Don Meltz: “I was a geodesigner before it became a thing”

Don Meltz
Don Meltz
I’m an AICP-certified planner working as a consultant to small towns and rural communities in upstate New York. I provide planning and GIS services for municipalities, not-for-profit organizations, and other planning consultants that require extra capacity or specialized geospatial analysis they cannot perform in house. I started my business, Don Meltz Planning and GIS, in 2002 ( and work out of my home office in Stockport, Columbia County, NY.

I’ve recently started working as an Adjunct Professor at Marist College teaching a fall semester Intro to GIS course and a spring semester Advanced GIS course.

I’m the Chairperson of my town’s Planning Board, a member of the American Planning Association NY Upstate Chapter, the New York Planning Federation, and the New York State GIS Association. For the NYS GIS Association I participate in the UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) Professional Affiliation Group and the Communications Committee.

Personal Twitter - @DonMeltz

Business Twitter - @Don_Meltz

Q: You have a Master’s in Regional Planning. How and why did you go into GIS?

A: It was a long and winding road, but I’ll try to concentrate on the main points.

I’ve always been a map person. I was the designated navigator on every trip we went on as a kid. I’d pore over the road map in the back seat, calling out turn-by-turn directions. I have a vivid memory as a pre-teen, the moment I realized those little grey numbers along the roads on the map represented miles. That’s when I became the back-seat GPS, reading the map, looking at the speedometer, and calculating how long it would be before reaching the next turn, or our destination.

The rest of the flow chart looks something like this:

  1. An interest in sciences in high school leads to a Bachelor’s degree in Biology.
  2. As an undergrad, taking a computer language class and a philosophy logic class in the same semester was an eye-opening experience.
  3. Reagan gets elected during my junior year in college, which leads to downsizing and defunding many science-related agencies.
  4. A biologist with a new degree and zero experience enters the family construction business.
  5. A land use controversy with a neighbor, plus the frustrating limitations of working in a family business, added to the realization my body would not last in the construction field forever, leads to a life changing decision — grad school.
  6. A Planning degree from U Albany with a personal interest in all things computer-related leads to working with GIS.

It took me a while to discover how planning lets me accommodate both my interest in protecting the environment, and my desire to build things. I like to tinker with things, figure out how they work, and how they fit into the rest of the world. Planning is the career that lets me satisfy nearly every curiosity I have about the world. And GIS is the tool that helps me do that.

Q: Your company, Don Meltz Planning and GIS, offers planning and GIS services. Which do you do more of — planning or GIS? Why do you think the breakdown is what it is?

A: I am a planner, and I’m a geospatial analyst. In my mind these job titles are one and the same. I truly make no distinction between my planning work and my GIS work. GIS is a tool I use as a planner to help me advise my clients on how to make knowledgeable land use decisions. There are times when I’m called in purely as a GIS consultant to help some town or village set up their own system. But the majority of my work is as an analyst, using GIS to identify and prioritize natural resources, or to model the impacts of a proposed land use.

I was a geodesigner before it became a thing.

Q: What are some cool GIS projects that you are currently working on? What GIS technology does your consulting company use?

A: Truth be told, most of my work is pretty mundane. I work on a lot of comprehensive plans and zoning laws for small towns, and agriculture protection plans for counties. I use primarily Esri ArcGIS with a smattering of QGIS. However, whenever I work for a town that wants to set up their own GIS, I always steer them in the open source direction — QGIS. I also keep an eye on what Boundless is doing. I’m really excited about how they’re integrating QGIS, GeoServer, and their new OpenLayers-based WebApp builder. I’ve been using all these tools for a few years now. And every iteration of the Boundless stack gets better and better.

My proximity to the Catskills, and their being the source for NY City drinking water has led to a few interesting projects. I worked on a very complex erosion model for a town in the NYC drinking water watershed using some of NOAA’s geospatial tools, including N-SPECT, which they’ve now turned into an open source tool.

There is a project coming up that involves a national non-profit and Marist College. I can’t go into too much detail, as the paperwork hasn’t been finalized. But, it includes analysis of a significant portion of the Hudson River ecosystem using historic data going back to the 1980s, and students acquiring new data based on what we discover through that analysis.

Another area I’m moving into is Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). I recently purchased a Phantom 4 Pro, and I’m now studying for my FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot’s Certificate so I can do some commercial work. I’d like to provide services for other planners and landscape architects doing site design work and 3D modelling. The technology surrounding these little aerial robots is amazing. They’re going to totally transform how we collect spatial data and how we incorporate it into GIS. This, and self-driving cars, will leave the world unrecognizable 50 years from now.

Q: You teach GIS at Marist College. What technology do you use in the GIS classroom? Why?

A: I came into the environmental science program at Marist on short notice. All of the previous professors had used and taught Esri products exclusively. I’m quickly moving them into a mixed environment. I added the FulcrumApp to a few assignments my first semester. Next semester I’m adding QGIS and some online mapping platforms. If I can convince the IT folks to let me set up a GeoServer instance, I’d like to be able to use that, too.

One thing I try to drill into my students’ heads is, if they want to become proficient at GIS, and stay ahead of the constant changes in the technology, they should use GIS every day. One of the problems I see with teaching pure Esri is, unless the student gets a job immediately after graduation, they won’t have access to the software. It’s usually too expensive for them to keep using on their own after they graduate. Another problem is it doesn’t work on a Mac, which probably applies to over 60% of the students in my class. If the software isn’t convenient to use, they aren’t going to use it every day. QGIS and open source tools in general overcome both of these hurdles.

Q: Suppose a student of yours tells you they are considering starting a GIS consulting business and asks for your advice. What would you tell them? Is there money in GIS consulting?

