Paul Finch takes a look at how .MAP by GroundSure is revolutionising digital mapping
News that changes are likely in the way the national decennial census is conducted by the Office for National Statistics is not really surprising. The old-fashioned method using the postal system looks increasingly outdated, even though it has yielded an extraordinary feast of information in the past. Who wants to fill in forms if you could do it more conveniently online?
However, that is not the only option on offer: another would be to garner information already held by a variety of public organisations (schools, the NHS, etc). If information were also forthcoming from the private sector, we would have the most accurate census ever, recording not merely names, addresses and occupations, but salaries, spending habits and lifestyle choices.
From satnav to online-only retailers, we are finally reaping at a personal level the seeds sown by scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors, changing individual and collective life out of all recognition, and in the process giving people extraordinary access to almost everything under the sun. The tendency of governments is to want to know what is going on, though how the information garnered is used for policy-making is not always clear-cut.
One example: a few years ago Planning in London magazine revealed that the population of inner London was rising for the first time since the late 1940s, when everybody assumed it was continuing to fall. Research by London Transport’s strategy planners on the 1990 census showed otherwise, and here was a straightforward example of proper long-term planning at work. It meant that pressure on public transport systems in the middle of the capital would need more attention and this doubtless helped promote the Jubilee Line and subsequently Crossrail.
On the other hand, school places and housing shortages suggest that others are doing less well in understanding the implications of population and other trends - though that is not, of course, an argument for ceasing to gather information. On the contrary, an understanding of economic activity might have led to speedier action on, for example, doing something about our high streets, possibly changing the rating system to adjust the balance between physical and online shopping.
Meanwhile other sorts of mapping continue apace - with new possibilities and techniques deployed to make life easier for everyone, including architects. I recently discovered that a digital mapping company called GroundSure is part of the same media group that owns the AJ and has just launched .Map, a new digital mapping service for architects that builds on previous mapping data on property ownership, mainly used by conveyancers. The new service is starting to assemble a comprehensive layer-cake of information about particular buildings or sites that should save designers time and money at the start of projects or potential projects.
A certain amount of the kick-off information is free, for example you get a ‘map view allowance’ to look at OS details. Other sections include site intelligence, flagging up environmental risks and planning precedents, while detailed reports can be ordered on everything from ground stability to terrain models to flood-risk analysis. PDF plans ready for planning applications can be accessed and site plans at various scales are all available. An AutoCAD plug-in is pending and the whole system is accessible from any browser.
This is the new digital world - available any time, any format, any programme. It makes getting information easy, even if the task of the architects is to address programmes that remain as complex as they have ever been, converting information to knowledge and adding, one hopes, an element of wisdom.