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Recently, I did a search using Google Maps for playgrounds and, to put it mildly, I did not find what I was expecting. Instead, I found this:

Walkerville playgrounds according to Google Maps

It reminded me of a similar experience Helen had written about here earlier. She had asked her cell phone for help but the search results only returned indoor climbing gyms and made no mention of the epic playground that she subsequently discovered on her own, just 100 metres away and out of sight.

It’s so easy to forget that Google is first and foremost an advertising company.  While somehow I have grown used to Google’s advertising appearing beside search results, I still find myself quite disturbed that Google Maps renders all that does not make money as literally invisible on their maps.

Bunch put out the call for an app for a Toronto Playground Finder and I’m hopeful one day that call will be answered. I’m optimistic because the City of Toronto has shared all the addresses of the playgrounds they are responsible for and they also provide this data in their Open Data Catalogue in XML which is a format that computers and their programmers love. 

Open data “is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone” and some folks like Tim Berners Lee think that it’s part of the next evolution of the internet.

maps should lead to magical playgrounds like this one, glowing in the twilight

PHOTO: BENSON KUA

We are sooooooooo close. We have the data for all of the city run playgrounds in Toronto. We just need a map!

If you have some basic web-wrangling skills or just the gumption to try it, you can add this data to a customized Google Map using a tool like Google Fusion Tables.

In fact, someone named Melanie has already done this for the playgrounds and splashpads of Toronto. But as great as these maps are, it doesn’t address the fundamental problem that we have on our hands.  We still need a map that features stores, restaurants, bars and playgrounds — those important public spaces where a child’s need to climb and jump and run and play comes first.

We need a map that reflects what our children need.

“When individuals make their own maps, they offer an expression of what they consider important, what they consider to be of interest and for which they are willing to fight for”

That’s a quote from Tim Waters from a presentation called The Map Is Not What’s There: Psychogeography And OpenStreetMap that he gave just this past weekend at the State of the Map Conference in Birmingham, UK.  When I read it, it made me think of the missing playgrounds of Google Maps.

The State of the Map conference is dedicated to OpenStreetMap: “the free wiki world map.”  And yes, OpenStreetMap is not unlike Wikipedia in that it is the accumulation of thousands of volunteers adding and revising a common map for everyone to use and re-use for free. OpenStreetMap has been around since 2004 and while there are still gaps in its coverage, it is good enough to provide the cartography for such products as Evernote, Hipmunk and Foursquare.

OpenStreetMap allows you, me and anyone else to add your local playground to the map. I’ve already added mine. And adding yours — if it’s not already there — could be a fun family activity for you and yours.

One day, a parent with a cranky kid who’s wandered into your neck of the woods might just thank you for it.

maps can lead to the perfect playground, if we make that happen.

PHOTO: AMY BROWN

Mita Williams is a User Experience Librarian in Windsor and she is also involved with the local makerspace called Hackforge. Follow Mita on Twitter.

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