A: There is. But it’s not like the late 1990s, when if you knew what the letters GIS meant, you’d be hired on the spot. I teach my students to take a broader view of what GIS is. GIS is diffusing, spreading out into every industry you can think of. There will probably be opportunities for pure GIS consultants for quite a while. But most of the growth I see is in all the related fields. Environmental planners with GIS skills will always be in higher demand than those without. The same goes for engineers, surveyors, software programmers, system administrators, and even website designers. Anyone with some knowledge of how GIS fits into any of these fields will have an advantage.

Q: Open source is cool. “Open” is also the buzzword du jour. But can one make a decent living in open? A career? Or does it come down to a choice between coolness and moneymaking, romantic vs. practical?

A: When I started my business, one of the first questions a client would ask is “Do you have ArcView?” And nine times out of ten, answering yes was enough to get the job. But it’s probably been close to ten years since I’ve been asked what kind of software I use. The only thing my clients want to see is results. They don’t care if I made a map using ArcGIS or QGIS or a 20-year-old beta version of MapInfo (which I do have sitting on my bookshelf BTW, just in case). I still use ArcGIS mainly because that’s what I cut my teeth on. I’m familiar with it and I feel more productive using it. It also comes in handy when a client wants to share an MXD or a map package with me. I use QGIS when I run into something ArcGIS can’t handle, or when I want to try something new. Having open source tools at my disposal allows me to try new things on my own, at my own pace, without relying on a review by a third party to decide how a particular piece of software might fit into my workflow. Open source is a very practical solution for me.

Q: “The dogs bark, but the caravan goes on” — so goes an ancient proverb. Does this apply to the current GIS ecosystem? Are there too many mapping platforms?

A: I like to keep up on what’s going on in the GIS world. I follow a bunch of GeoNerds on Twitter and I read the blogs. But there comes a point where keeping up with the latest shiny gadget takes up more time than it’s worth. I have to make a living. And that means billable hours. I’d never say there are too many mapping platforms. But there are too many for me to check out on my own. This is where my Twitter feed comes in handy. I scan it continuously during the day. If something new pops up, I’ll check it out if I have time. But I concentrate on those tools that are mentioned the most. I’ve settled on ArcGIS Desktop, QGIS, GeoServer, FulcrumApp, and the Boundless stack as the tools I focus most of my attention on.

Q: What do you think about Arcade, the new programming language from Esri? Is launching a new proprietary programming language that only works within the Esri ecosystem arrogant, oblivious, or brilliant?

A: It’s an interesting development. From the few articles I’ve read, it appears to be an attempt to bridge the gap between Esri’s desktop software, which relies on Python for scripting, and ArcGIS Online, which relies on JavaScript for customizing. But so far, I believe it’s limited to customizing how layers are rendered in a map without making changes to the underlying data. That’s not enough for me to put much effort into learning more about it right now. If it morphs into something more wide-ranging, like what Avenue used to be, I’d be more interested. I spent a lot of time in my early GIS days searching through the Esri Avenue script sharing site. I learned a lot there, about what GIS can do, and how it works. There was a sense of community there. I miss those days.

Q: You collect antique and classic cars and trucks. How did you get into this? Do you also work on and maintain the engines? Do you mess with the carburettor, valves, timing belt?

A: My father has always been a car guy. His family raced stock cars in the 40s and 50s. He started collecting in the early 70s, bringing me to every car show and swap meet he went to. He currently has eight classic vehicles on the road, including a Concours-restored 1959 Impala, a 1927 Gardner that was once part of the Harrah collection, and a fully restored 1932 Ford Roadster.

I’ve helped my father restore a dozen or more vehicles. I’ve done everything from sandblasting Model T frames to applying finish to the wood-spoked wheels of a 1920s Federal truck. The biggest restoration job I worked on was a 1931 chain drive AC Mack Dump Truck that we brought back from the grave, so to speak.

I’ve completely disassembled and rebuilt a 289 engine and C4 transmission from a 1968 Mustang Fastback I owned during my college days. Right now I have a lightly modified 1960 Ford F100 pickup that’s on the road, and a 100% original 1966 Ford Bronco that needs a lot of work.

I like to build things and figure out how they work.

Q: You camp, hike, run. I admire your vast portfolio of extracurriculars. Where do you find the time for everything you do?

A: All things in moderation. And don’t try to multitask. This is also where running my own one-person business comes in handy. I have complete flexibility with my schedule. As long as I meet my clients’ deadlines, I’m good. It doesn’t matter when I do the work, as long as it gets done. It also means I spend way too many days working until 2 or 3 AM.

My extracurriculars also seem to happen in spurts. There was a time when I was bagging Catskill Mountain peaks every weekend. I spent a few years spending a lot of time (and money) on photography. I still enjoy these activities, but I don’t participate in them as much as I once did. It’s the same with my classic car and truck hobby. It all but stopped when I got married and had children. But now that the kids are grown, and my father needs more help moving things around, I’ve started getting back into it.

Q: Do you consider yourself a (geo)hipster? Why / why not?

A: I believe one of the defining features of geo-hipsterism is eschewing labels. The moment a geo-hipster becomes self-aware, or proclaims to be one, they cease being a geo-hipster.

No, I am not a geo-hipster.

Q: On closing, any words of wisdom for our global readership?

A: Wow. This is the most difficult question of them all. I mulled over a few answers in my head, but they all seemed a little too pompous to me. Do I really have any special insight into how the world works? Some tidbit of knowledge that I could impart on others that they don’t already know?

No. I don’t.

But I do try to live by a few simple rules which I’ve actually never written down until now. So I’ll leave you with them. I’m not saying everyone should follow them. But they work for me.

  • Think logically.
  • Learn continuously.
  • Analyze everything.
  • Work diligently.
  • Practice humility.
  • Act accordingly.
  • Enjoy life.
  • Have faith.


