finds all landuse=village_green that is within 25 meters of a junction=roundabout.
The example that is included in this overpass query, is typical in its misuse of this tag.
Please be aware that it is time consuming for large areas.
The overpass is here: (move to your area of interest and hit the execute button.

Table of use.

Country Use
Argentina 114
Japan 241
Greece 265
Chili 544
Russia 667
Italy 1008
USA 1438
Great Britain 1960
Belgium 2614
Spain 2856
Brazil 2940
Netherlands 5131
France 6867
Poland 9790
Germany 15855

Does this situation need our attention?
And if so, how do we deal with it? Given the very few reactions to my latest posting on the tagging list, my conclusion is that nobody really cares. Do you?

Comment from SK53 on 17 August 2019 at 15:20

There is clearly some use of village green by specific mappers for patches of green space within towns & cities, rather than for true village greens. Personally I use landuse=grass for this, but that has it’s own problems (or worse), so these days I try to subtag it with grass=amenity_grassland. It’s clearly useful to be able to delineate and show these, not just because they add detail to the map, but because they have explanatory information about why buildings are distributed in a particular way.

Village green itself is an example of a tag which was too closely drawn (i.e., to a very specific British thing), whereas shared public spaces are widespread across the world. Also the name & inferred characteristics (grass) promote(d) a style of rendering inconsistent with places with a similar function elsewhere. Village Green nowadays is a legal designation which may apply to places which don’t look like village greens (e.g., Attenborough Cricket & Football Clubs)

Fairly recently I came across the phrase “urban commons” to refer to the difficult to categorise grass and other open spaces in urban areas.

Finding a broader scoped term to replace true “shared community spaces” in built-up areas would be a good way to progressively replace things which are true village greens. Another suitable tag is then needed for the ragbag of things which are left: urban_commons may have scope in this regard.

Comment from TheSwavu on 18 August 2019 at 23:22

I’m not sure you could design a more English tag if you tried.

It’s use is probably the result of a lack of other tags for an open area set aside for recreation. The common tag could stretch to cover these as the land is sorta held in common, but the tag doesn’t get rendered any more so no one is going to use it. As a side effect large swaths of land in Australia now get tagged as a park but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking that it was anything other than bush.

Login to leave a comment