Archive for April, 2011

ZoneIn Goes Live

posted April 26th, 2011 in Development, Open Source

We’re pleased to announce ZoneIn, an iPhone app representing our contribution to the Vancouver’s Open Data Framework initiative. Click here to find and download it from the iTunes App Store, or search for it by name in iTunes.


This app was born out of necessity. In fact, I never thought I’d care about zoning information until last year while looking for an office space. I was about to sub-lease some space from a company that was eager to move out East to Washington, DC. While checking out the place, the current tenant commented that I should make sure that my business category was compatible with the city’s zoning by-laws for the office. He continued to explain how he had failed to do this before signing the lease and was shocked when he went in to apply for a business license only to be rejected. After an afternoon of negotiating, he was given conditional approval to do business – in his office.

This place was my first office space and I would have made the same mistake had it not been for his sound advice (Thanks Nick).  Later, while trolling the City of Vancouver’s Open Data catalogue I came across thezoning data and immediately saw an opportunity: an app that enables people check property zoning by-laws by location.

How it Works

The app brings together three key systems: the iPhone app, Fullboar Spatial Services, and Google API. To better understand how it works I’ll take you through the app’s workflow: First, you enter an address and hit ‘lookup’ – pretty straightforward so far. The app will take the address and run it through Google’s Geocoding API to `clean up’ the address and get the associated coordinates (latitude and longitude). Next, the address and coordinates are looked up in our spatial database that contains the city’s data. The address is first checked against the City of Vancouver’s Zoning Districts and Labelsdata. If a match is found then the polygon (property) coordinates and the URL for the district schedule are sent back to the app for display. However, if the address is not found then a backup method of reverse geocoding is used to determine the zoning details. This method takes the coordinates supplied earlier by Google and searches all of the properties to find a match. If thezone details are found by either of the above-mentioned methods, then the app drops a pin on the coordinates and provides you with an annotation detailing the zone type and description. Tapping on the annotation brings up the complete schedule (PDF) for that zone type.

Known Limitations

The address matching is not perfect – yet. While Google does a good job of `cleaning’ the address, it does not necessarily match the format used by the City of Vancouver. This may cause an address lookup to fail and the fallback method of reverse geocoding to be used. I don’t find the fallback method to be as accurate as I’d like.

Zone information is only available for addresses within Vancouver’s boundary.

When the drop pin is placed at the specified address coordinates it does not always look like it’s in the right place. A good example of this is `321 Railway St.’ For this example, the zoning information is correct, however, the drop pin is placed across the street at Two Chefs and a Table restaurant.

Going Forward

In the future we’ll expand the app to include more property data (community suggestions are welcome). In addition, we will continue to improve the address matching capabilities, as well as add the city’s boundary in order to alert you when a address is not part of Vancouver.