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Mapzen Project Adopted by Urban Computing Foundation

Shut down in 2018 and revived a year later by the Linux Foundation, the open source mapping platform has a new home with developers under the umbrella of the UCF, which suggests a closer relationship with urban work.

GIS map of a city
Proponents of open source tools for government can be reassured that Mapzen, a mapping platform comprising half a dozen projects under license at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a new home with developers at the Urban Computing Foundation.

Launched as a company in 2013, the Mapzen platform has been in a state of flux for the past few years. The company shut down in February 2018 until the Linux Foundation, an open source advocate, took it on a year later. The foundation’s vice president of strategic programs, Mike Dolan, told Government Technology at the time that they were interested in Mapzen in part because much of its user base — more than 70,000 people — kept using the platform even after it was shut down.

This week a Linux Foundation news release said Mapzen will now be hosted and governed by the UCF, an active group within the Linux Foundation which also hosts, an open source geospatial analysis tool created to build large-scale data sets. The news release described UCF as a forum established in 2019 for building mapping tools for projects that improve mobility, safety, road infrastructure, traffic congestion and energy consumption in connected cities. It summarized Mapzen as a collection of such projects focused on core components of geo platforms. Those projects are:

  • Pelias, a full-text geographic search engine
  • Tangram, a series of libraries for rendering 2-D and 3-D maps
  • Tilezen, a series of libraries to generate vector tiles for global map display
  • Transitland, a community-edited database of transit networks in cities and rural areas around the world
  • Valhalla, a global, multi-modal routing engine for navigation services
  • Who's On First, listing places with a stable identifier and descriptions
One of Mapzen’s users and fans, CEO Randy Meech of data-gathering startup StreetCred Labs, wrote in an email that the aforementioned projects will continue under the UCF. He said his company and others using Mapzen — such as Snap, Mapbox, Interline and Geocode Earth — will have the benefit of collaborating with other UCF member companies. The news release mentioned some of those: Cart, Facebook, Google, HERE Technologies, IBM, Sidewalk Labs, Uber and UC San Diego.

“For us it's a new lens on how to use the technology together with other open-source projects and companies,” Meech wrote. “The mission of the UCF aligns with some interesting uses of the technology to provide improved mobility, safety, road infrastructure, traffic congestion and energy consumption in connected cities.”

Travis Gorkin, engineering manager of data visualization for Uber, said in a statement that the Linux Foundation putting Mapzen under the umbrella of the UCF was a welcome development for the open source urban computing movement.

“Mapzen encompasses a half dozen independent projects and communities, collectively developing a truly open platform for mapping, search, navigation, location and transit data,” the statement said. “Mapzen joining the Urban Computing Foundation represents a great step forward in expanding the ecosystem of open-source urban computing software and tools.”

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.