Potton in 2012, a video drivearound

About six months ago I saw a YouTube video of Bedford, the nearest big town to where I grew up, in the mid-eighties. (It probably wasn’t this one but that’s fairly close.) It was fascinating; we used to go shopping in Bedford back then when I was a kid, and seeing all the shops that are no longer there was most interesting. Anyway, I mentioned this to my dad, and he said: we should do something like that for Potton, the town in which I grew up (and in which my parents still live). Today we did exactly that; since Potton is a small town, we drove down every street in town and recorded it on video.

You learn a new respect for the Google Street Car people doing this, I can tell you.

I wanted to add maps and details of which street was which in the video, and after some playing around with the OpenShot video editor* I worked out how to do just that. Each street gets a couple of seconds of “title” showing its name and also where it is on a map of Potton. The maps were made possible by OpenStreetMap, which is like Google Maps crossed with Wikipedia; it’s a map of the whole world, but it’s created by people and not by corporations who want money to licence it, and therefore you’re allowed to use the maps to do interesting things.

Warning: technical stuff about vector graphics formats coming up. Skip this paragraph if you don’t care.

What I did was get a map of Potton from OSM, export it as SVG, and then go through that map in Inkscape and mark each road with the name of that road. I was enormously pleased to see that each road on an OSM SVG is an individual path (making this possible). OSM people: if you wanted to do something really cool, then in an SVG export make each path have the name of the road that it is as its ID (rather than “path2319” or whatever). This is probably quite hard (each road has at least the path defining the street itself, a path defining the border of that street, and the text), but naming these as “roadHighStreet_main”, “roadHighStreet_background”, and “roadHighStreet_text” or something might be possible. Anyway, once I had an SVG with all the IDs set to be the street names, a quick Python script was enough to turn that into one SVG per road with that road highlighted in red. (You can get the SVG of Potton with all roads marked with IDs as well, if it’s useful to you.) The script also creates an “overlay SVG” for each road name as well, so that I could overlay the road name onto the video so you can see at any point where you are in town.

End of technical stuff.

This was a fun little project. I mean, what you’ve got is a video which is nearly two hours long and is nothing but driving round a small Bedfordshire town, so it ain’t gonna win any Oscars, but I’m pleased we did it. Maybe in twenty years someone will find this on YouTube and be amazed at what Potton looked like in 2012.

Potton in 2012, a video drivearound (and downloadable in webm and h.264 format)