The Challenge of 300,000 Building Footprints in Kathmandu Valley – Where do we start?

footprintsA total of about 300,000 building footprints inside Kathmandu Valley. About 100,000 of them have already been digitized – thanks to the efforts of institutions like Kathmandu University, Kathmandu Living Labs and the crowd. But 200,000 building footprints still need to be digitized – both quickly and accurately. Where do we start? The answer – Kathmandu Living Labs!

The whole team of Kathmandu Living Labs was engaged in a rigorous digitization workshop that ran for an entire day on September 27. This workshop’s purpose was to study the digitization issues at a much deeper level and develop a strategy to clean data for already digitized footprints as well as to accurately digitize remaining footprints.

The day started at 9 am and it was about the same time when our cell phones saw the last light of day for that day, for no cell phones were allowed in the day’s session – we were just too busy for that. For the first couple of hours, our team put forth its past digitization learning and experiences, perused them, discussed them, reviewed them and in the process, enhanced them.

We raised questions, we answered those questions. We doubted ourselves – only in order to be clearer of what we were doing. Questions were plenty and answers had to be contested – ‘taken for granted’ was not the order of the day. After all, how can one just simply throw an answer and expect it to be accepted by a team that consists of expert mappers (three Geomatics Engineers and one OSM Building Footprint guru), Heavy Mappers 2.0 (one Computer Information System Major and one Civil Engineer) and a couple of new mapping enthusiasts (one of them an Android programmer working on apps based on OpenStreetMap)? This was no simple case of devil’s advocates; this was a whole council of them!

But agree we all did as to what could be the best way of digitizing Kathmandu Valley and thereby, by the end of the discussion session, we had attained a refined and expanded understanding of our already existing knowledge on digitizing building footprints– the essence of the entire workshop. And in order to test and internalize this enhanced knowledge, each member of the team was made to digitize exactly the same area of the valley. We then compared and contrasted these individual digitization efforts with one another and also verified each of them against the ground truth. As a result, at the end of the day, those Geomatics engineers, mapping Gurus, Computer Information System majors, Civil Engineers and Android Programmer – they all had reviewed their knowledge of building footprint digitization, enhanced it and in the process, taken it a notch up.

This enhanced knowledge of building footprint digitization, however, is still a work in progress and it will always remain so, for there can be no end to refining it. But what this workshop has done is that it has produced a starting point for better and more accurate process of digitizing building footprints in the valley. As I said, “300,000 building footprints inside Kathmandu Valley. 100,000 of them have been digitized but need to be verified. Another 200,000 building footprints still need to be digitized – not just accurately but also efficiently. Where do we start? The answer – Kathmandu Living Labs!” And how do we go about from here? The answer – Kathmandu Living Labs, its partners and the crowd!


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