1 million buildings in LA, but what about the community?

Posted by schleuss on 30 July 2016 in English (English)

Part of our series of diaries sharing experiences on the ongoing LA Building Import into OpenStreetMap. Last month, we talked about the tools. Two weeks ago it was about the data. Today it’s about the local community.

Omar Ureta and I presented the L.A. County building import to the US State of the Map last weekend. We’ve imported more than 1 million buildings. And we’ve done that with the help of Mapbox, my employer the Los Angeles Times and the local community.

Organizing the community has been very time consuming. But it’s also been very important.

Before starting the import we got a list of local mappers with a lot of edits in L.A. County. Then we messaged users asking for feedback and involvement. This took a while, because the OSM website only allows us to send one message to one user at a time. I’ve spent many hours copying/pasting markdown files to users in the hope that they’d get involved or reach out with feedback.

Not everyone wrote back, but those that did offered helpful advice and interest.

It’s been weird to hold all these profiles in my head. A local gentleman who’s interested in fixing rural roads before the import. A woman in the Bay Area who’s a Dodgers fan. A retired tech journalist from Santa Monica who has come to every meetup. A lawyer-turned GIS student. A German programmer two hours to L.A.’s north. And many, many more.

We post new events on MaptimeLA’s meetup page. I message folks through the OSM website. We email. The county’s GIS blog has promoted a few of our events.

Here are the import-related events we’ve hosted so far:

  • March 31 - JOSM training at Arup in Downtown L.A.
  • April 2 - Import party at the L.A. Times downtown
  • April 14 - Import party at Arup
  • May 21 - Import party at the Times
  • June 5 - Import party at Angel City Brewery in Little Tokyo/Arts District
  • June 25 - Import party at the Times
  • July 7 - 3D modeling training session using OSM data from the import

Import party at the Los Angeles Times Import party on May 21

And now we have to schedule more. We need to break out of Downtown Los Angeles. We’re reaching out to local universities and companies. I’d like to host an event in Santa Monica. One in Long Beach. Maybe even one in the high desert/Lancaster. Oh, and we’re really interested in hosting an event on Catalina Island (still L.A. County) to our south!

Catalina Island L.A.’s Isle of Wight???

Los Angeles is really, really big. We have a lot of work to do. I’m keeping an open mind going forward. We have to listen to the community and understand what it wants. We have train people in different parts of our county. We need new faces and new communities to show us what’s missing.

I’m thinking these events shouldn’t be import only. Some users don’t want to import.

“It feels too much like work,” one of my colleagues said recently. And he’s right. It’s a tedious process to conflate buildings with what’s already on the map. It’s painful to scan an area to find little slivers of buildings sliced by the city’s less accurate parcel boundaries. And then there’s the wait time to upload 9,000 nodes.

So we’re branching out. Future events will be focused on the import, but also offer training and the ability to hack on any other OSM-related projects.

Our current list has fire hydrants, bus stops, cultural monuments, parking restrictions, the Walk of Fame stars, bike routes, earthquake-risk buildings and many many more.

So, I’m excited for the future. I think we can build the community. I even think we can beat Germany at active users.

Yeah, I said it. ;)

PS - Reach out if you have a way of contacting several OSM users at once. I’m not against writing some script to automate the process on top of the website. Obviously I’m not interested in creating spam. But the OSM website doesn’t have the tools needed for community organizing.

Location: Historic Core District, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, CA 90013, USA

Comment from Glassman on 30 July 2016 at 21:38


Only having the ability to contact one person at a time is very frustrating. We used a room full of volunteers to send message to target mappers to invite them to SOTM-US. We did get results, but it was way to time consuming.

We need the ability to: 1. Allow people to opt-in and out to receiving bulk messages. 2. Let people select interests that would allow bulk messages from others with similar interests 3. Be able to send to geographical areas 4. Send bulk message to people with similar interests. 5. Build in controls to prevent/limit spam messages like are seen on diary pages.

Keep up the great import work.


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