Maps: More than Point A to Point B

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Maps are mind-blowing. Click here to see what I mean. However, since mapping allows creators of maps to present all sorts of information in a variety of ways it’s importance to be aware of any agendas that may be operating in the development of these maps. This is one of the reasons that OpenStreetMap is such a cool premise. Anyone can edit it, so theoretically there’s no cause for concern about one overarching agenda.

This week our class has joined the OpenStreetMap community and taken up the task of mapping Chitwan, Nepal. I’ve found that watching the lines and squares appear while tracing roads and buildings is both empowering and intimidating. Contributing to the world’s largest crowdsourcing and open license project certainly has implications far beyond the walls of our classroom, but it’s easy to feel disconnected from the on-the-ground impacts of the technology.

The benefits of mapping are fairly clear in the context of humanitarian responses, but how can maps be of use in a broader development sense? OnTrack and CPD Maps are two examples where the power of maps has been successfully harnessed to target resources most effectively. After all, one significant advantage of maps is their ability to get us from point A to point B most efficiently.

Unveiling OnTrack at the 2013 Esri User Conference.

Unveiling OnTrack at the 2013 Esri User Conference.

OnTrack is a citizen feedback platform developed to facilitate communication through citizens and governments. However, this communication becomes more challenging when a lack of data on local infrastructure hampers monitoring of the status of various projects. That’s where mapping comes in. A “Mapping Party” at the 2013 Esri User Conference used OpenStreetMap’s platform to map infrastructures and identify project sites and beneficiaries, creating upwards of 640 building footprints. This allows for more effective communication between project implementers and targeted communities, and facilitates monitoring of development initiatives.

CPD map.

CPD Maps is an application that allows donors to target funding to neighborhoods with the greatest need for assistance. It works by providing data and maps that help identify census tracts with particular conditions, such as funded projects, neighborhood rent, and economic need, which allows for an overlay of areas of poverty on the maps. Moreover, donors and the public can access CPD maps from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website. This allows anyone to see where federal investments are being made, information which may empower individuals to suggest future development targets.

In this way, maps may increase the accountability of government agencies and development organizations to the communities in which they work. Furthermore, crowdsourcing projects like OpenStreetMap may decrease the chance of a specific agenda shaping the data that is shared. Looks like maps aren’t static after all.

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