San Jose, largest city in Silicon Valley, is a rapidly sprawling suburban metropolis. This unsustainable mode of development is generally considered detrimental to open space, consumed by low density housing, energy resources, squandered on car dominated transportation, and community, split apart by satellite dishes and 6 lane roads. But what is bad for the environment is still brilliant for OpenStreetMap! With all the new development, there was bound to be some corner of San Jose unmapped. And ok, I actually found it to be a very interesting place.
A quick search brought up the Development Activity Highlights and Five-Year Forecast, published annually by the San Jose City Planning Department. This comprehensive document featured several helpful maps, with areas planned for development clearly highlighted. The Evergreen area, on the eastern foothill slopes, had several promising, large, yellow areas.
Also at this time, Ben Gimpert was importing the entire Tiger dataset into OpenStreetMap. Tiger, published periodically by the US Census, contains streets for the entire US. With the addition of GPS derived streets, OpenStreetMap could potentially have the most up to date map of the area. Ben helpfully loaded in Santa Clara County ahead of schedule (it was working on Alabama at the time, then Arkansas…).
Just past Evergreen College, the plan was all on the ground.
The first zones had only the barest imprint of a proto-suburbia. Possibly last week this was open pasture land, now with a gravel base road and basic road drainage. This development probably won’t complete for a year or two, and sometime after that it will appear in Navteq. Yet, this place is very important today, if you are concerned about suburban sprawl or saving up for a new home.
Just down the road was the first big error in Navteq. Pre-development, Fowler Rd connected to Yerba Buena Rd. The last segment of this connection is now blocked off, with traffic flow directed down the newly constructed Altia Ave. Not everyone is so happy about this, evidenced by the smashed fence on one side of the segment.
Before looking at the results further, let’s examine what’s currently available from G-Y-M. All three source street data here from Navteq. Microsoft and Google both have aerial imagery sourced from the USGS and are basically identical. In the center of the imagery is a large plot of undeveloped orchard, and in the upper left corner more land under development. Yahoo!‘s imagery is more recent, with lines of homes eating away at the remnants of the orchard, and playing fields completed at the new high school. The pace of development is so fast in this area, it may be possible to date the week these images were taken. When I visited, the orchard was almost entirely gone, replaced by Orchard Heights, with families already moved into most of the houses.
And some digression into suburban lament. Silicon Valley was once the Valley of Heart’s Delight. This was some of the most productive agricultural land in the world, full of cherries, walnuts, apricots … now the land itself imprinted with circuits, sprawling in some kind of reverse Moore’s Law. The remnants of the orchard, machinery and boxes, were stacked, rusting and weathering just over the fence from the new neighbors.
The new residents of Orchard Heights seemed to be Silicon Valley economic migrants, Phillipino, Chinese, and Sikh families drawn to high paying chip design and programming jobs. They seemed confused, not only by the strange presence of a GPS toting dude taking photos of street signs, but by their own presence. People stood and conversed on median strips and corners of small lawns, or paused and pondered utility boxes and fresh landscaping. The space had very little preconceptions, patterns of behavior, or delineations among the subtley similar New Urbanist flavored homes. This place was all dream, waiting for some history, oil drip, or odd garden sculpture to bend the neighborhood into some kind of story.
Thing is, most every SUV parked in the driveways had GPS navigation. All the tools are nearly present for these streets to exist in our popular tools. Certainly the developers have interest in enabling driving directions for new home buyers. And is it even possible that the act of mapping might be the first step in connecting people to their new home, moving from space to place? I certainly had my eyes open.
I took photos at every intersection, and geotagged their EXIF headers with WWMX Location Stamper, which simply matches up the timestamp in the GPS track log with the photo timestamp. WWMX overlays the whole thing on Microsoft’s Navteq sourced streets, just for presentation in that software. I’m showing it here just for demonstration; OpenStreetMap bases its data completely on open and free data sources. My tracks fit like a missing suburban puzzle piece.
The traces fared less well when layered over the existing Tiger data in OpenStreetMap. A number of existing streets in the area don’t align with the tracks, and even less data than Navteq is available overall. Tiger must have sourced this data from previous development plans, prior to actual building which have since been modified. To map this area accurately, we’ll probably need to go in and do another round of data collection. No biggee, just another afternoon will probably do it.
The take away for me is twofold. Not only will collaborative OSM data collection soon be competitive with commercial data collection, it will be a means of fostering community in an ever increasingly mobile world.