What mapping software do I want?
September 8, 2018 10:21 AM   Subscribe

As I learn about historical features in my neighborhood, I would like to trace them (if extant) or draw them (if destroyed) on a digital map.

Google Maps allows me to do this, but what I'd ideally want is a more customizable background -- that is, granular layers that I can toggle on and off. Sometimes I'll want to see current streets and buildings, but sometimes I won't. Mapbox allows you to create very customized maps, but I haven't been able to find a freehand drawing feature. Would ArcGIS or QGIS do this?

A cool but not-strictly-necessary feature I'd like: the ability to assign date parameters to buildings/features, and then use a timeline or other format to show which buildings existed when.

posted by delight to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
City planner husband says:

ArcGIS and QGIS should both be able to do what you describe. I've only used Arc, but I assume they'd both work the same way - you import various shape files and toggle them on and off, or enter an edit session to physically add or edit points, lines, and polygons. Every layer has an attribute table that you could also edit with the associated information. If you entered the date as a field in the attribute table you could query by date to only display points from certain time periods. If you've never used GIS software before there might be a bit of a learning curve to start, but both ArcGIS and QGIS are popular enough that there should be online tutorials or videos for everything you're describing.

ESRI (the makers of ArcGIS) also have a website for making story maps if you wanted to put together more of a multimedia display.
posted by damayanti at 11:14 AM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

delight, this isn't strictly software-related, but maybe it will give you ideas/information... "The Digital Harrisburg working group has created an interactive map of Harrisburg in 1900/1901 hosted at ArcGIS Online." The About page lists contacts for the project.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:21 AM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Depending where you live, your city may have mapping software with open data available online.
Also depending on where you live, Google Earth may have some of this done in 2D for you.
For example, London England for example has historical 1945 (but then skips all the way ahead to 1999).
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 3:21 PM on September 8, 2018

QGIS will work for this, but it's not entirely designed with the beginner in mind. It's free and powerful though, so give it a shot!

The main things you are likely to want to do off the bat are show some layers from an outside source - in the new version (3.2) you need to add them as xyz tiles. This will allow you to put up OpenStreetMap or Google or another background layer, and you can toggle them.

The other thing you are likely to want to do off the bat is create a shapefile (this is how geographic information is generally stored) and start adding polygons to it. Each polygon can be a feature you want to record. You can basically click and straight lines will connect them.

There is a data table created along with the polygons that works like a database or spreadsheet; you can add fields for when a building was created, when it was destroyed, what sort of structure it was and so on. You could also create multiple shapefiles if you wanted to keep different features separated.

You can then change the symbology of your shapefile - you could fill them differently depending on the date of construction, or purpose or what have you. More and more government websites have open data sites with shapefiles of different things available for download and you could add them to your map.

Like I said, QGIS is industrial strength but hopefully that's a start - there are a lot of tutorials to search for. Version 3 is relatively new, but the basics are the same as version 2.x
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:45 AM on September 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Art supplies for a five year old child?   |   Equifax Aftermath Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments