Mapping the West Bank

Right now, our first group of mappers are out surveying Bethlehem!

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I’m here in the West Bank working with JumpStart International, a NGO that has accomplished amazing things in some of the toughest parts of the world. JumpStart organized programs putting people to work clearing and reconstructing public buildings in Iraq and Gaza. They’ve now started work to create a free and open map of the Palestinian West Bank, training recent engineering grads in the OpenStreetMap way. The founder of JumpStart is Sean O’Sullivan, also a founder of GIS company MapInfo, so the interest in and understanding of the importance of maps, especially in developing countries, is strong. We’re being assisted by Engineers Without Borders – Palestine, and the Engineers Assocation Palestine. Schuyler will be joining us in a few days, and we’re also getting help from Patrick of a great project, KiteGang.

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The goal is to complete a map of the entire territory in a few months time, and get these sharp folks connected up with the wider world. It’s completely audacious, crazy, impossible and wonderful .. just like how people viewed OpenStreetMap just last year. (We’re gaining acceptance in some quarters, not that flickr is any less crazy and wonderful.)

JumpStart wants the work they sponsor to be in the public domain. Since core OSM is licensed CC-by-SA, we are running our own copy of the OSM software stack (rails, mapnik, and nightly Garmin maps). For the duration of the project, we’ll make edits for the West Bank on this server. At the conclusion of JumpStart’s involvement here, we’ll release the database into the public domain, and import that into OpenStreetMap. Following from that time, ongoing improvement and maintenance will happen in OpenStreetMap proper.

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This effort here faces tremendous challenges. Just getting around the West Bank is difficult, and it’s a sensitive and volatile region. But that’s why it’s so important the we have a free and open community and geodata resource here. It’s also an opportunity for cutting edge work on OSM, especially in localization and disputes. We’re going to collect street addresses. I’m really excited to be a part of this effort, and really look forward to see things develop. And if you have any interest in helping, there is definitely work that can be done from abroad, just get in touch.

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