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Opinions of Tuesday, 17 December 2002

Columnist: Numetu, Roger Sergeant Jr.

Addressing Ghana

Seldom do we see a Ghanaian referring to a street atlas or a road map for direction. Many prefer to ask a street hawker or a passerby for the right direction. When asked, the hawker or passerby is likely to use terms like "behind the", "in front of", "to the left of", or "to the right of", "north of", "south of", "east of" and "west of" etc. of known landmarks, natural or manmade.

What the hawker or the passerby is trying to do is, verbally create for you, a geographic model of where you?re trying to go and, how to get there. It doesn?t matter whether s/he spoke in English or one of the local languages. On your part, as you listen to him or her, you?d try to conceptualize the geographic model in your mind. When you?re satisfied with the model, you?d say ?thank you" and part company.

You see, the world in which we live is made up of geographic (i.e. geo/spatial) distributions. As human beings living in a world made up of geographic distributions, we intuitively "handle" geographic distributions effortlessly (at least in a verbal sense), because God has programmed our brains to do so. Just because we have the ability to give directions using landmarks, often without pausing to think, doesn?t mean there?s no need for a national address system.

In your encounter with the passerby, you?d describe what you?re looking for and, s/he would tell you where it is. This is somewhat natural because geographic distributions require two descriptors to represent the real world: what is present and where it is. These are the two fundamental questions you?d ask of geographic data, no matter whether the data consists of a paper map or a digital map stored on an In-Car navigation system or a digital file system within a geographic information system running on a multi-million dollar computer.

The Addressing Problem: The core problem starts with the current house numbering and the P. O. Box numbers system. The P. O. Box numbers system, I think, has outlived its "use-by date". The current Ghana addresses, in a real world sense, are not addresses at all, because they don?t meet the definition of "address". Please, look it up in the dictionary before you get angry.

We live in a country where every city, town and village has its own form of addressing. Some individuals and organizations even add the traditional "behind the Shell Filling Station" or "near the uncompleted building" to their addresses. In Geospatial Information Technology, the term used to describe this approach is "geographical referencing".

The act of attaching "landmarks" to the address as a "locational identifier" is not necessarily a bad thing. But, when the information needs to be exchanged over a larger domain, it becomes necessary to formalize or standardize the address system to describe the location of a house or a building in order to ensure that, the accompanying data are communicated effectively and interpreted without ambiguity.

National address systems and Post/Zip Codes evolved as the result of the desire and, the need to exercise control over economic and social processes. The complexity of such processes in a real world requires their modeling at a certain level of simplification, generalization, and abstraction.

We all know how, for example, transportation and road networks impacts socioeconomic activity. Road networks provide the basis for several indirect location referencing systems, including street addresses and various linear referencing methods commonly used to locate features like bridges, signs, pavement conditions and traffic incidents.

A national address system together with Post/Zip Codes establishes a framework to standardize the acquisition; storage, processing and dissemination of many types spatially distributed data such as census records, unemployment and business data in an urban environment.

With the current system, it is practically impossible to use any of the international address matching tools and, therefore couldn?t be used for e-Commerce transactions. Maybe, this explains why the e-Business revolution is struggling to take-off in Ghana.

Another key point is, the current address system doesn?t lend itself to any form of micro level socioeconomic analysis. I think it?s time to develop one easy national address system and Post/Zip Codes for providing address across the country. In order to accomplish this task, it is necessary to develop a comprehensive address range codes and a national address codes guide.

Address Codes Guide
An Address Codes Guide (ACG) is basically a set of analog information made up of city block codes, street names, address ranges designed to support effective applications of PostCodes in the preparation of urban geographic base maps needed for infrastructure development and economic resources management. The ACG I designed is a flexible template intended to work nationwide. The goal is to standardize building/house/apartment or flat numbering system in the country.

Presented below, are a sample ACG worksheet and a conceptualized urban center. The ACG includes a Dual Independent Map Encoding (DIME) feature, made up of Ground Control Points (GCP) numbers associated with each end of a city block in a face left and face right relationship with adjacent city blocks. The GCP are described by x and y coordinates and elevation.

In practice, geodetic engineers would set the GCP at 2?3 feet below the surface at the intersection of the roadway. Geodetic engineering practice demands that, the GCP is set in brass and encased in an iron cylinder about 8 inches in diameter and covered when not in use.

Intended uses of the Ground Control Points

  • Engineering surveyor?s reference points in all city or township development projects ?utilities engineering (underground electricity and telephone cables, storm and sewer drains, water mains), city transportation network, commercial buildings and private houses.

  • Surveyor?s reference points when mapping census tracts, electoral and PostCode boundaries and city base maps.

  • Township base map preparation for civil engineering ?To determine most feasible alignments for street construction, drainage areas, and location of proposed storm and sanitary sewers.

  • Planning Administration and City Development Planning ?Base map preparation for land use data bank and new township layouts.

  • Engineering Planning and Engineering Public Works ?Preparation of base township and city maps, determining the location of facilities and utilities forming a comprehensive base for analysis of over-crowding of housing and impact studies.

  • Because the GCP are linked to the National Reference System, they could be used in geo-referencing satellite images for use as digital base maps for development.
Address Range Coding
As can be seen in the Address Codes Guide Worksheet, the Address Range is a 3-digit code. The syntax used for the Address Range Coding is as follows:
Address Range Code = [Bxx]

where B represents the city block number and xx is the number assigned to the building or house on a given street, avenue or alleyway.

In the ACG Worksheet example, the Address Range Code for the first city block on Innovation Street is [from 101 to 199, Face Left] and [from 100 to 198, Face Right]. The from-to ranges indicate the possible numbers that could fall within the city block and, the Face Left and Face Right divide the numbers into odd and even groups.

