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Welcome to OpenStreetMap

As we mentioned earlier, maps are an important and useful method of conveying spatial and visual information quickly and clearly. You can use maps in a variety of ways to help make decisions, to convey safety information, to efficiently move around a community, or to describe where to go and how to get there. Traditionally, this useful information is collected and maintained by organizations whose main motivation and interest is in making money from the maps. But often, the use of these maps is restricted, and in cases where it's not profitable to create or maintain them, good maps may not even exist. OpenStreetMap was created to fill these voids: it is an open, freely-editable, wiki-style map of the world.

For many people, participating in OpenStreetMap is about having fun while creating data that others can use freely. Contributing to OpenStreetMap is a great way to explore a town you've never visited before, a reason for learning more about somewhere you're familiar with, and a means to becoming deeply knowledgable about places you care about, using data collection as an excuse for all these activities! Additionally, collecting map data on foot or bicycle is a great way to maintain physical fitness and an excellent reason to be active outdoors.

Here are some use-cases we want to share to spark ideas about how map data might become useful to you or members of your community. 

Cyclists looking for the best routes and sharing bikes

Your bike is tuned up and you're ready to go. Data from OpenStreetMap lets you plan the best journey: cycle-friendly, safe, quiet or quick, flat or hilly, calorie burning and eco-friendly! 

CycleStreets (www.cyclestreets.net) is a website and a smartphone app that was created using OpenStreetMap data for the United Kingdom. Maps are designed specifically for cyclists by cyclists, including details like bike parking and bike shops on a route, as well as cycleways that link roads that aren't obvious on other maps. You can choose the quietest route if you're biking for leisure or wanting a safe route for children. The fastest route is for confident cyclists, but still provides turn-by-turn directions. Or you can find something in the middle, a balance between a quiet, wandering route and the trickier passageways that might require more cycling skill like multiple lane-changes or tight corners. Then you can print a map, or use your smart phone to guide you.

BikeShare is a website that uses OpenStreetMap data to enable people to pick up bikes, use them for a time period, and drop them off for other service subscribers to use. The site works for many locations: for example, the Minneapolis site is at http://bikes.oobrien.com/?city=minneapolis and shows bike docks and whether there are bikes in a particular dock site.

By overlaying map information with bike locations, the site gives people access to bikes when and where they need them. Cool!

Communities seeking stability, safety, and infrastructure

Maps with free data can provide specific information that's relevant in the local context. Whether it's about improving access to water or creating understandable traffic routes in large informal settlements, free map data furthers humanitarian efforts and economic stability in underdeveloped areas.

Without the map information it is nearly impossible to understand the living conditions and housing structures where people are living in large slums. For example, in 2009, a project started to create the first publicly available map of Kibera. Kibera is one of Africa's largest slums, with an estimated 200,000 residents, yet conditions were essentially invisible to outsiders due to a lack of mapping. There was almost no information available about things like sanitation, water availability, traffic patterns, and housing structures. How could something so large be so unknown? By sharing map tools with the residents and enabling them to share their knowledge with others, OpenStreetMap gave a visual to insiders and outsiders alike.

Haiti's disastrous earthquake in the early weeks of 2010 left many Haitians setting up undocumented encampments after their community buildings, roads, and houses were completely destroyed. It also led to a collaboration of hundreds of "armchair mappers", who found a way to help using post-quake aerial imagery. Crisis responders who set up relief efforts used the OpenStreetMap data for their reports to various agencies to enable quick response.

Access to health and medical facilities, clean drinking water, and transportation information could all be located on a map, to help crisis responders provide assistance to those who needed it most. Lack of sanitation and water access make refugee camps and ad hoc settlements extremely vulnerable to disease problems, but freely-available map data helps the responders reverse the unhealthy living conditions these camps can suffer from.

Rural students learning high-tech techniques

"How well do you know your neighborhood?" the teacher in Red Bank, Tennessee asked seven high school students who had no previous experience in mapping or using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) experience. Through the discussion, they learned that they didn't know the spelling of O'Reilly (or was it O'Reilly's?), an auto parts store down the road, or the exact location of Shoney's (or was it Shoneys?), a restaurant on the other side of their small town. The group was instantly engaged and interested in the idea of creating detailed maps of their home town.

One student worked diligently to map all the soccer fields in his town. Another who appreciated art and green spaces focused on the parks and trees to highlight the beautiful areas in her hometown. One teacher noted that high school students also enjoyed marking buildings (including each other's houses) as pubs or brothels - which had to be immediately corrected, of course, before the teachers could get "in trouble" or have their teaching skills brought into question in this conservative area! The results were accurate, green, and quite detailed, even showing each curve of the high school track, and clearly labeling the marching band's rectangular field.

Word of mouth made the course a popular one, and the following year, thirty students signed up. One high school student even taught elementary students how to draw maps of their area, including the principal's parking spot! Fully half the students at this high school receive support such as free lunches, so the teachers and school must meet the basic needs in life, as well as providing the technology access that isn't available at home. OpenStreetMap provides an energy and a liveliness in bringing science and technology to life in schools, connecting students to the rest of the world.

All of these aspects work together to build a community that generates and supports the best map data available on the Internet. We hope that you find OpenStreetMap to be useful and interesting in your work. By following this guide, you should be able to quickly start making digital maps and adding to OSM.

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