Making GeoHipster an independent business

When a door opens

Making GeoHipster an independent business

By Mike Dolbow, GeoHipster CEO

Mike Dolbow
Mike Dolbow

Someone somewhere, with a similar addiction to being busier than humanly possible, said that when a door opens, you should walk through it. In other words, when opportunity knocks, if you’re at all interested, you should pounce. I guess that’s what I was thinking about this time last year when Atanas Entchev reached out to the GeoHipster advisory board to see if anyone was interested in undertaking an effort to make GeoHipster a business independent from his previous ventures. I immediately said yes, and convened a hangout with several other board members to go over the options.

Fortunately for me, two other board members, Jonah Adkins and Amy Smith, also expressed interest in taking on new duties, and Atanas agreed to stay on once he knew he wouldn’t have to run the entire operation himself. It took a while for us to figure out the optimal formal business structure: a sole proprietorship LLC registered in Minnesota, which allows me to take over most operational and financial duties while the others focus on communications, editorial duties, and creative efforts. And yes, I fully realize and enjoy the irony that drips from the phrase, “CEO of GeoHipster, LLC”…and the fact that our fiscal year will start on Groundhog Day.

On the outside, however, very little will change about GeoHipster as a website and a collaborative effort. Our mission remains the same, we still rely on volunteer authors to help us generate content, and our editorial policy is unchanged. By undertaking this transition behind the scenes, we hope the result is a more sustainable GeoHipster, so we can continue interviewing interesting geohipsters from around the world, and our readers can learn from their experiences.

A few of my family members and colleagues have asked me why I decided to do this. Perhaps I was inspired by my good friend and fellow dad Justin Bell, who holds down a day job, plays in two bands, owns a side business, and teaches classes at night. I figure if he can make time for all those things plus family time, I can make time for something that I enjoy. And ever since that first interview I conducted with David Bitner, I’ve very much enjoyed my involvement with GeoHipster. It’s a major change of pace from my day job, a place where I can promote my tutorial on REST endpoints, and probably the only way I’ll ever be able to use a basin wrench as a metaphor.

Or maybe it’s all just a ploy to score another GeoHipster t-shirt. Might as well look stylish when walking through that door that just opened.

Andrew Dearing: “It is such an amazing time to be in the geospatial profession”

Andy Dearing
Andy Dearing
Andy Dearing is the CEO of Boundless and previously held the role of the Vice President of Professional Services. A commercial pilot and self-taught geographer, Andy has been working with GIS for nearly 15 years. He can often be found working from one of Boundless' many locales, or at a number of industry events and philanthropic endeavors throughout the year. Andy resides in Missouri with his wife and four kids, where he enjoys hiking, fishing, and woodworking - when he is not out camping with his son’s Boy Scout troop.

Q: For those in our audience who do not know, please describe Boundless.

A: Boundless provides a commercially-supported open geographic information system (GIS) ecosystem, which includes a unique combination of technology, products, and experts. We provide expertise and support around many world-class open source geospatial projects – PostGIS, GeoServer, OpenLayers, QGIS, GeoNode, and more.

More than 90 fantastic team members call Boundless home. Although we are a pretty virtual company, we have offices in St. Louis, New York, Washington DC, New Orleans, and Victoria, BC. We work with many organizations worldwide who understand the value of GIS, the power of open source, and the world-class support Boundless is known for.

Q: Did you find your career in spatial or did the spatial career find you?

A: You can definitely say spatial found me! My college degree was in Aviation Science and Aviation Management, where I was a certified flight instructor and commercial pilot. However, this was not too long after 9/11, when the aviation industry had hit rock-bottom. So with few pilot jobs available, I by chance went to a job fair where a mapping startup was looking for pilots to make aeronautical charts in GIS. From then on, I have been in GIS… it’s been a fun ride!

Q: Each city’s geo community has its own flavor; how would you describe the spatial community in St. Louis?

A: I would consider St. Louis a very strong center for GIS. There are a couple anchor tenants in St. Louis who drive the vocation – namely the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Monsanto – as well as many more local organizations who have adopted and are using GIS extensively in their business operations.

There are several organizations around the area that are evangelizing GIS. The Maptime STL chapter has been a strong group, promoting open data and GIS technologies for collaborative learning, exploration, and map creation. The St. Louis GIS User Group is also a fairly active group in the area.

There are several educational institutions in and around St. Louis that have fantastic geography and GIS programs. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has a phenomenal Geography department with focused programs in GIS, cartography, sustainability, and more. Washington University and Saint Louis University also have growing geography programs and GIS labs as well.

Q: What have you found to be the largest hurdles to organizations adopting an open source solution? What strategies have you developed to alleviate these concerns?

A: Many organizations still have not heard about open source, nor are they aware of what open source geospatial tools are out there. So many times, we have to help organizations understand how open source works, how the community around open source governs the code (contributors, steering committees, etc.), how new features are contributed to the product, and for Boundless, how the projects can be supported. Once organizations understand what open source is, they quickly realize all the benefits of adopting open source for their operations.

The second challenge we see organizations (including many of our customers) experience is understanding where to start. Open source geospatial projects are extremely powerful, robust technologies. But for customers transitioning off proprietary technologies or new to GIS, it can sometimes be overwhelming to figure out where to start. Boundless helps make open source geospatial technologies easier to adopt and integrate through training courses, certification programs, and professional services… all backed by our helpdesk and online support.

The biggest hurdle we see is that many business do not want to completely scrap all the work they put in with proprietary solutions. Having been in the GIS community since the early 2000s, we know that, historically, there have only been two options – proprietary or open source – and not much in between. Boundless makes it easy to have a hybrid solution that utilizes both open source and proprietary tools. The product is affordable and user-friendly, yet very powerful and professional, enabling organizations to have the best of both worlds.

