CADG Intern #2 Checking In and Chinese GIS Troubles – Hannah

Hello, all,

About a week and a half ago, I touched down in China after a little over two weeks in a rural part of Mongolia. If you know much about Mongolia, it’s essentially Montana x100. It’s large open views of the sky, green meadows, mountains, few roads, and very few people. The population of Mongolia is somewhere around 3 million people, and around half of those people live in Ulaanbaatar, effectively Mongolia’s only city. The country’s area is about 1.5 million square kilometers.

Enter China.

China’s population: 1.4 BILLION people across 9.6 MILLION square kilometers. But that doesn’t really matter at the end of the day if I’m only seeing one city, right?

Beijing’s population: at least 21.5 MILLION people in 16,800 square kilometers. Regardless of any mishaps in my calculations there (inclusion of people/area in suburbs or not), I think you can see that 21.5 million > 3 million.

Compare and contrast….

Most of Mongolia…IMG_20150717_085331324_HDR




I’ll indulge and also add that Portland, OR hosts about 600,000 people in 375 square kilometers. Also < 21.5 million any way you cut it.

I am glad for my opportunity to see different ends of the spectrum of Asia in a mere several week span. Both countries still have issues with major air pollution and clean water. Both also have some really great qualities. For China, data availability is not one of them.

I am working on a project with Jasmine in the CADG office centered around the assessment of a particular park in Beijing. With the information we collect, we can set a standard for park assessments in 10 different Chinese cities, which will help urban designers understand what qualities of design encourage park use for Chinese people. Initially, I wanted to make a quick GIS (geographic information system… mapping software that urban planners use) map for our site visits, so I started looking around the Internet for some map layers. I found some very limited options, downloaded, and opened them up in QGIS – simply city block shapes, roads, bodies of water, and some outdated parcel information. My colleague saw what I was doing and was flabbergasted that I was able to do so. I have a VPN, which is Internet software that helps me circumvent China’s “Great Firewall” that blocks information from many useful sites. My colleague told me that she never uses GIS because you only get to receive the files from the government if you apply for them for use with a very large planning or architecture project. Sure makes you appreciate the multitude of data sources at our fingertips in the U.S. As we’ve learned, data can be used in many ways to shed light on inequities, and that is one of the major reasons I value GIS. You have probably seen lots of maps, charts, graphs, etc. (your “infographics”) all over the Internet bringing attention to police brutality, crime, poverty, and what have you all over the U.S. Imagine if we did not have the capability to map that information. Knowledge is power, people!

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8 thoughts on “CADG Intern #2 Checking In and Chinese GIS Troubles – Hannah

  1. Ray Atkinson says:

    “My colleague told me that she never uses GIS because you only get to receive the files from the government if you apply for them for use with a very large planning or architecture project.” What does she use instead of GIS? Does China have open data websites that people in China can access without a VPN? In case you are wondering, I’m aware of China’s “Great Firewall” so am not surprised by this information. I look forward to reading your next blog post!


    • hannah.silver says:

      Ray, thanks for reading the blog and prompting some more interesting conversation with my colleague!

      I checked back in on the GIS story and she explained to me and Jasmine that GIS info can be acquired, though the office that receives it probably signs a contract, so departments are very unlikely to share information, even within the same institute. Sometimes people are kind enough to share but it is definitely a risk just because of the legal agreement. It does not sound like there is a lot of open source data. My colleague exhibited a bit of wonder at the type of work my Workshop group was able to do (shout out to tacHOMEa!!! especially Nick Kobel for his GIS whiz skills) and I’m looking forward to showing her the complex and very interesting work and results our project produced.


      • Ray Atkinson says:

        Glad I could help prompt a follow up discussion. I can’t believe Chinese people have to sign a contract to obtain GIS data and are scared to share the data because of the legal agreement. This makes me very thankful that I work with GIS data in the US. Regarding open source data, China appears to share some open source data because the following international bike share map would not be possible without open source data from China.


      • Ray Atkinson says:

        I couldn’t edit my previous comment. I wanted to clarify that most Chinese bike share systems do not have open source data so most Chinese bike share systems do not have live data.


      • hannah.silver says:

        Ray, and others,

        Interesting stuff on the open share data…

        I DID just learn about this – obviously not GIS, but still a really cool map available for Beijing!


        On Tue, Aug 4, 2015 at 1:47 AM, Transplanet wrote:



      • Ray Atkinson says:

        While I didn’t look for too long, the Beijing map looks similar to the information provided by Google Maps. Does Beijing have anything similar to Portland Maps? Portland Maps has a wealth of GIS and open source data that can be easily accessed by the public.


  2. Yiping says:

    Are you lucky in the end? I am also looking for Beijing jiedao GIS map. It does not seem to be easy…


    • hannah.silver says:

      I kind of gave up on mapping adjacencies and focused on the site itself. For a couple days I did VERY human-scaled measuring of the site by counting steps and estimating meters through that technique because I didn’t have a meter tape yet. Kind of fun!


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