Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Mapping North Korea

OpenStreetMap volunteers around the world do an incredible job in building, maintaining and improving one of the most detailed and accurate maps of the world. North Korea is perhaps one of the most difficult areas of the world to map. Locals face extremely restricted internet access, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and suspicious state security officers. All of which make it extremely dangerous to gather data for OSM on the ground. The extreme secrecy of the North Korean state also means that it is difficult to map North Korea from elsewhere in the world using remote imagery.

Despite this North Korea is surprisingly well mapped on OpenStreetMap. Cartographers of North Korea is a story map which examines OSM coverage in North Korea. As you progress through the story the map zooms in on different street level details in North Korea which can be found on OpenStreetMap. Detail which often relies on local knowledge. On the map features are color-coded to show the date when they were added to OSM, so you can see how the map of North Korea has developed over time.

Cartographers of North Korea wrote to all the top contributors to North Korea data on OSM. The story map explores the responses they received from 211 of those mappers. They discovered that most of these mappers used satellite imagery to map North Korea. However many of the mappers also had local first hand knowledge or were able to combine sources from the internet to provide street level information. The 211 letters are color coded by theme (exploring how and why mappers contributed) and you can read the letters for yourself directly from the map.

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