Q: I volunteer at CSU, and the students I interact with simply haven’t heard of open source solutions. Is Boundless currently doing outreach to students or planning on doing so in the future?

A: Yes! Boundless has developed an Academic Engagement initiative, where we support colleges and universities with software, documentation, and training to jump-start their programs – for free! Also, with the recent launch of Boundless Connect, we offer a full suite of software, videos, training, tutorials, documentation, and more to make the most out of your open source experience – this is all free for students and educators as well.

From an outreach perspective, Boundless staff supported many GIS Day and Geography Awareness Week events – a detailed recap can be found in this blog post.

For me, one of the most inspiring events was being able to sponsor 51 teachers to participate in the Geography 2050 Symposium on November 17-18. These high school AP Human Geography teachers and American Geographical Society AP Teacher Fellows participated in a Mapathon to learn about OSM and open data, as well as listened to powerful presentations on sustainability from industry leaders. These educators are transforming the next generation of geographers, and we could not be more honored to support them.

Q: With the “stew” of GIS, data science and big data all fusing together, there have been a number of open source projects, like GeoMesa, popping up. How is Boundless adapting?

A: This is a great example of how quickly open source projects have been established to handle and support emerging IT trends. We are seeing many great projects, like GeoMesa, become the technology of choice to handle specific big-data analysis and visualization. This is not easy, but smart engineers (like the folks at CCRi) have been able to assemble code that massively scales to crunch through all the information you throw at it. We see numerous open source projects popping up that are solving some of these complex problems: GeoWave for big data analytics, GeoTrellis for imagery and rasters, and many more.

The cool part about all these projects is their interoperability with GIS projects like GeoServer. There is a great case study from CCRi on how GeoMesa integrates with GeoServer here. And likewise, we package the GeoMesa plugin for GeoServer with Boundless Suite, so our users can seamlessly set up and start seeing value from their big/large data sources.

So what is Boundless’ position? We do GIS, and we do it pretty well. If there are other open source projects out there that feature complex data science, imagery processing, or data analytics, we want to build connections to those projects. Let the GIS technologies do GIS, and likewise, let the big data / analytics technologies do big data / analytics. The beauty of open source is we can make these things work together, without trying to crack proprietary code, and give the users the most powerful technology platform to solve their business needs.

Q: Is there anything exciting coming out of the Boundless Skunkworks you can share?

A: C’mon, there’s always something exciting coming out of Boundless! We have been working hard on several cool projects recently and I am super excited to give you a sneak peek.

First, we are set to unveil a massively scalable version of GeoServer for large-scale enterprises in early 2017. This will blow any existing server-tier GIS platform out of the water. Code-named GeoServer EC, we are able to instantly scale up/out hundreds, if not thousands, of GeoServer microservices to process however much geospatial data you throw at it. So as the amount of location-based information exponentially increases over the next five years, GeoServer EC can scale up/out to meet those demands:

Second, we are going to be launching our Connect API, which will sit behind Boundless Connect, to stream content and services directly to your Desktop and Web applications. And to let you in on a little unannounced secret – we have established data partnerships with two premier geospatial content firms just recently… so you will soon be able to directly access beautiful base maps, driving directions, imagery, and more, directly inside the Boundless suite of products with your existing Boundless subscription. And we will be continually adding more data services throughout 2017:

Q: According to your LinkedIn profile, one of your hobbies is woodworking. Do you have any piece you’re particularly proud of?

A: Ha! Let’s just say I am a very amateur woodworker and am humbled by all the amazing work out there from those who are true artists. Me, I tend to hack at it when I get a few free moments – which seem to be fewer and farther between these days!

For me, woodworking is an opportunity to actually produce something (outside of emails) with my hands. Even if the output is not perfect, it is something you can call your own. Whether you are molding clay or carving wood or knitting or crocheting, it is so rewarding to be able to spend time making something you are proud of with your own two hands.

Personally, there are two (different) pieces that I am proud of. My favorite piece of furniture that I made was a hutch that took me, well, it took me forever to make. But I learned so much along the way.

The second was more of a “construction” project, creating built-ins in the laundry room to attempt to tackle all of my four kids’ coats, shoes, book bags, and whatever other junk they can manage to fill them with. This was one of the more fun projects, and it made my wife rather happy. 🙂

Q: Lastly, do you consider yourself a geohipster?

A: Ah, this question… I figured I would get away without you asking it. I consider myself in the “GeoHipster Fan Club.” I have a GeoHipster shirt, attend geo meetups, and get excited when I see dots on a map. Now I just need a GeoHipster sticker…

But in all seriousness, there are so many awesome geohipsters out there who continue to push the science of geography, GIS, remote sensing, and spatial analysis further and deeper. It is such an amazing time to be in the geospatial profession, and I could not be happier to be a part of a company and a community who continue to push it forward in new and more open ways.

Andrea Sward: “Don’t let ‘playing it safe’ stop you from doing something you really want to do”

Andrea Sward
Andrea Sward
I am a geospatial analyst with nearly three years of professional GIS experience. Originally from Canada, the search for adventure brought me to Wellington, New Zealand a little over a year ago. Things have worked out well, as I managed to quickly find meaningful GIS employment that aligns with my passion for nature, conservation, and the environment. I have been very fortunate to be able to explore many of New Zealand’s beautiful places in my spare time. My partner and I are currently planning to move to Melbourne, Australia in the new year, but we hope to come back and travel to some of the areas we missed!

More about my professional background can be found on my LinkedIn account.

Q: You are geohipster on Instagram. This is awesome. What prompted you to pick that handle?

