[Talk-GB] 'historic' county boundaries added to the database

Mark Goodge mark at good-stuff.co.uk
Wed Aug 8 13:59:51 UTC 2018

On 08/08/2018 14:20, Lester Caine wrote:
> On 08/08/18 13:54, Colin Smale wrote:
>> There are plenty of examples of "former" objects in OSM - closed pubs, 
>> railway alignments etc. They are only still there because they are 
>> perceived to have some kind of relevance in the present day. Can a 
>> case be made that these historic counties are still "relevant" today?
> I'm listening to the steam trains pulling in and out of Broadway station 
> at the moment. This was a 'disused' line and there was talk about 
> removing that sort of data from OSM. The line out of Broadway goes on 
> north and still has a designated use of 'disused railway'. I don't know 
> if the line will ever be extended, but in some peoples minds it's on the 
> cards as it could eventually link to Stratford Upon Avon. That end of 
> the line has now been built on so a new terminus would have to stop 
> short, but knowing where the line used to run through that house estate 
> is interesting to some.

The disused line north of Broadway to Honeybourne is still visible on 
the ground, though. So it needs to be mapped. But the former route of 
the line through Stratford isn't visible on the ground, so it doesn't 
need to be mapped. A building which was once a pub is still worth noting 
as a former pub (particularly if it still looks like a pub). But if it's 
demolished, leaving no trace, there's no need to retain a marker for 
where it was.

In any case, though, mapping administrative boundaries performs a 
different function to mapping physical geography (either natural or 
man-made). Administrative boundaries (other than where they coincide 
with natural features such as a river) are not visible even when fully 
active. There may be a sign on the road telling me when I pass from 
Worcestershire into Gloucestershire, but there's nothing on the ground 
which indicates any difference. However, administrative boundaries 
matter, because they affect everyday life in many different ways. So 
mapping them makes sense, even though they can't be seen. You can't make 
the same argument for a former railway route that has been completely 
obliterated by a housing development.

As I understand it (and those with a much longer association with OSM 
can, no doubt, correct me if I'm wrong), the point of OSM is to be a 
useful map for everyday purposes by ordinary people (ie, not cartography 
specialists or other academic purposes). So, we map things that can be 
seen, such as rivers, roads, woodland, buildings, etc - the physical 
environment - and we map things that are unseen, but directly affect our 
use of the physical environment, such as road classifications and 
administrative boundaries. But we don't map things that are unseen and 
do not affect everyday interactions with the physical environment.

Now-obliterated former rail (and road) routes fall into the latter 
category, and so do non-current administrative boundaries. That doesn't 
mean they're of no interest at all. But they are only of interest to a 
relatively small subset of potential users of the map, and as such are 
better catered for by specialist variants of the map (such as OHM, or 

Putting everything in OSM merely adds unnecessary complexity, and 
creates more problems down the line with maintenance when those who 
originally added the data lose interest. It also risks putting off 
newcomers to OSM editing, who may find the learning curve created by 
loads of seemingly extraneous data to be too challenging.

There has to be a limit somewhere, and, as far as non-visible data is 
concerned, being relevant to everyday, *non-specialist* life is the best 
place to put it.


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