Community Mapping

Tapping into the power of community mapping; stories of progress and empowerment.

By Starling Childs

We’re all part of a web of unique and overlapping communities throughout our lives. Often these communities are tied to specific places. Our place-based communities include towns, neighborhoods, and campuses, to name a few. But what makes a community authentic and unique? Until now, there have been few tools available that enable place-based communities to quantify the features that give them their unique character, and identify opportunities to boost their cohesiveness and wellbeing.

One way to understand a place better is through an exercise called "community mapping". This involves assigning observed attributes to geographic locations on a shared map and combining that data with other map layers for contextualization and deeper insight. When community mapping is performed effectively it can empower neighborhoods, cities, and towns to chart their own destinies, one map marker at a time.

What on earth is “Community Mapping” and how does it work? 

Simply put, community mapping is a set of grassroots techniques and tools for social cartography. It involves local stakeholders, such as residents, business owners, and local authorities, using a shared community mapping platform to record and monitor the specific sociological details of their neighborhood. This may include features like community events, homelessness, or store openings and closures. Picture a map that doesn't just show streets and landmarks, but also highlights the relationships, shared assets, opportunities, and challenges that make each community unique.

How is this type of mapping useful? Let’s look at a few examples of community mapping case studies.

Case Study 1: Community Mapping for Urban Renewal 🏙️

Let's zoom into the bustling streets of Toronto, Canada. In the Regent Park neighborhood, once plagued by crime and neglect, a local residents group decided it was time to take matters into their own hands. Through a series of community mapping initiatives, where residents recorded their observations in a shared digital community map, they identified hidden opportunities like vacant lots and underutilized spaces within their community.

With this newfound knowledge, the group worked hand in hand with local authorities and developers to transform empty lots into vibrant community gardens, abandoned buildings into bustling art hubs, and neglected streets into safe havens for children to play. From this early community mapping work, progress continues as the Regent Park community prepares to deploy a $26.8 million community investment vehicle to carry their priorities forward.

Case Study 2: Community Mapping for Disaster Preparedness 🌪️

Next we’ll head to the Philippines, a country all too familiar with the wrath of natural disasters. In the aftermath of the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, communities in the city of Tacloban found themselves grappling with widespread devastation and a pressing need for resilience strategies.

Using a shared community mapping platform, local authorities worked with residents to map out evacuation routes, identify vulnerable populations, and pinpoint critical infrastructure. Armed with this knowledge, they developed disaster preparedness plans that proved invaluable when the next disaster - Typhoon Hagupit - struck years later. Lives were saved, communities stood strong, and their living community map has created a bulwark of accessible information to drive better decisions as they weather the storms to come.

Case Study 3: Mapping for Community Resilience 💪

Welcome to the vibrant streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, affectionately known as “Bed-Stuy”. Here, a grassroots community group called Bed-Stuy Strong has been making waves in the world of community mapping. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the neighborhood faced unprecedented challenges. Amidst the chaos, Bed-Stuy Strong emerged as a beacon of hope, leveraging the power of community mapping to rally neighbors, volunteers, and local businesses to support those most in need.

By contributing data to a shared community mapping platform, the group identified vulnerable residents, pinpointed food deserts, and mapped out local resources, from grocery stores to medical facilities. Armed with this knowledge, they launched targeted initiatives, such as delivering groceries to elderly residents, connecting individuals with vital services, and providing financial assistance to struggling families.

Bed-Stuy Strong's community mapping work displayed in Ginkgo.

Bed-Stuy Strong's community mapping project not only provided immediate relief during the pandemic but also fostered a sense of solidarity and resilience that continues to thrive long after the crisis has passed. In the face of adversity, Bed-Stuy showed that when individuals come together and map out their shared challenges, strengths, and opportunities, the outcome is collective action and progress toward common goals - the building blocks of community. 

The efforts and achievements of Bed-Stuy Strong remind us that as we chart our way through life together, the most powerful coordinates are those of compassion, solidarity, and community.

Case Study 4: Mapping for Environmental Conservation 🌳

Our final stop takes us to the dense jungle of the Amazon in Brazil. Here, indigenous communities are the guardians of some of the world's most biodiverse ecosystems. Through community mapping, they've documented ancestral territories, sacred sites, and areas of ecological importance.

Armed with these maps, they've successfully advocated for land rights, resisted illegal logging and mining activities, and preserved their way of life for generations to come. In the battle against deforestation, community mapping has proven to be a formidable ally, amplifying the voices of those who call the forest home.

In Conclusion: Mapping a Brighter Future Together 🤝

As we conclude our journey through the world of community mapping, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the power of maps extends far beyond geography. Community maps can be a powerful tool for empowerment, resilience, and collective action. So whether you're a city dweller, a rural villager, or somewhere in between, you might find inspiration in knowing that your community has the power to shape its own destiny, one map marker at a time.

Happy mapping :)

Click here for more posts about:
Community Engagement