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A couple of weeks ago, I sat down and talked with Dan Meehan about his involvement in OpenStreetMap (OSM). Dan currently works as a Program Manager for the online graduate degree programs in Geodesign, which is part of Penn State’s Department of Landscape Architecture. Prior to this job, he worked for several years in Federal contracting where he gained extensive experience with GIS.

He first became acquainted with OSM by way of personal interest. He already had a general interest in Open Source Software and given his interest in GIS, that led to his desire to explore OSM. Dan has also been a contributor to OSM and explains that using the web-based tool for is fairly intuitive, even if you don’t have extensive experience with mapping. One of the advantages of OSM that Dan pointed out was how it provides basic basemap data. He explained that because not every non-profit or organizational entity can afford expensive commercial mapping tools, OSM provides them with a resource for obtaining basemap data that can be integrated with other applications. So while basemap data can’t be used for specialized technical mapping analysis, integration with other applications enhances its capacity.

Another part of our conversation included talking about Dan’s involvement with Penn State’s participation in GIS Day, which happens every November. This is an international event that features various educational and governmental organizations who host speakers, activities and informational sessions about GIS. Last year’s event at Penn State not only included this range of activities but also a map-a-thon where participants had a chance to experiment with OSM. Like last year, Penn State will also be hosting a GIS Day series of events.

In looking to the future of OSM, Dan generally envisions a positive outlook, especially if the tools become easier to use. Although not directly related to OSM, one model for advancing progress in this area might be Geodesign Hub where the barrier to entry for non-experts is minimal. Dan described that one of the compelling features to this tool is simulating different design scenarios in order to consider the impact of change. For example, planners could evaluate the impact of different arrangements of parks and buildings. Dan concluded our conversation by noting that the Geodesign program recently ran an online studio where students engaged in similar sorts of spatial design scenarios. You can learn more about this here

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