A: It can be quite difficult to pick an instagram handle! The name geohipster emerged because while I consider myself a geography geek (geogeek), I’d like to think I also have a few cool/quirky hobbies and interests that make me less of the stereotypical “geek” and more of a “hipster”. GIS does seem to work its way into my hobbies though. For example, I’ve started getting into brewing beer and making metal jewelry and inspiration is often drawn from geography, nature, and GIS.

Q: How did you get into GIS?

A: I was a geography major at the University of Toronto and discovered GIS towards the end of my degree. Starting off in GIS can be quite intense, there is a lot to know! My first introductory course was challenging but opened my eyes to a whole new discipline. After graduating, I took a postgraduate program in GIS at Algonquin College in Ottawa. This was a great program and allowed me to really immerse myself into all things geospatial. It provided a good foundation to start into my career. A lot of the time I am learning things on the job. GIS is a changing and growing industry, there is always more to know!

Q: You are a Canadian who lives in New Zealand, about to move to Melbourne, Australia. What inspired you to move down under?

A: I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind to travel to New Zealand and Australia for several years but struggled to find the right timing. After finishing school, paying off my student loans, and gaining some work experience, I had a bit of a crossroads moment of deciding whether to settle where I am, or try something new. So I wrapped up my last contract at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I packed a bag, sold my furniture, and bought a one way ticket to New Zealand. I thought, worst case scenario, I don’t find any work and just have a really nice holiday. After a week of being in Wellington, I had a contract to work at the Department of Conservation. I have now been working there almost 15 months.

It was just one of those moments that anyone could have. I decided I wanted to do something, and I gave it a go.

Soon after moving to New Zealand, I met my partner. He has a job opportunity in Melbourne starting in the new year and we’ve decided to make the move. I will miss Wellington and my colleagues and friends, but I must admit, the same sense of adventure that brought me to New Zealand is starting to bubble up again as I get ready for the next move. I have been told wonderful things about Melbourne and the GIS community there. I’m really looking forward to getting involved and meeting new geogeeks and geohipsters!

Q: Was it easy to find a GIS job in New Zealand? What is the GIS scene like there?

A: There is a really strong community of geospatial professionals in Wellington and around New Zealand. For me, it was easy to find a job but perhaps I got a bit lucky being at the right place at the right time. I’ve enjoyed being part of two networks in Wellington — the Emerging Geospatial Professionals group, and the Women in Spatial group. These groups meet up every so often for a guest presentation along with drinks, nibbles, and general chatting. This is a great way to meet people outside of your organization and there is often discussions around current job vacancies. People are often very passionate about their work and I find that inspiring.

I’ve found the geospatial industry in New Zealand to be quite progressive. There is a lot more openness to collaboration between organizations and a strong desire to get things done. An example of a strong collaboration can be seen in New Zealand’s earthquake preparations. We are sitting on a lot of active faultlines that cause a lot of earthquakes. Often these are just little wobbles, but there have been a few major shakes recently. There was a lot learned from the devastating Christchurch earthquake in 2011, and again more recently in Kaikoura in November. There is a need for a strong geospatial plan for national emergencies such as these. Up-to-date national datasets must be readily available offline, as well as a GIS action plan for possible future earthquakes.

Q: Tell us about your current job — what you do, what technologies you use, what cool projects you work on.

A: I am a geospatial analyst at the Department of Conservation (DOC). The department has a GIS team of around 30 people spread across the country that provide geospatial support to the rest of the organization and its partners. There is a variety of work we do, which can keep things interesting! A lot of my work is generally for published projects, such as information panels, brochures, wall maps, and public reports such as the Conservation Management Strategies. I have a love for cartography and take great pride putting together a polished map.

New Zealand has a big problem with invasive species like possums, stoats, and rats preying on the native bird population. There are also a lot of species of weeds sprawling over the landscape. Much of DOC’s work is focused on pest eradication and we provide geospatial support for this. With the recent announcement by the government to have New Zealand predator-free by 2050, we have a new spring in our steps to keep track of eradication activities around the country.

In terms of technology and software, we primarily use Esri software for our work, Skype for team chatting (it’s very helpful to have team support at your fingertips), and Garmin GPS units out in the field.

Q: What’s a hip thing to do in New Zealand? Cycling? Skiing? Deconstructed coffee?

A: There is so much to do and see in New Zealand! Skiing and cycling are certainly popular, as well as going on a tramp (hike). I’m personally a big fan of some of the geothermal areas in New Zealand, that means soaking in hot springs! There are also quite a few white water rafting spots around the country that can be a lot of fun.

Wearing shorts in any weather is also the hip thing to do, as well as walking around barefoot! People here are just doing their own thing, and I really respect that. I think the culture in New Zealand is pretty relaxed and has also helped me to relax a little too. And I must say, the coffee here is out of this world, I’m not sure I can go back to drinking the North American stuff…

Q: Are you insulted by maps that omit New Zealand? Why / why not?

A: Ha ha, oh dear, poor New Zealand! I wouldn’t say it’s insulting but I would perhaps question the quality of the map. Sometimes New Zealand appears twice on a map, so maybe it all evens out.

Q: On closing, any words of wisdom for our global readership?

A: I can only compare my experience in New Zealand to the one I had in Canada, but I must say how impressed I am with the geospatial industry here. I think there is a lot of good stuff going on and other organizations in other countries could perhaps look to New Zealand as a model.

In terms of any personal “wisdom”, I would just encourage people to branch out a little and not be afraid to try new things! Don’t let ‘playing it safe’ stop you from taking a risk and doing something you really want to do.

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Rosemary Wardley

In our series “Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar” we will present throughout 2016 the mapmakers who submitted their creations for inclusion in the 2016 GeoHipster calendar.


