Real First World Problems: Forgetting the Need for Mapping

We had the privilege of hearing directly from Robert Banick, the GIS coordinator at the American Red Cross HQ in Washington D.C., as a guest speaker for our ICT4D class period. What struck me about his presentation was the sheer importance of mapping. We tend to take this for granted living in a country where we can map pretty much anything down to a micro-image. We know almost every store, home or business along the way. This is clearly not the case for most of the world. As Banick said, “We take for granted that in the US we can see a map of any city and all the buildings but that isn’t a reality in most of the rest of the world”.

This has a profound impact on how organizations and individuals can address development needs across the globe. It even impacts how you handle a day-to-day emergency. In the US we take for granted how prepared fire departments are in response to emergencies. They know the quickest routes and how to get in and out with limited chaos. This isn’t the case for towns like Lira in Northern Uganda where buildings are huddled close to one another and mapping failed to provide easy routes for addressing fires adequately and timely. If there isn’t mapping, there might not even be general knowledge of which building is on fire. This is a simple thing that we forget. This is exactly where we see “first world problems”. It isn’t in our joking memes about not getting to check status updates, but the lack of understanding of what basic things like mapping have provided our society.

The current scandal regarding the missing Malaysian plane brought much of this to my attention. We live in a society that has gotten so accustomed to knowing where everything is a moments notice. Although this particular example involves things outside of mapping, it still addresses this mentality. It sometimes takes extraneous cases to rattle us and remind us that knowing everything’s location and whereabouts is a luxury, not a norm.


2 responses to “Real First World Problems: Forgetting the Need for Mapping

  • veggiemunster

    I took the IDEV GIS class last semester, so a lot of what he said wasn’t new to me, but I’d like to stress something he didn’t. Those involved in mapping for their jobs are going to want demand for those maps. However, as he talked, it was hard for him to give examples of how the maps were used. We talked a lot in my GIS class about how most folks look at GIS mapping as its own research project instead of as just the “tool” that it is. GIS is nothing without the ways that people use it. Otherwise you’re just making pretty maps–I wanted to know how the Red Cross, but mostly the Philippines’ Government used the maps.

  • areed2014

    I also took the IDEV GIS course last semester, and I agree with the comment above. To add on to what you have both said, GIS mapping projects need to also offer tangible solutions and projects to the stakeholders that the maps are made for. In some sense it is important to have reliable maps in and of themselves, however that is not the most effective use of GIS.

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