Mapper of the Month: Jonathan Beliën (Belgium)

- escada

Please introduce yourself

Jonathan on hdyc

My name is Jonathan Beliën, I am a web developer specialized in digital mapping. I live in Brussels since my childhood and I just love this great city. You can find me on just about all social networks under the pseudonym “jbelien” (very original, I agree). I am also a photographer (very) amateur and (huge) fan of LEGO.

When and how did you discover OpenStreetMap?

Based on my account creation, I discovered OpenStreetMap in 2012; I do not remember very well what I did at that time but I think I discovered MapRoulette and made some contributions there. Then I apparently forgot the existence of OpenStreetMap until 2016 and the National Mapathon. I went without knowing where I put my feet but the idea of mapping an area of Africa for an NGO seemed to me rather nice. So I installed myself in front of a PC, discovered that I already had an OSM account and mapped all day long! That evening Jorieke invited me to join them to have a drink, I met Joost and Yannick … Then I went to the following mapathon, and to the next, then volunteered at the State of the Map, and never left the OpenStreetMap Belgium community.

What do you map? Is there any difference with your early days?

I try to vary the pleasures, to map locally in Brussels, to participate in the HOT mapathons but also to map corners of Belgium or France which have not yet been (small villages in Wallonia and France). At first view my neighborhood in Jette seemed perfectly mapped and complete (trees, garbage cans, …), so I started with the HOT and Africa where there are more “simple” things to map (roads, huts, villages, …) then I returned to Brussels where now that I knew a little better, I could add things more easily (missing stores, …) or make corrections since I live in the area; and finally, I realized that some parts of Wallonia are as deserted as in Africa and so I decided to start mapping the small villages that are missing …

How do you map?

Most of the time from my office chair (or from a chair at a mapathon) with this beautiful tool that is JOSM. But I realized that it was just as nice (if not more) to go on the ground! Recently, I printed “field papers” and went for a walk in a Brussels to see what is missing (or what would be incorrect).

How do you conduct your surveys?

As explained above, for Brussels, I define a zone to cover, I print some “field papers”, I take my blue and red pens and I just go for a walk. Then I go around all the streets the most systematically possible. On vacation, on the other hand, I try to remember things that could be missing by taking some pictures and mapping after the walk the area in which I was walking around trying to remember and based on the few photos made.

Where do you map?


Brussels is rather well mapped, I have more contributions in outside Brussels than inside Brussels. But I really would love if Brussels is “perfectly” mapped so I work there!

I participate in every mapathons in Belgium since the Mapathon National 2016 and so I also contribute quite a lot to the HOT tasks during the mapathons.

As I said before, I also manage to map in Wallonia and in France. The fact that I map everywhere and different things, that’s what makes it fun, I think.

What is your biggest achievement as mapper?

My biggest achievement (as far as success is concerned) is probably project 2741 in Palestine. It was a task set up for the RightsCon conference in Brussels. I went as a volunteer to help with the mapathon there. The mapathon had a rather mixed success but I was fortunate to have a little talk with the Palestinians who came to Brussels for the event. I woke up at my house the next day and I thought I was going to continue work started the day before … So I started to choose a task, then an other, … until I said “Well, all the tasks are over” and that I realized that I had spent several hours mapping 102 tasks … I still have not clue what happened to me that morning; I suppose that it was a mixture of interest in the project and the fact that I had fun mapping these tasks.

HOT Projet 2741

I also map the commune of Doische where I have family living; so I began to map all the buildings of the commune. The work is not yet finished, far from it, but I am regularly mapping there when I have a little time.

What motivates you?

As I work in digital mapping, since I’ve been using OpenStreetMap, my first motivation is obviously to improve my work tool the most possible. With each contribution, my tool becomes better!

But I obviously also like the idea of having a map of the entire planet available at any time accessible by anyone! It is obviously not yet, but with each mapathon, with each contribution, we approache a little more the goal! Simply compare OpenStreetMap with any other owner map to see how openStreetMap is unbeatable!

What is the most difficult part of mapping?

A few months ago I would have said the relations in OpenStreetMap! But since I worked on the relations of the network cyclist brussels during the OpenSummer of Code and all things considered, once you start playing with it becomes (a little) less terrifying!

Now, I would say that the hardest part is to accord all these people who map and who have different ideas about what mapping. There are regular debates more than animated on the mailing-list on how to map this or that thing … but in the end everything always (?) finishes well and without bloodshed.

What are your mapping plans for the near future?

Finish the buildings of the municipality of Doische! But also to continue circulating in Brussels with my sheet and my pen to improve the surroundings of my home and then why not extend to the center or other municipalities! Also, even if it is more development than cartography, I am working on a tool that makes it easy to compare a dataset with what is already in OpenStreetMap: And there is always the Belgian baselayer which I take care of: en Français

Do you have contact with other mappers?

Since the National Mapathon 2016, I see almost every month the hard core of OpenStreetMap Belgium (hey Joost, Ben, Jorieke, …). My goal by going to Mapathon National last year was not at all to join the community but I must confess that meeting all these people more than welcoming and nice quickly decided to invest myself more in OpenStreetMap Belgium; So, for the second mapathon, I became a volunteer; and 1 year later a member of OpenStreetMap Belgium’s board alongside Ben and Joost!

Do you use OpenStreetMap yourself? How?

I use OpenStreetMap for a few years now on a daily basis; essentially, as a background map with but increasingly as a geographical database. Every new theme for which OpenStreetMap could be a source, I am amazed of the quality of these data!

Since I joined the community in early 2016, I have volunteered mapathons throughout Belgium (as support and validator); I also developed some tools for the community:

And since early 2017, I am also a member of the Board of OpenStreetMap Belgium and helps organize meetups in Brussels.

To conclude is there anything else you want to mention?

It’s been one and a half years since I really joined the “ranks” of OpenStreetMap (both as a contributor and as a member of the OpenStreetMap Belgium community) and I must confess that I am really impressed by the quality and power of this tool! I would like the administrations and large companies to start taking an interest in this incredible tool (rather than taking proprietary solutions because it is what they have always done). I work there almost daily and am delighted to have already “converted” some administrations but the work continues!

Finally, it has been 2 years since I attended almost all meetups OpenStreetMap Belgium and there are really very few Walloons who attend those meetups! The community seems to be composed only of Brussels and Flemish people but there are obviously Walloon contributors (well, I think … I hope!). It’s been a while since we thought about this issue in the board but we still have no clue why there was so little Wallon who attend the meetups (or who organize meetups in Wallonia). Wallon friends, come and have a drink with us during the next meetup, you see we are very friendly, we do not bite, and we always (!) have a good time!