Rosemary Wardley

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I am a GIS Cartographer at National Geographic where I get to combine my love of geospatial data and creating beautiful visualizations. I am usually found working on our cartographic databases or improving our editorial workflow. I am also a founding member of the MaptimeDC chapter and really enjoy spreading the gospel of geography and cartography to the masses!

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: This map was originally produced as part of the 2014 NACIS MapQuilt of Pittsburgh, PA, where each cartographer is given a quadrant of the city to map in a style of their choice. The design was inspired by one of my favorite artists, Roy Lichtenstein, and his pop-art style. I also took inspiration from Pittsburgh native and fellow pop-artist, Andy Warhol, whose museum is conveniently located on this portion of the map. There have been quite a few pop-art inspired maps produced over the past year, so I am happy that my piece is a part of that canon!

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: All of the data was gathered from the City of Pittsburgh GIS warehouse and the map was created using Adobe Illustrator with the MAPublisher plugin. I also used Adobe PhotoShop to produce the relief.

'Pittsburgh Quilt' by Rosemary Wardley
‘Pittsburgh Quilt’ by Rosemary Wardley

2017 GeoHipster Calendar is Now Available

The 2017 GeoHipster calendar is available to order (NOTE: “Starting Month” defaults to the current month at the time of order. Remember to change to January 2017). Thanks to all who submitted maps for the calendar. If your map made it into the calendar, we will send you a complimentary copy (please email your shipping address to


Many thanks to Jonah Adkins and Ralph Straumann for the thought and effort they put into this year’s design. Also, special thanks to Mapbox for their continued support in helping to make the calendar possible.

Have a great holiday season!

Selections for the 2017 GeoHipster Calendar

Happy GIS Day! We couldn’t think of a better way for GeoHipster to celebrate GIS Day than to announce the selections for the 2017 GeoHipster calendar. Every year has yielded fantastic work and this year was no exception.

This was the first year we had a student track and we got two submissions. To help us work through the remaining submissions, we enlisted the help of three guest reviewers. This was a way to ensure that the process included fresh perspectives in addition to those of the members of the advisory board. So, we’d like to take time to thank Gretchen Peterson, Terence Stigers, and Brian Timoney for lending their professional and creative expertise to the review process.

Thanks also Jonah Adkins and Ralph Straumann, who acted as this year’s design team. I think you’ll be impressed when the calendar comes available. Speaking of that, we expect the calendar to be ready for purchase before Thanksgiving. Keep an eye out for an announcement!

So, without further delay, here are the cartographers whose work was selected for the 2017 GeoHipster calendar:

Michele Tobias – NASA Moon Trees
Mark Brown – Photorealistic Terrain Model from UAV Photogrammetry
Philip Steenkamp (student) – Netherlands Deltawerken
Damian Spangrud – Redefining Tornado Alley
Johann & Juernjakob Dugge – Raised Relief of Mount St. Helens
Ralph Straumann – Boston Summer Farmers’ Markets Walkability
Langdon Sanders – Sandy Springs, Georgia Sidewalk Network
Nathaniel Jeffrey – Melbourne, Australia Suburban Frontier
Alison DeGraff – Historic Hurricane Tracks
Alex Hersfeldt (student) – The Unified Republic of Tangland
Jan-Willem van Aalst – Amsterdam Canals from Open Data
Andrew Nelson – Visualization of Multi-Beam Bathymetric Survey Data

As you can see, the topics were wide-ranging; demonstrating the versatility of maps and imagination of cartographers. As for the maps themselves…you have to wait for your calendar to arrive in the mail!

Congratulations to all whose work was selected. Thanks to everyone who submitted. All will be featured on the GeoHipster web site.

Have a great GIS Day!

Will Cadell: “Cities are people, and people are maps”

Will Cadell
Will Cadell
Will Cadell is the founder and CEO of, a Prince George-based business which builds geospatial technology for some of the biggest companies on Earth. Since starting Sparkgeo, he has been helping startups, large enterprises, and non-profits across North America make the most of location and geospatial technology.

Leading a team of highly specialized, deeply skilled geospatial web engineers, Will has built products, won patents, and generally broken the rules. Holding a degree in Electronic and Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Environmental Remote Sensing, Will has worked in academia, government, and in the private sector on two different continents, making things better with technology. He is on the board of Innovation Central Society, a non-profit society committed to growing and supporting technology entrepreneurs in North Central BC.

I’m not really old enough to reflect on cartography and its “nature”, however I want to comment on a trend I see in the modern state of our art and suggest a pattern back to an old truism.

At Sparkgeo we have a unique position in the market. Let me clarify that position, we create web mapping products. Meaning cartographic or simply geographic products which are built for people to consume primarily via web browsers. Additionally, we are vendor agnostic and continue to push the idea of geographic excellence & client pragmatism rather than particular brands. We work with organizations as diverse as financial institutions, startups, big tech, satellite companies and non-profits. In essence we build a lot of geographic technology, for a lot of very different organizations. We have also created paper maps, but in the last half decade I haven’t created a paper product. Not because we haven’t pursued projects of this nature, but because no one has asked us to. To be clear, we have created signage, for trail networks and such, but our activity with personal mapping products has moved to the web almost completely.

Telling. But not entirely surprising given that maps are largely tools and tools evolve with available technology.

Our position in the market, therefore is as a company creating cartographic products using the medium which is most pertinent to the users of that product. In the vast majority, those users are on a computer or most likely a mobile device.

Maps are of course defined by their relationship between things and people. An art form which links people to events and things on our (or indeed any other) planet. People and places, my friends. This will be obvious to most of my readers here, but what may be less obvious is the linkage therefore that our industry must have to cities. More-so, that cities and indeed urbanization have and will continue to craft the art of cartography for our still young millennium.

