Author Archives: Taylor Holden

Kenyan Healthcare Adventure and 1st Day of Work

June 18, 2018

By Griffin Walsh ’20

A few weeks ago I was bit by a tick in Pennsylvania. After arriving in Kenya, I began to develop a rash on the exact spot where I had been bitten so I began to suspect Lyme disease. We decided I should go visit a doctor to confirm that I did not have the disease, which comes with a whole host of nasty side effects. I think its always essential to sample the local healthcare when travelling abroad. Dr Joireman and I decided to head to Nairobi Hospital to go meet with a doctor. After filling out the required paperwork we waited for about two hours to see a doctor. Finally, we were admitted and spoke to the doctor. Unfortunately, Lyme disease does not exist in East Africa so the doctor had never seen a case regarding the specific disease. He told us he had only read about it in textbooks. The doctor was very knowledgeable and friendly. He prescribed me some medication that worked both as an antibiotic and anti-malarial, which killed two birds with one stone. An interesting aspect about the visit was the doctor used his iphone as an examination light. After he had written the prescription we chatted for about ten minutes about our lives and how he had worked abroad in the United States. He lamented that he enjoyed the United States but the work environment was very sterile and impersonal. He much preferred the familial and personal relationship based system that exists in Kenya. We agreed that it was much better to have those personal connections, even if it meant waiting a bit longer in the waiting room. Another thing that surprised us about the hospital visit was how cheap it was compared to United States standards. The whole experience including prescribed medicine was less than thirty dollars, without insurance. This experience gave us an opportunity to see a part of the healthcare system in Kenya.

The team arrives in Kenya!

Yesterday we had our first day in the office at the National Land Commission. We received a very warm welcome when we arrived from the whole staff and spent some time getting to know our colleagues who we will be working with for the next month. They showed us our office spaces where we would be working. After these introductions we went to the conference room for a press conference. The various employees and commissioners at the National Land Commission introduced themselves to the media and to the people present. There were several reporters and TV cameras present at this meeting. Dr Joireman, Dr Boone, and Professor Browne all spoke about the project. The commissioner then gave a small speech and ceremoniously handed each collaborator on the project a set of the Kenyan constitution and a book on Kenya land policy. After this meeting we went to the Fairview Hotel for lunch and spent some more time getting to know our colleagues. We were also finally able to look at the Kenyan settlement schemes on the hard drive we were given. There are over a thousand files so it will take some time to go through them but we are excited to finally start working on the project using the maps. Our colleagues at the National Land Commission have been very gracious in providing us excellent spaces to work and we feel very welcome in Kenya.


Week 2 of Crash Course: Preparing for Kenya

June 11, 2018

By Meg Carroll ’20 

Jambo, it’s Meg!

We’re in the midst of prepping for our trip to Kenya! This week we’ve been holed up in the SAL glued to our desktops while we’ve practiced Swahili, read about African culture, and reviewed/practiced different GIS tools. Our week has included conversations about office etiquette and we have even researched alternatives to plastic bags due to Kenya’s ban on them. We’ve talked through some of the obstacles we might face and some of the cultural differences that we will come across. It’s been helpful to learn about some of the beliefs that are valued in African culture, such as status, respect, and relationships. Although many cultures have similar beliefs, it’s fascinating to see that cultures have different priorities. For example, in many African countries, relationships are much more important than some American values such as doing business as quickly as possible without a focus on the actual people doing business.

Meg and Griffin preparing workflows

The majority of our time has been spent focusing on the work we’ll be doing in Kenya. This has included writing up workflow drafts and gathering and preparing the data files that we’ll take with us. First we catalog the maps, then georeference, digitize, edgematch/combine polygons, add attributes, and then wrap up with metadata. That’s practically nothing, right?! And only for 1,340 maps give or take! Easy! Honestly, it’s all a bit daunting and we still feel a little uncertain about how a lot of this will happen. In short, we aren’t sure what to expect. Nonetheless, we’re very excited for this project and eager to meet our colleagues.

Everything requires an overwhelming level of organization and every step is very detail focused. We’ve run into some amusing obstacles along the way; I think keeping a good sense of humor is of the utmost importance! For example, while cataloging a settlement scheme map, it appeared to have the numbers “5810” on it. Later on, while georeferencing the map, we could not find where it was supposed to be placed. The 5810 made absolutely no sense because the grids aren’t organized into blocks that go up to 5810. Through trial and error we found out that the 8 was an ampersand! Kim pounded her fists on the floor. It was quite the day!