The Address Range Code for the adjacent city block (Eastwards) would be [from 201 to 299, FL] and [from 200 to 298, FR]. The Address Range Code for the next city block would be [from 301 to 399, FL] and [from 300 to 398, FR] and so on, until the end of Innovation Street.

Now, the Address Range Code for the first city block across the street (i.e. west of the first city block shown in the Address Codes Guide Worksheet) would be [from 101 to 199, FL] and [from 100 to 198, FR] Note that, they are identical. It is therefore necessary to introduce a Structured Field Separator (SFS) to discriminate among similar street names within the same PostCode zone, city, town or village.

Using the geographic directions (East, West, North, South, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest), street names and PostCodes as SFS, the Address Codes Guide "template" shown in the worksheet can be used for streets running in any direction, and could be used anywhere in the country.

The Address Range Codes "design concept" is equivalent to a giant [m x n] matrix within which each element represents a street address and, is identified by its unique location (i, j) within the matrix. The PostCode areas represent polygons (storage cells) within the matrix domain.

Advantages of Address Range Codes over Current System

  • Standardizes building and house numbers throughout the country, thereby eliminating the confusing house numbering system currently used.

  • Enables city and township engineers to plan (in advance) building setback lines thereby eliminating the practice of demolishing buildings to make way for the construction of city streets and utilities.

  • Enables city and township developers to calculate (in advance) Building Intensity Index and Building Height Index before construction begins, thereby eliminating overcrowding.

  • Establishes a structured system for collecting applied social data across the country for Plan formulation ?Short and long range comprehensive planning and enforcement of development codes and urban development zoning laws.

  • Establishes a uniform system that could be inserted into the Urban Development Zoning Laws across the country.
Structure of the PostCodes
The Ghana PostCode is made up of a four-digit code and two alphabetic characters representing the official abbreviation for each region. The syntax for coding is:
PostCode = (AA) + (NNNN)

where A represents an alphabetic character and N represents a numeric character. The alphabetic characters are used here as additional mail identification or detection tool. Note that, the syntax posted above is abbreviated for publication in the news media.

The PostCode was geo-coded in a unique manner and, complemented by the recognized regional abbreviations in a way such that, even if you forgot to include the region, or in an extreme case, forgot to include the PostCode when addressing a letter or parcel, delivery is guaranteed.

Address Format
This section outlines the syntax (address format) that should be adhered to when addressing mail when Ghana PostCodes are introduced. The PostCode will form an integral part of every address (home or business) in Ghana. The PostCode should be written on the same line as the region, separated by one space. The same format should be maintained for the return address. "Ghana" is written on the line below the Postcode when addressing mail intended for foreign destinations.

Syntax = Addresee_Name + n(Street_Address) + City/Town/Village + Region + PostCode + (Country)

where n = Bxx, is the number of the building, apartment or flat.

A major advantage of this format is that, even if one of the components in the address is wrong, let say, the spelling of the city/town or village, an address-matching tool would figure out where the letter or parcel should be delivered. Even if you forgot entirely, to write the name of the city/town or village, delivery is guaranteed.

While the most immediate benefit of a national address system and PostCodes is the efficient delivery of postal services to the public, more useful applications are in Information Technology. Posted below is an example of address database application that could be used for mail delivery management and administration.

Key Benefits of PostCodes
PostCodes do more than keep mail moving. PostCodes are a valuable business tool, to be specific, in the area of business information management. In the Information Technology (IT) age, so much business information includes PostCodes because many business transactions have an address component, enabling businesses to put their operations into a geographic perspective.

Businesses of all sizes in every industry, even hawkers and peddlers, Kenkey and Banku sellers need to learn who their customers are and where to find more like them. Using geo-demographic analysis techniques, businesses can study the effects of spatial location on marketing and retail. The technique involves analyzing the spatial distribution of customers, potential customers and retail and/or marketing outlets. Geo-demographics typically focus on three areas: (1) customer profiling, (2) branch location analysis and, (3) direct marketing.

How does the nation benefit from PostCodes? Much of the information needed for socioeconomic and infrastructure development are geographic (spatial) in nature. Using geo-relational modeling techniques, decision-makers would be able to visualize the effects of their policies on the citizens and subsequently improve upon their decision-making processes. It must be pointed out that, geo-relational modeling techniques use spatial data modeling methods that represent geographic features as an interrelated set of spatial and descriptive datasets related via common keys e.g. PostCodes and telephone number area codes. 

  • Businesses: Analyze business locations and map sales volume by PostCodes
  • Law Enforcement: Map and analyze crime statistics by PostCodes
  • Insurance Pricing: Map your customer locations by PostCodes and make better premium estimates
  • Elections: Develop voters' register database by PostCodes and weed out ghost names
  • Tax Revenue: Map tax revenues and analyze returns by PostCodes
  • Utilities (Water & Electricity): Map customer locations by PostCodes and develop programs for fault-tree analysis and decision-tree analysis
  • Vehicle Registration: Link vehicle registration to the owner's geographic home and analyze automobile accidents by PostCodes
  • National ID: Link national ID to PostCode areas and monitor internal migration efficiently
  • Unemployment: Map unemployment by PostCodes and develop appropriate training programs where needed
  • Census: Get census estimates from addresses and PostCodes
  • Health: Collect health information by PostCodes and gain the power to fight the spread of infectious diseases

And many more @ Ghana PostCodes

Roger Sergeant Jr. Numetu
Seattle WA USA
Writer is a Research Fellow at Michigan Technological University

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.