I say this whilst flying from one highly urbanized place to another, but also whilst calling relative rurality home. I am a great fan of open space, but even I can see that large groups of people are sculpting the future of our industry. It could be argued that cartography was originally driven by the ideas of discovery & conquest. Conquest or our more modern equivalence, “defense” is still very much an industrial presence. Subsequently, it could be argued that ‘GIS’ was driven by the resource sector, indeed much effort is still being undertaken in this space. I would have, until the last half decade, still argued that geospatial was in the majority the domain of those in the defense trade and the resource sector. Not so now. We have become an urban animal and with that urbanization it is clear that the inhabitants and administrators of our cities will drive geospatial. Cities and their evolution into smart cities will determine how we understand digital geography.

Let’s take a look at some of the industrial ecology which has enabled this trend. My hope is to engender some argument and discussion. Feel free to dissent and challenge, we are all better for it. I want to talk briefly about 5 key features of our environment which have individually, but more-so together, altered the tide of our industry.

1. people

It is clear that the general trend has and is continuing to be for people to move toward cities ( Now, though I dispute that this is necessary (, I cannot ignore the evidence that clearly describes the mass migration of people of most nationalities towards the more urbanized areas of their worlds. Our pastoral days have been coming to an end for some time. We will of course always need food, but the vast majority of Earth’s population will be in or around cities. The likelihood of employment, economy, and *success* are central to this trend it seems.

Where there are people there is entrepreneurism, administration and now, devices. Entrepreneurism and devices mean data; administration and devices mean data.

2. devices

Our world is becoming urbanized and our urbanized world is connected. Our devices, our sensors, are helping to augment our realities with extra information. The weather of the place we are about to arrive at, the result of a presidential debate, the nearest vendor of my favorite coffee and opinions disputing the quality of my favorite coffee. Ah, the Internet. My reality is now much wider than it would have been without my device. Some might argue shallower too, but that is a different discussion. The central point here is that my device detects things about my personal universe and stores those data points in a variety of places. I now travel with three devices: a laptop, tablet and phone. This would have been ludicrous to me a decade ago, but much of what I do now would have been ludicrous a decade ago. We truly live in the future. Much of that future has been enabled by devices and our subsequently connected egos.

Devices capture data. Really, all a device is is a node attached to a variety of greater networks. Whether those networks are temperature gradients, a telephonic grid, home wifi, elevation or a rapid transit line, the device is simply trying to record its place in our multidimensional network and relay that in some meaningful way back to you and likely a software vendor. Devices capture and receive data on those networks. That data could be your voice or a location, and that data could be going A N Y W H E R E.

But, the fact that the data is multidimensional and likely has a location component is critical for the geospatially inclined amongst us. The crowd-sourced effect, coupled with the urbanization effect equal enormous amounts of location data. That is the basic social contract of consumer geospatial.

3. connectivity

Of course, the abilities of our devices are magnified by connectivity, wifi, or whatever. Although Sparkgeo is still creating online – offline solutions for data capture, these are becoming more an exception than the rule. Connectivity is a modern utility, it is a competitive advantage that urban centers have over rurality. With increased connectivity we have great access to data transfer, connectivity is thus enabling geographic data capture. Its presence encourages the use of devices which captures data which is often geographic. Urban areas have greater access to connectivity due to the better economies of scale for the cellular and cable companies (who are quickly becoming digital media distribution companies). It is simple really; more people in less area equals more money for less infrastructural investment. For the purposes of this article in reality we just need to concede that those multitude of devices talked about above are more connected for less money in cities than anywhere else.

4. compute

Compute is the ability to turn the data we collect into ‘more’, whatever that might mean; perhaps some data science, or ‘analysis’ like we used to call it, perhaps some machine learning. In essence compute is joining data to a process to achieve something greater. Amazon Web Services, and subsequently Microsoft’s Azure and Google’s Cloud platforms have provided us with amazing access to relatively inexpensive infrastructure which supports the ability to undertake meaningful compute on the web. Not enough can be said about the opportunity that increased compute on the web provides, but consider that GIS has typically be data limited and RAM limited. With access to robust cloud networks, those two limitations have been entirely removed.

5. data

People and devices mean data. Without doubt, lots of people and lots of devices mean lots of data, but there is also likely a multiplier effect here too as we become accustomed to creating data via communication and consumption of digital services. As an example, more ride-sharing happens in urbanized locations, so more data is created in that regard. Connectivity to various networks enabled those rides. Compute will be applied to those recorded data points to determine everything from the cost of the journey to the impact on a municipal transit network and congestion. At every step in that chain of events more data was created, obviously adding more data volume, but also greater opportunity for understanding, of what is yet to be seen. Beyond consumer applications however, city administration and their data also play deeply into this equation.

With these supportive trends we have seen two ends of our industry grow enormously. It is a wonderful, organic symbiosis really.

On one hand we have the idea of consumer geospatial (Google Maps, Mapbox), which has put robust mapping platforms in the hands of everyone with an appropriate device. Consumer geospatial has enabled activities like location based social networks (Nextdoor), location based advertising (Pokemon Go), ride sharing (Uber, Lyft), wearables (Fitbit, Apple watch), quantified self (Strava, Life360), connected vehicles (Tesla, Uber), digital realty (Zillow), and many others.

On another hand we have seen the rise in the availability of data, and in particular open data. Open data is the publishing of data sets describing features of potentially public interest such as financial reports, road networks, public health records, zip-code areas, census statistics, detected earthquakes, etc.