We’re excited to head to Kenya soon and I think that we will face many obstacles in the office, but as long as we keep a good sense of humor we’ll be all set. I’m pretty sure the saying “patience is a virtue” will be my mantra.

Week 1 of Crash Course: Kenyan Culture

June 7, 2018

By Lauren Scheffey ’20

Today we met Kimberly Wolfe in the Digital Scholarship Lab in the library to learn how to convert physical maps to a digital form. We used the university’s high-tech, super-expensive camera and a program Kimberly called “photoshop on steroids” to take a photo of the map and adjust the focus, exposure, white balance, and alignment. Our end result was a high resolution.jpg nearly identical to the physical map, and ready to be imported to ArcMap and georeferenced. The National Lands Commission has already scanned the maps of the settlements, so we will not be involved in that aspect, rather we will be cataloging, georeferencing, and digitizing the scanned maps. However, seeing how to scan maps and convert them to digital forms helps us understand the process from start to finish, rather than simply the components we will be working on directly.

We been dividing our time between technical, GIS-related prep/training and ensuring we’re prepared with things such as medications, clothing, and TSA-approval, plastic-free travel bags. Yesterday Taylor showed some of the data he has been downloading from OpenStreetMap that will be useful to us when we are digitizing the polygons of the settlements. We created a template map documents including roads, waterways, and counties in Kenya, as well as a 50k and 10k grid. Each settlement map has an index number, which we will use to locate the settlement within our grid system. Once we have the location, we will be able to see the roads/waterways that constitute the settlement’s borders and use the corresponding features of those roads/waterways from the OpenStreetMap data to digitize a polygon of the settlement.

We have also been reading books and articles about Kenyan culture and corporate etiquette and practicing some simple Swahili phrases, such as “habari” meaning “hello,” and “asante” meaning “thank you.” We are trying to read some of the most popular/important books in Kenya culture, and I am currently reading “Wrestling with the Devil,” Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s memoir recounting the time he spent imprisoned by the Kenyatta regime. From 1977-1978, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was detained in Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, under 24-hour surveillance. It is here in prison, however, that he writes his most famous novel, “Devil on a Cross,” on prison-issued toilet paper.

While it is impossible to learn everything about a culture in just two weeks, it has been fun for us to immerse ourselves in Kenyan history, language, politics, and customs as we try to learn as much as we can in preparation for our trip. We are finishing up our training and some last-minute packing and are excited to be in Nairobi soon and start working at the NLC!

Summer 2018 in the SAL….and Kenya!

By Kim Browne, SAL Director

The Spatial Analysis Lab has been a hub of activity since spring classes ended and we said goodbye to our graduates. Colleagues from Biology and Classics have been in and out of our space collaborating on the East End project, Rock Pools and more. Justin Madron from the Digital Scholarship Lab taught a short Story Maps workshop and Nadia Hatchel provided training on Survey 1, 2, 3. We are grateful for all of their talent. Soon we will say bon voyage to our GIS Technician, Taylor Holden. Taylor’s dedication to our mission will be missed. Thankfully, we’ve hired a new technician who will begin later this summer. More on that later.

For the last few weeks I’ve been working with three undergraduate students to prepare them for a month-long stay in Nairobi, Kenya. The students have each been awarded summer research funds through the University and travel funds through the Office of International Education. Our work is part of a larger project with Dr. Sandra Joireman, the London School of Economics and the Kenyan National Lands Commission. The bulk of our work involves helping to inventory, georeference and digitize a set of historic Settlement Scheme maps for the National Lands Commission. The three student researchers completed our Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (now Foundations of Geospatial Analysis) this past spring. The work in Kenya is an incredible opportunity for the students to synthesize course concepts, learn new techniques, and contribute to the research of our collaborators in substantive ways.

It has been rewarding to think about all of the different technical pieces required to make this project happen. Hearing my students say things like, “oh, I remember doing that in class” is one thing. Watching them pull together a workflow and technical document for this project is yet another. It’s incredible!

