Weaver House, urban oasis and smashed dreams.

continuing from part 1

The East London Line Extension leaflet was unhelpful in illuminating the plans. It all seemed too glossy. Turning to Tower Hamlets Council, a bit of digging turned up the Local Development Framework. Weaver House seemed to lie within the City Fringe.


Careful squinting at this map, and at the draft proposal map, I determined that the special code to get more information, “CF3”. Appendix 1 summarized the plan for each subarea of CF3a-e, which all pretty much read as..

• New green public open space in place of railway line (which is being relocated) to cover entire site.
• Public open space should be an extension to and a continuation of green space at Allen Gardens.
• Wildlife and recreational enhancements to existing public open space.
• This open space will be delivered by allocating Site CF3e for open space within this Area Action Plan, through the development control process when the site comes forward for development, and through negotiation with the developer/site owner.

Wow! Wildlife and open space. Reclaimed railway for human scale use. I’m already making plans to remove invasive plants, build a wetland, and welcome back a bittern. Open space is in short supply in Tower Hamlets and this sounded like a fantastic project.

But I reread that last phrase .. “when the site comes forward for development, and through negotiation with developer/site owner”. Who is the site owner? What concrete steps are being taken? Who’s going to pay for such a huge transformation of the area?

I searched Tower Hamlets planning register for a number of streets in the area, and hit solidly on Pedley Street, both filed by Transport for London, for Conservation Area Consent. Apparently the whole neighborhood is a Conservation Area, even the rusting, crumbling rail yards. The first for Demolition of bridge GE19, arches and other structures between Brick Lane, Pedley Street and Fleet Street Hill, including bridges at Bratley Street and Weaver Street, and the second a request to bypass an Environmental Impact Report for the same area. Nicely, every bit of correspondence concerning the applications had been scanned and posted to the website.


Weaver Houser from the air in Google Maps.

So the bridges at Fleet Street Hill, Bratley Street, and Weaver Street? It took a second to realize that it meant…


Weaver House is actually situated between the old railway to north, and the East London Tube Line to the South. What a strange place to build a house, and what a strange set of bridges to destroy .. the only access to Weaver House is via these three bridges.

In part 3 tomorrow, the earth opens..

Weaver House, fulcrum of London urban and global transformation, a major case for geodata, and just plain interesting

Our friends moved into a new place just over from Brick Lane. It immediately struck as the most fascinating spot in London.

photo used with permission of Chris Daniel

Weaver House is in the foreground of Canary Wharf. The gherkin and the City are on the right. The bizarre house on stilts is probably a railway signal box, and is an acknowledged alt-london cliche. From their flat on the top floor, there’s wide open spaces of urban decay surrounding, fringed by brick lane arts and bagels, with vistas of encroaching skyward commerce. Spitalfields City Farm is behind the back.

photo by uriba

Behind that neighbor goat is Weaver House, and the strange signal box stilt house.

There’s a lot of activity in the rail yards surrounding Weaver House. The Crossrail and new East London lines and others are making huge changes to transport in London, especially in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. The tube map might look like this by then. Nearby Shoreditch Tube Station had closed just a few months ago. What was going on around here? Curious.


After a little digging I found out a whole lot more. Urban oasis and smashed dreams in part 2 tomorrow

Open Real-World-Geographic Change Notification

Simon Hewison on the OpenStreetMap talk list reports that he’s the first ever mapper of Chaville St, N3 London, and speculates on ways to receive notifications and stay on top of geographic changes.

Back in June, I looked up the development plans in San Jose and had the pleasure of being the first ever mapper in ex-apple orchard suburban development.

Ironically, one common criticism of OpenStreetMap is that the data will never be as accurate as traditional providers. From the Guardian article on the Isle of Wight

“We make an average of 5,000 changes to our large-scale data every day,” said an OS spokesperson. “It’s not about mapping the Isle of Wight once – it’s about continuing to map it … It is expensive to collect detailed, accurate information on the ever-changing world to the level of detail our customers require.”

Yet it’s exactly the opposite .. OpenStreetMap can be more accurate and current due to its openness and trust, while other commercial and government entities have about 1-2 year turn around on distributing changes .. from the actual change on the ground, to notification, to ground truthing, incorporation in their db, to distribution to customers digitally and printing.

Yet the OS spokesperson is very right .. it is going to require deliberate effort to keep the maps up to date after the initial OSM map is complete. Most of that ever changing world goes through planning permission with some authority, usually local. And the authorities have a duty to make that available to the public, and they do to varying degrees. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent found the plans to demolish his home on display in a “in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.” Nowadays the planning permissions are hopefully published on the web, but stuck in PDFs or Word DOCs, in a labyrinth of directories and search .. a technical barrier for users and for developers not as dangerous as a leopard, but just as ridiculous.

There are no set formats for local authorities to publish real-world-geographic change, nor set procedure for notification and distribution. Truly this information is in the public domain, but those producing it lack the resources to make it useful. Hence, private companies stepping in to aggregate. Around the world, there are companies which simply monitor changes with local authorities to produce geographic change notification reports. Navteq and TeleAtlas has made arrangements with local authorities to receive changes, and also employ screen scraping to gather data.

There’s nothing stopping us from doing this in an open way.

Jo Walsh did a bit of work a couple years ago, screen scraping planning applications in Tower Hamlets, East London. I used that data for visualization of planning application acceptance and rejection.

It doesn’t necessarily require precise geo-referencing of the changes to make them useful. With a general idea of the area a particular change is coming from, that gives enough to notify interested humans, for further investigation.

I could see this as a distinct project, useful for OpenStreetMap, but even more widely useful for anyone interested in what’s happening in their community. Web sources of change can be identified, and scrapers configured, within a wiki, similar to Katrina People Finder. Scrapers populate a database with notifications, with fuzzy georeferencing. GeoRSS feeds are available for subscribing to change in a particular area.

Such a useful thing I think, in the public interest, I could see finding support for this. Perhaps I will float the idea with mySociety. Or is there something like a federation of local authorities?