Monday, October 25, 2010

Recreating the Earth One Building at a Time

One of the things that makes creating maps so much fun is the ability to make something out of nothing, something that resonates with oneself or others. Making something from scratch that others find a use for can be very rewarding.

Google has helped the everyday computer user become a seasoned GIS specialist. What was once done with zipatone, pens and colored pencils can be done in Google maps or Google Earth in a few minutes. Add to that audio recordings, tours, flyovers and you are creating something meaningful. Mix in knowledge of html and suddenly you’re creating things that could be accessed and enjoyed by thousands.

While I don’t create things enjoyed by thousands, I do create things that I can enjoy and share with my friends. I have dabbled in Sketchup and am hoping to hone my skills there, but I recently came across a new Google (of course) feature which, in a way, marries Google Earth and Sketchup, a tool called Building Maker.

You’ve probably noticed a LOT of buildings when you turn on the buildings layer in Google Earth. Most of those buildings were created in Sketchup and the texturing was added on either by user photos or street view photos and then uploaded and approved by Google. Major metropolitan cities have enough Google-geniuses to hammer out a large number of buildings, particularly in the center city. With building maker, Google has brought building creation in Google earth to a new level of mainstreaminessism.

A quick plugin allows a user to pick a building and match up the corners or features of that building with virtual “building blocks” such as cubes and triangles using multiple oblique images as a guide. That sounds rather complex but it’s actually quite simple.

Here is a screen shot of a building I made..

Photo 1 - 2010-10-25

Simple AND cool!

If you’re interested in creating things, give building maker a try, it’s fun and easy to recreate buildings. Here is a good how to video.

Give Building Maker a try and let me know what you think!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dumb Growth in the Age of New Urbanism

I was very fortunate to be able to participate in a three day class in Detroit put on by the National Transit Institute on Land use and Transportation. My educational background is in Urban Planning, which is generally viewed as land use planning. My professional experience is in transportation planning which is seen as a "specialty" type of planning. While the course didn't really introduce me to any new concepts it has had a profound effect on how I view my profession, and by extension, my job.

I won't bore you with many details of the training because the concepts are fairly well documented, complete streets (designing roads for all users) transit oriented development (concentrating development in areas that are served by transit and provide convenient access to necessities) and the benefits of pedestrian scaled development vs. the long term detriments and unsustainability of auto scaled development, et cetera. It is fascinating stuff. The details, however, are not what this post is about. A simple google search will yield great information on these topics. This post, rather, is a result of my shock that we continue to develop communities in dumb ways despite what we know. In the urban planning profession, these are not new concepts yet we have "progressive" places that continue to develop in ways that turn our communities into eyesores.

I live in a township immediately south of the City of Ann Arbor, perhaps the most progressive township, in the area. The township supervisor has a Doctoral degree in Urban Planning (yes, they do have those) and the community is in the final stages of approving a new Master Plan, the document which is supposed to guide the inevitable growth in the area. I looked online to see the upcoming developments in the community on the Economic Success webpage and was absolutely appalled to see the most recent development approval pictured below.

Auto scaled Development

It's auto-oriented, set far back from a two lane road, and probably has too much parking. Flip the development, put the building in front of the parking and you practically transform the entire area.

What is so frustrating is that this, along with another recently approved development would look totally different, in a good way, if the new Master Plan concepts and the resulting zoning ordinances were used. Instead we are stuck with development that looks terrible and continues the failed policies and concepts of the past as we wait a few short months before our long range plan becomes active.

Time to move back to the city!

More to come...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Starting in Edinburgh

The process of determining which destination marathon to tackle next has been a challenge. I'm looking all over the world, but a few places seem to be rising to the top. Out of them all, the one that seems to make the most sense is the Edinburgh marathon in Scotland.

Beyond being one of a few obvious choices, this marathon gives me the ability to return to London and stay for a few days. That gives me the chance to walk up to my favorite, the Prince of Wales Pub in Chelsea. Add to that a nice train ride between London and Edinburgh and the chance to use my library membership at the Chelsea and Kensington branch and the trip really begins to take shape.

I decided to look up some more detailed race information. The image below is of the starting location of the race. It certainly doesn't look like much now, but add the expected 30,000 participants and fans and you've got quite the event lined up for May in the northern U.K.

Photo 3 - 2010-10-11

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gaining Perspective on Backyard Rivalries

As I was flying somewhere over the South Atlantic, the best thing I found to pass the time was the movie "Ratatouille". Even with the great seat back tv screens and near-decent selection, "Ratatouille" was the only thing that seemed to pass the time. In the movie, Anton Ego famously orders up "some perspective" and a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1947.

Today, as I was driving near Ann Arbor, I noticed a barn with "Go State" on the roof. Michigan State is a bitter University of Michigan rival. Growing up in Ann Arbor, I've always been a Michigan fan.

Somewhat disappointed about the show of Spartan love not far from the University of Michigan, I was reminded of the movie quote on perspective when I found the barn this evening on Google Earth.

go blue beat state.

I gained some perspective and learned it wasn't just a state barn. Instead, it provides some insight to the "backyard brawl" mentality that fuels this rivalry- one that divides houses, both figuratively and even literally for at least one week a year.

Speaking of perspective, either the Michigan Wolverines or the Michigan State Spartans and their fans will get a dose of perspective after the two teams meet on the gridiron this Saturday at 3:30 at the Big House in Ann Arbor.