Besides the technical aspects of the work, there are other challenges (cultural, time, being Mzungu). During one of our recent mornings we spend almost 3 hours trying to understand some of the collar information on a map … only to find that what we thought was an “8” was an “&”. What a great lesson as we start this journey! How many “&”s hidden as “8”s will we encounter along the way? Could it be we don’t know nearly as much as we think we know? Can we open up enough to admit our ignorance? Are we, the experts, ready to learn?

Lauren, Meg, and Griffin prepare for Kenya

VAMLIS 2018 Winners

University of Richmond students from the Advanced Spatial Analysis course took home 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in the Undergraduate Web Map competition at the 2018 VAMLIS Virginia GIS Conference in Virginia Beach. Congratulations to these amazing students!!!

Check out their web maps below!

Left to Right
Emily Routman (1st), Stanford Lee (2nd) and Conor Tenbus (3rd)

The winners with their Professor/Mentor Kim Browne, Director of the Spatial Analysis Lab



1st: Emily Routman ’20

Immigrants account for around 17% of Dallas’ population, and they have a big impact on local businesses, jobs, and more. I am going to analyze–by census tract–which immigrant populations (by country of origin) are more likely to cluster together, and which are less likely to.

2nd: Stanford Lee ’19

I used American Community Survey (ACS) 2016 data from the US Bureau of the Census and United States Geological Survey National Land Cover Database (NLCD) to create a weighted index model on the vulnerability of populations within the City of Richmond. This vulnerability index is my contribution to the Urban Heat Island Project collaboration with the Science Museum of Virginia. The vulnerability factors from the ACS data were: poverty rates, racial demographics, age demographics, education levels, and unemployment rates. Land cover data specifically aimed towards identifying land cover classes in the areas of the vulnerable populations will also be analyzed. The main objective of this project is to identify locations showing the most vulnerable areas within the City of Richmond so they can be compared with areas of extreme temperature.

3rd: Conor Tenbus ’18

GfK MRI is a survey and analytics company that completes an annual Survey of the American Consumer. Part of this survey includes MLB game attendance and an MLB “Super Fan” Poster/WebMap App Abstracts from the 2018 VA GeoCon 9 | Page designation. Using this data (provided by ArcGIS Business Analyst) at the county (maybe hex bins) level, I will analyze “fan-ship” intensity in relation to proximity to nearest MLB ballpark.

ArcGIS Online

Want to check out many of the cool maps, applications, and story maps students, faculty, and staff have created with help from the Spatial Analysis Lab?

Click the image above or follow the link below to access the University of Richmond’s ArcGIS Online Organizational Account.


For help getting started using ArcGIS Online click here

How To: Download Open Street Map (OSM) Data

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative map of the world where users can edit and update maps of their communities in real time. It was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and has quickly spread to become a force in online mapping world. While local governments in the US and other western countries are rapidly deploying “Open Data” platforms, there is still great unevenness in the quality, scale, and availability of worldwide data, especially data in previously colonized/developing countries. OSM provides a platform for citizens to contribute to the availability to data anywhere on the globe and often fills in gaps in data availability quicker than governments or nonprofits can. This is evidenced by OSM’s “mapathons” held after natural disasters, where individuals from universities, corporations, and non-profits collaborate to update road, building, and other key infrastructure data using satellite imagery so relief workers can utilize the best data in their response efforts.

When we have faced challenges in acquiring data for a particular area or region through traditional methods, we often turn to OSM for a solution. OSM will often have more updated and complete roads/infrastructure data than other sources. These data are especially useful for cartographic endeavors where finding layers quickly for context is essential.

However, OSM data is not as immediately available for download in ArcGIS friendly formats. Here I will show 2 methods of downloading OSM data for use in ArcMap.

Download Directly from OSM

The first method is to download directly from the OpenStreetMap website using their exporter. Simply go to and find the area you would like to download data for. Hit the “Export” button and you will see a screen with the Extent of the download appear. You can customize this download as either the “current extent” or manually select an area by bounding box. Then hit “Export” and download the file as a .osm file. Now you need to convert this .osm file to a .shp file. You can use for free conversions (up to a certain file size) or look up another converter on the web. The output will be separate shapefiles for points, lines, and polygons. I recommend using the original OSM map to identify the feature categories you want to pull out.

Download using QGIS

QGIS is an open source GIS platform. It is known as one of the best open source GIS options for those who do not have access to (or don’t want to pay for) ESRI software like ArcMap. QGIS has built in functionality to download data directly from OSM and convert it into shapefile format. You can follow these directions:

Fall 2018 Walk In Hours

After an exciting summer on the river and in the lab with our high school MSI students, it is time for the school year to start yet again!

