Citizen cartography is a time-honored practice; both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were surveyors. Crowdsourcing isn't new, either; every year
since 1900, aviary-obsessed individuals have collaborated with the Audubon Society for an annual Christmas Bird Count. In the spirit of these traditions,
OpenStreetMap was founded in 2004 as a response to the Ordnance Survey, England's national mapping agency, whose maps were then so inaccurate that small
towns and villages put up signs warning drivers not to follow its satellite navigation.
"SUVs were barreling through churchyards and going down little dirt roads through pastures," Barry says. Finally, a frustrated physics student named Steve
Coast developed OpenStreetMap as a way to give cartography back to the public. Now, data is the website's "raison d'être," says Richard Weait, a
Canada-based contributor. In countries like Germany, which are considered completely mapped, a common joke is that you can route yourself to the nearest
penguin because zoo enthusiasts have probably mapped them. "So because you're putting it into the hands of people, they can gather what's important to
them," another mapper says. "Not only can you say, 'How can I get to my nearest penguin?' but, 'How can I get to my nearest penguin in a wheelchair?'"
Because of its origin, the website is still riddled with U.K. verbiage, which can sometimes present confusion. As we work, an older man named MacKay Wolff
comes across a term he hasn't heard before. "That's for walking directions," Barry says.
"Or horse directions," Eric says.
"Oh my god, what if there's a horse cab?"
"I feel like civilization would be a very different place if we were all back to riding horses again," says an artist named Ingrid.
"A smellier place."
"There'd be a lot less mental health issues, too, because I feel like there's something natural about the sound of a horse clopping," Wolff says.
"But how would you time directions for that? Like, what if there's a really lazy horse? I guess that's true with biking directions."
"I heard that all the streets in Boston are just cow paths paved over."
"I feel like that's not unusual," Barry says. "MacKay, do you feel like the sound of coconuts accurately yields mental health benefits on par with horse
Soon, everyone goes quietly back to mapping.
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"Traditional cartographers today might say some form of, 'Kids these days, they don't know the rules,'" says Erik B. Steiner, a former president of the North
American Cartographic Information Society. "I hear that sometimes at conferences. People lament that there's this huge influx of people doing cartography
who aren't cartographers." By "cartographer," they mean someone who is skilled in trade techniques like projection (transforming a globe into a flat map)
or who knows how to interpret line weights. Instead, new cartographers are increasingly software engineers or developers using programming languages like
a map is good or bad shouldn't be based on the narrative of the individual making the map, he says, but rather on the map's ability to evoke, inspire and