Mapping and data are solving real world problems

Mapping of data has come a long way since 1854 when Dr John Snow plotted locations of cholera cases on a map during an outbreak of the disease in Soho. This comparatively simple act enabled Dr Snow to better understand his data and draw the correct conclusions, thus contributing to a new understanding of the transmission of diseases. At that time the ‘miasma theory’ was dominant and people believed that all disease travelled through the air. With his map, Dr Snow was able to demonstrate that the source of the disease was in fact a tainted water supply. Mapping and data is now many worlds away from those origins. From big data to cloud computing, even in the last decade mapping and the use of data has been revolutionised. We can use powerful computers to load in hundreds of huge and complex data layers at one time. We can analyse massive data sets to extract relevant information and answer important questions.


The real world applications of this new number crunching and mapping power are beneficial for all, but are sometimes taken for granted. For something as simple as asking Google Maps how long it will take you to get to work, there are a number of data sets and a great deal of processing happening in the background to give the answer. However, mapping is also often used to examine and solve real world problems, arguably more important than if we will make it home in time for dinner. FIND Mapping recently worked with the LCCI on the mapping of disused and poor quality ‘brownspace’ in Greater London’s Metropolitan Green Belt. FIND first interrogated multiple data sets to identify the most promising areas within the Green Belt, then moved to high-resolution, up-to-date aerial imagery to perform a visual assessment of highlighted locations.

Consequently, it was established whether or not a site was derelict, vacant or a poor use of land – important when dealing with subjects such as the housing shortage. Without cutting edge mapping and data analysis techniques FIND would have been hard pressed to carry out such a study. The vast majority of data can (and should) be mapped, such is the importance and relevance of location information. It has been estimated that 80 per cent of all the data on the planet has location information attached to it and the 20 per cent that doesn’t have a location probably should!

Mapping of data can also often create a useful visual representation of the data that would have otherwise been completely undiscoverable from simply viewing it in a table or graph. Mapping sets the data free, new patterns can emerge and previously unforeseen conclusions can be reached. There is huge value to be gained from wielding these powerful tools to massively improve knowledge and decision making. If “a picture is worth a thousand words”, so, surely, are maps.

Next dimension

What is the future of mapping and data? New companies such as are taking mapping to the next dimension. Not content with creating incredibly detailed models of London and other major cities, they are adding layers of GIS – Geographic Information System – data to these models to make them even more meaningful. One of the biggest changes in the world of mapping over the next decade will be utilising the third dimension. While 3D data is available now, the vast majority of mapping is still done in 2D so there is a whole new world about to open up. With other emerging technologies such as ‘real-time GIS’ and ‘augmented reality’, the future of mapping and data is looking extremely exciting.

For more information on the brownspace mapping project visit BrownforBlue.

by Matt Hayes, GIS and data manager at FIND Mapping.

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