This year we will be clustering project work days and walk in hours to increase productivity and foster collaboration among various users of geospatial technology across campus. Our student interns will be available for consultation as well as the SAL Director and the GIS Technician.

Walk in Hours:

Monday: 1-4

Tuesday: 1-4

Friday: 10-2

If you have a GIS project/problem/inquiry stop by and see what we can do to help. Or fill out this form so we know you’re coming!


East End Cemetery – Mapping Forgotten Gravestones

By Ethan Burroughs ’18

East End Cemetery is part of the "Cemeteries at Evergreen" in the East End of Richmond City.

East End Cemetery is part of the “Cemeteries at Evergreen” in the East End of Richmond City.

East End Cemetery is located on the border of Henrico and Richmond, Virginia. It was established in 1897, and an estimated 13,000 people are believed to be buried in East End. The neighboring Evergreen Cemetery often overshadows its presence, which is another African-American cemetery that has fallen into disrepair in Richmond. Some notable figures who are buried in East End include: Rosa D. Bowser, who was the first black teacher hired in Richmond; Hezekiah F. Jonathan, a business owner with the Richmond Planet editor, John Mitchell Jr. (who is buried at Evergreen Cemetery); Dr. Richmond F. Tancil, a Howard University educated doctor and bank founder in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood; William Custalo, the proprietor of Custalo House, a noted bar and restaurant in Richmond. The cemetery changed ownership a number of times, and is currently owned by the UK Corporation, which lacks the time and the money necessary to provide upkeep to the cemetery; therefore it is up to the families to maintain the gravesites. Unfortunately, this change of ownership has led to much disarray in the process of familial upkeep of gravesites. However, since 2013, John Shuck and groups of volunteers have been working tirelessly to restore East End back to its former state by removing ivy, cleaning up illegal trash dumps, and most importantly, rediscovering and documenting headstones that have been damaged or knocked over. By documenting these headstones, it allowed for this project to become a possibility, since without those records provided by John Shuck and the volunteers, this project of creating a searchable map of burial locations would not be feasible.


The Biology Department at the University of Richmond is working with Friends of East End Cemetery and other volunteers to clean up the cemetery and record data on those buried there. Volunteers have collected GPS coordinates (using a GPS and the Collector for ArcGIS app) of the headstones at the cemetery, as well as collected personal attribute data from the gravestone inscriptions. Local volunteers working on the site submitted the data to Find A Grave, a website that helps people find their family members. Unfortunately, this site does not have options for viewing gravestones spatially, so volunteers also kept a separate spreadsheet in excel with the GPS coordinates hoping to make a searchable map one day. Once the Biology Department got involved, they approached members of the Geography Department to create a database with spatial elements in order for them to store their data about the cemetery in a cleaner, more systematic way. This is a collaboration project between the Geography and Biology Departments and the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) to assist in the regeneration of the East End Cemetery. The data collection and review process has been essential to building a database that will feed an interactive and searchable map in the future. Like East End Cemetery, many African-American cemeteries have been forgotten and lost in undergrowth, but this project for East End Cemetery is part of a larger movement in order to reintegrate African-American cemeteries into our history, and to stop such loss from reoccurring.

The ArcGIS Collector application for mobile devices has and will be crucial for the continuation of this project. The Collector app can be downloaded onto a person’s phone, and can be used as a guiding device in order to lead someone who is looking for a grave to a marked location on a map where the grave should be. This allows those who are visiting East End Cemetery to search through the data that has been collected on their mobile device, thereby allowing one to search for a specific person’s gravesite and be led to the headstone by the spatial software that the device operates on. Using the Collector app would not only allow someone who is looking for a gravestone to lead themselves to the location of the grave, but it would also allow people like John Shuck and other volunteers to enter newly found grave positions while they’re working in the field, rather than having to mark their locations down on paper and then transferring the data over at a later time.


In the coming year, scholars and volunteers from University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the surrounding Richmond community are working to expand the scope of the project and ensure this historic site is accessible to all and contributes to the history of Richmond and our region.

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Examples of the Collector for ArcGIS Interface

***Photos of East End volunteer group courtesy of Brian Palmer.