A UB geographer created the ‘Color Buffalo’ mapping tool to help people relax and connect with their city
BUFFALO, NY — With many Buffalonians engaged in social distancing, a University at Buffalo geography researcher is offering people a new way to connect with their city without leaving home.
Monica Stephens created the “Color Buffalo” card, a printable coloring book that lets people create custom cards for coloring or painting offline. Found online, “Color Buffalo” allows users to zoom in on a map of Buffalo to produce a coloring page of a city block or zoom out to print pages of the entire region. The close-up areas of the map that are within the city of Buffalo show the outline of buildings and streets.
“I created this map/web app for families or anyone else who would like a Buffalo coloring book,” says Stephens, PhD, assistant professor of geography at UB College of Arts and Sciences. “We’re all going through a very stressful time right now, and I designed the card to help people relax by making art without more screen time. I also needed to entertain my child from educational way, as he is at home learning about the neighborhood, geography and art.
“My students use this technology to design and deploy web maps for various community purposes. I thought a coloring book would be an app that many families could use right now while we work and learn at home.
Children can use the map as a learning activity by identifying their home; draw missing elements, such as cars, dogs or potholes; or color-code their neighborhood according to themes such as the number of trees on a block.
Stephens asks people who want to share photos of their creations to use the #ColorBuffalo hashtag on social media.
The map tool works best in the Google Chrome browser because other browsers may not allow users to print the map, Stephens says.
The inspiration for “Color Buffalo” came from a map-based coloring book created by a company called Mapbox, which partners with one of Stephens’ cartography courses to help students develop web maps. for community causes, says Stephens.
After discovering the Mapbox book, which is a PDF file that cannot be edited, Stephens set out to create a version for Buffalo that was interactive and could be printed directly from the web. This would allow people to find and color in neighborhoods or regions of their choice. (The online tool also has a “click for your location” button that generates a map based on a user’s location).
To build “Color Buffalo”, Stephens combined open source data and interactivity features from Mapbox and OpenStreetMap (OSM) with detailed building footprints that were digitally generated by Microsoft, but are not accurate enough to s support for planning or emergency purposes.
For people who might be interested in creating similar tools for other locations, Stephens explains the process in a short description found at the bottom of the “Color Buffalo” card: “This experiment was inspired by the coloring book Mapbox Since buildings in Buffalo are missing from the OSM data, I added the Microsoft building footprints for Buffalo in monochrome style, then modified paper.css to create a printable page.