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Bringing Historic Vancouver Maps into the Present and Future

I’m writing this blog post from Vancouver Open Data Hackathon. These are some takeaways from a conversation with Sue Bigelow from the Vancouver Archives.

Sue has been interested in the potential applications of Map Rectifier on scans of maps of Vancouver created by the City of Vancouver over the years as part of their work. At this juncture there are so many different kinds of maps from different time periods, that it’s a little hard to figure out what people would want to make with them.

The potential of what’s contained in these maps for research and analysis is tremendous, however. I’m thinking, for instance, of a friend’s final project which looked at historic retail areas in Vancouver and business turnover. She went through old phone books in order to determine the status and type of businesses. It’s also instructive for learning what was important to Vancouver staff throughout time.

The limitations: not all maps are created equal; maps that under City of Vancouver copyright and not licensed from someone else would be usable. The maps in question can be found through the Archives’ City Government Records search. Unfortunately there’s no way of seeing how much interest in particular maps through the existing system.

I think there’s a lot of relevance in reflecting on the history of planning in Vancouver, and using modern frameworks to frame and explore historic information. But I think there’s some wisdom to Sue’s approach — this is not the lowest hanging fruit of data, so the justification for putting the effort into it needs to be a little stronger or the cost and effort to make the data useful needs to be lower.

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