The great promises of open data are increased transparency and an enabling effect. The enabling of entrepreneurism based on the availability of data to which value can subsequently be added. Typically, bigger cities have more open data available. This is not always true, and the developing world is still approaching this problem, but in general terms a bigger population pays more tax which supports a bigger municipal infrastructure which therefore has the ability to do ‘more’. In recent discussions I am still asked if those promises are being kept, is the investment worth it? The idea of transparency is ‘above my pay grade’, but I can genuinely attest to the entrepreneurial benefit of open data. Though, that benefit might not be realized in the geographic community where the data is published. As a community of data consumers however, we do benefit through better navigational aids, more robust consumer geospatial platforms and ‘better technology’. As a company we at Sparkgeo have recently built a practice around the identification, assessment, cleansing and generalization of open data, because demand for this work never ceases. It’s clear that our open data revolution is in a somewhat chaotic (*ref) phase, but is very much here to stay.

Our geospatial technology industry has taken note too. Greater emphasis from Esri on opening municipal datasets through their program is an interesting way for cities who might easily already be using Esri products to get more data “out”. Additionally, Mapbox Cities ( is a program which is also looking at how to magnify the urban data effect. Clearly there is industrial interest in supporting cities in the management of ever growing data resources. Consider that Uber, an overtly urban company is building its very own map fabric.

If we combine the ideas of consumer geospatial and those of open data, what do we reveal? Amongst other things we can see that more & better data result in many benefits for the consumer, typically in the form of services and products. But we can also see that too much focus on the consumer & crowd based data can be problematic. Indeed, the very nature of the ‘crowd’ is to be less precise and more general. The ‘mob’ is not very nuanced, yet. For crowd based nuance, we can look to advances in machine learning and AI. In the meantime, it’s great to ask the crowd if something exists, but it’s terrible to ask the crowd where that thing is, precisely.

> “is there a new subdivision?” – “yes!”

> “When, exactly should my automated vehicle start to initiate its turn to enter that new subdivision?” – “Now, no wait, now… stop, go back”

Generalization and subsequent trend determination is the domain of the crowd; precision through complex environments is something much more tangible, especially if you miss the turn. As we move towards our automated vehicle future, once that vehicle knows a new subdivision exists, then conceivably it can use on-board LiDAR to provide highly detailed data back to whomever it may concern. This is really where smart cities need to enter our purview. Smart Cities will help join the consumer web to the municipal web, and indeed numerous other webs too. Not to be too facetious, but my notion of consumer geospatial could also be a loose description of an Internet of Things (IoT) application. Smart cities are in essence an expansive IoT problem set.

It’s clear that cities with their growing populations have in-part driven our understanding of people and digital geography through greater data volume. But as we push harder into what a future smart city will look like, we will also start to see even greater multiplier effects.

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Katie Kowalsky

In our series “Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar” we will present throughout 2016 the mapmakers who submitted their creations for inclusion in the 2016 GeoHipster calendar.


Katie Kowalsky

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: katie_hi I’m Katie, a cartographer, hot sauce enthusiast, and recent San Francisco transplant. I work at Mapzen where I focus on building tutorials, writing documentation, and supporting our users through improving the usability of our products. This means in a given week I can be running user research testing, answering support questions or talking at a lot of events.

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: I come from a family of artists and since I was little, art museums always feel like home to me. Some of my favorite pieces at the Milwaukee Art Museum (my hometown!) are by Roy Lichtenstein, including Crying Girl and Water Lily Pond Reflections. These two pieces have always been examples of his great use of primary colors and Ben-day dots. This color and texture palette has always stayed in the back of my mind. When I started learning about Tilemill and basemap design, I was inspired by how creative and unique the designers from Stamen and Mapbox were. While working at the Cartography Lab at UW-Madison, I had a chance to rebuild curriculum teaching basemap design and was inspired by my love of pop art to bring that into a basemap design to use as an example for the lab tutorial.

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: This was built entirely in Mapbox Studio (now known as Classic), using Mapbox-Streets and their vector terrain source for the data. I built this interactive basemap (view it here) from zoom 1 to 22 using the glorious CartoCSS interface!

'Roy Lichtenstein-inspired map of DC' by Katie Kowalsky
‘Roy Lichtenstein-inspired map of DC’ by Katie Kowalsky
'Crying Girl' by Roy Lichtenstein
‘Crying Girl’ by Roy Lichtenstein
'Water Lily Pond Reflections' by Roy Lichtenstein
‘Water Lily Pond Reflections’ by Roy Lichtenstein

Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar: Gretchen Peterson

In our series “Maps and mappers of the 2016 calendar” we will present throughout 2016 the mapmakers who submitted their creations for inclusion in the 2016 GeoHipster calendar.


Gretchen Peterson

Gretchen Peterson’s most recent books are City Maps: A Coloring Book for Adults and QGIS Map Design. Peterson resides in Colorado and actively tweets via @petersongis on cartography.

A Cornell graduate in the natural resources field, Peterson can still be found spending part of the workweek absorbed in data analysis and mapping for the greater environmental good while reserving the rest of the workweek for broader mapping endeavors, which includes keeping up on the multitude of innovative map styles coming from all corners of the profession.

Peterson speaks frequently on the topic of modern cartographic design, and it was in one of these talks that the Ye Olde Pubs of London’s Square Mile map was not only shown off but also created on-the-spot as a live demo of the cartographic capabilities of the QGIS software. The FOSS4GNA 2015 conference talk went through the process of loading and styling data and then creating a print composer map layout.

Some highlights of the demo included the custom pub data repository created just for this map, the demonstration of the relatively new shapeburst capabilities of QGIS, and the technique for modifying image file (SVG) code in order to allow icon colors to be changed within the QGIS interface.

The map was also the focus of a QGIS cartography workshop held in Boulder, Colorado. The students at that workshop followed the instructions posted on github to create the map. It’s a great two-hour project for introducing the software and a few of the principles of cartographic design, and readers are encouraged to give it a try and supply any feedback you may have.

'Historic Pubs of London' by Gretchen Peterson
‘Historic Pubs of London’ by Gretchen Peterson