There was no denying it. The existing University of Waterloo campus map was out of date for a school leading the country in technical innovation. The map needed replacing.

With its renowned Geography, Geomatics and Planning programs, and as an Esri Canada Centre of Excellence, the Faculty of Environment was the perfect candidate to bring the University of Waterloo’s campus map up to date. 

The team in the Faculty’s Mapping, Analysis, and Design (MAD) department built a prototype, using web mapping technologies they teach and support in classes in the Faculty of Environment. 

The team who developed the campus map

Michael Tjendra, James McCarthy and Nathan Vexler, part of the team who developed the new campus map.

Waterloo’s new mobile-friendly map

The plan was to create a new accessible, mobile friendly campus map that not only featured every twist and turn on campus, but also robust information on everything from transit stops, food options, parking, ATMs, and even campus construction. 

MAD took the demo map to Information Systems & Technology (IST) – Waterloo’s IT heavyweights – to team up. This partnership was a natural fit given MAD’s expertise in all things mapping, IST’s skills in web development, and a common love of data. In particular their Web Development and Support group was integral to cobbling together data.

Map uses Waterloo’s Open Data API

The data used for the underlying basemaps came from OpenStreetMap. The building locations and most of the points of interest were available from the University’s Open Data API. They also leveraged open data from the Region of Waterloo and GO Transit. 

Building the application using open data served not only to improve the University’s open data catalogue, but it also improved the quality of data on OpenStreetMap. It highlighted their great community mapping efforts and hopefully will inspire others to contribute data to OpenStreetMap about the campus, or about the neighbourhoods where they live.

Waterloo leads in the use of geospatial tools

Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment is a leader in the use and teaching of industry standard geospatial tools like those from Esri and Oracle. However, since the new map was a collaborative project using open data, it also served as an opportunity to explore various open source alternatives.

MAD and IST chose to use the Leaflet JavaScript mapping API to build the web map interface, and the tools used to render the underlying basemap (Mapnik and PostgreSQL) are also open source projects.

Building the new campus map was also an opportunity for collaboration and experiential learning. The project team included an undergraduate Geomatics student working with MAD as a co-op student and a graduate of the Geography and Environmental Management program working in IST. Thanks to its use of a variety of geospatial software tools and open data, the map will serve as a valuable teaching tool and inspiration for students taking geospatial courses in Environment.

Accessibility key factor in building new map

Accessibility, mobility and the profound relationship between the two were also a key factor in building the new map. Accessibility regulations made following good design principles paramount. This includes supporting keyboard navigation, providing tabular views of the data, and a high contrast version of the basemap.