[RFC] Feature Proposal - Adopter

I’ve been in discussion with a number of mappers, and determined that there is no standard way to tag the adoption of a street, road, highway, park, etc. by volunteers who pick up trash and do minor landscaping/maintenance. In many countries, there are adopt-a-street signs marking the beginning and end of the adopted length, making it an objective, mappable attribute of a way or area. I propose adopted=yes/no for features, as well as adopter=[organization name]. Thank you for your consideration. Please discuss this proposal on its Wiki Talk page.


I probably wouldn’t use exactly that tag, since “adopted” for roads has a different meaning in British English. There are a few uses of it.

That doesn’t mean the concept is a bad one (even if it’s a US-centric concept).


Out of curiosity, what does it mean in British English?

1 Like

In a nutshell, the local council is responsible for maintaining an adopted highway, not the people who live on it. See here.

(as ever, it’s a bit more complicated than that, and the legislation is different in Scotland and NI, but the initial summary paragaraph of that link is a good starter).


I would also recommend using a different term that is easier to understand for people who are not familiar with the concept


There’s nothing similar in Greece, and I agree that a different term should be used, if possible, to maybe capture the British English meaning and others if exist, if it’s gonna be an universal proposal.

Thanks! Yes, this sounds like the process in the U.S. for dedicating a street so that the municipality will accept it.

As for the subject of the proposal, an alternative term would ideally cover the wide variety of infrastructure that can be adopted in the U.S. and Canada: highways, streets, alleys, storm drains, bridge lights, street trees, waterways, and more. The concept appears to have worked its way to the UK, too, with a red telephone box adoption scheme.

1 Like

By the way, it’s worth noting that some U.S. states distinguish between “Adopt-a-Highway” and “Sponsor-a-Highway”. In the latter program, the sponsor gets their name on the sign for merely contributing the money required for upkeep. So one possible alternative would be to tag both kinds of programs as sponsor=*, then additionally tag the adopter as some kind of maintainer:*=*.

The proposal doesn’t call it out specifically, but community institutions like libraries and parks often benefit from the volunteer efforts of “Friends of” groups. These groups don’t necessarily get credited as adopters, but they do often have some sort of physical presence, be it a sign or a donation box.

In the UK people also adopt a station.

I’d echo @SomeoneElse’s caution about using plain adopted. The phrase is even used in a famous poem by John Betjeman The Subaltern’s Love Song:

By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o’clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Historically wealthy people often lived on roads which they and their neighbours maintained themselves. This reduced their local taxes, but such roads acquired status long after the tax advantages disappeared, because they were an outward sign of wealth. This Bing imagery shows a fairly typical example : no street lights, no sidewalks, gravel rather than asphalt (and it’s much better than it was 25 years ago).

We already have tagging issues with such roads which are often marked with a “Private” sign which leads people to tag them access=private when in fact delivery drivers, visitors etc have no problem using them: although many tagged in this way may have been cleared by Amazon editors.

Newly built roads have to go through an adoption process: the developer has to ensure that a road is built to standards that the local authority find acceptable. Often the street name sign does not go up until this process has been completed (another mapping issue).

1 Like

To emphasize British governance structures in addition to British English spelling, we could call it “devolution”? :thinking:

In seriousness, would “private adoption” or “community adoption” be a more palatable term for these Adopt-a-Whatever programs?

Yes, I think so, I couldn’t find another suitable synonym yesterday, and a prefix is likely to avoid the worst consequences of a key which could be interpreted in widely different ways. Of the two I think I prefer community_adoption.


How permanent for these volunteer arrangements tend to be? Are they transient things that are likely to result in a lot of out of date data, or do they tend to last for years?

The signs are posted for the duration of a permit to perform the cleanup work. The duration varies by state, for example five years in California, three years in Virginia, and a minimum of two years in Texas. At the city level, Phoenix requires at least a two-year commitment for its streets, and Charlotte, North Carolina, has the same duration for adopting a bus stop. These are minimums; some adoptions last for decades.

Another contender citizen adoption - We are so much used to have the administration take care of our well-being, that we, the citizens at times just plain vanish. I see this as a means, where the administration supports citizen involvement in public affairs. Locally, there is a program to manage plants in so-called Baumscheiben (the unpaved space around trees.)

Yes, citizen engagement is one of the purposes of many of these Adopt-a-Highway programs (alongside cost saving). I hesitated to suggest “citizen” because it comes with a specific meaning as well.

Totally forgot about this status, and to check for any collision in meaning in UK previosuly. I would like to mention I suggested partner= as generic as possible beforehand. Inspiration from delivery:partner= . There is 1 https://taginfo.openstreetmap.org/keys/adoption_partner#values about pets. It can be prefixed eg street_cleaning:partner= if needed. (3 https://taginfo.openstreetmap.org/keys/street_cleaning#values apparently for the frequency)
For other possible uses, there is the Adopt A Monument/Heritage movement in Europe and India.

Depends on what “community” is said to include. Some cities allow businesses, and even other government units to adopt. The opposite for the implication of “private”.

This is actually the common situation in the UK. A business will sponsor planting and maintenance of the green centre of a roundabout in return for a small advertising style board. I’ve also known them adopt small nature reserves with some financial support and volunteering by employees. However sponsor=* is poorly used.

A more generic tag is perhaps a good idea, but I’d tend to avoid partner=*, because it’s a “weasel” word. Partner is heavily overused in English for all sorts of relationships which are not partnerships, but where one side usually makes a significant financial gain at the expense of the other (notably employer/employee relationships (Uber …), but also some franchising, distribution (software, cars), agreements).

This is true, but I don’t think it changes the overall spirit of these programs that the business community can step up and adopt a street. In fact, some of the most infamous highway adopters have been organizations that the community shuns, but this doesn’t keep the program from being advertised as a form of community engagement.

The purpose of qualifying “adoption” with “community” would be to avoid a potential conflict with some other understanding of “adoption”, not to precisely define eligibility criteria.