On Saturday I presented on Mapping at the Technology 2.0 community summit convened by the Organizers Collaborative (I’m chairperson of the board), Boston Neighborhood Network (the local cable access TV station) and the John O’Bryant African American Institute. I had 10 minutes to…
introduce the technology (mapping) with a very short description and reference to particular brand names (if that helps)
say how they use it and why it works for their purposes (“I use google maps to…”)
demonstrate online (if this helps)
provide a sense of how this technology is changing or has changed the world (i.e. why people should care about learning this tech).
I shared a panel with Curtis Henderson (BNN), Denise Moorehead ( Third Sector New England) and Gabriel Fishman ( Open Air Boston); it was moderated by Suren Moodliar of Massachusetts Global Action and the Organizers Collaborative. The presentation will be cablecast eventually, but I posted some pictures on Facebook and despite my attempts to tamp down the enthuisiasm, people were very interested. So here’s what it was (only lacking in my dynamic physical presence).
- I introduced my relationship to the others on the BNN panel. Most people think of a map as geographic tool to get somewhere; I wanted to break people out of that mode of thinking and instead think of a map as a way to quickly show relationships and information visually. If I had to explain the same information using text, it would be much longer, more complicated and might not have the same impact.
- I showed the excellent Boston Chinatown map from Paul Niwa of Northeastern University which explores social linkages and the flow of news and information in a community. This type of visual representation allows us to very quickly see relationships and make inferences from what otherwise would be a very complicated explanation.
- So much of the formal knowledge we have about the world around us is tied up in spreadsheets. While it’s information rich, it can be difficult to analyze, or, from a community building perspective, it’s difficult to motivate people towards action by just showing them a chunk of text. To contrast, I first pulled up the Boston city website, which showcases the Boston neighborhoods as a uninspiring drop-down list. I then showed the awesome Boston Neighborhood Map by Cosmo Catalano that was built using data from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and probably equal amounts of guesswork. The map provides much richer information than any amount of text could.
- Now that the audience was thinking more about the power of maps, I wanted to show them that mastery of technology wasn’t necessary. To do that, I brought up the East Somerville Community Mapping Project. This was done entirely with pens and markers on paper before it was scanned and put online. The project used mapping as a focal point for dialogue about community issues and community building. The map is also cool too because they collected basic community information that most people ignore or overlook, like where the postal boxes are, yet still shape the community. The act of creating a map can be a powerful tool in itself.
- To continue talking about mapping community resources, I showed the Social Capital Incorporated Lynn Community Guide (the SCI Dorchester website was down at the time). The guide provides good contrast because it allows you to both show a list of services and their addresses as well as those services on a map, clearly demonstrating how a map can make information more accessible to questions like “which location is nearest to your home?” (as an aside, I helped the late Paul Hansen develop the original MyDorchester website that has been used as a template for their other community websites).
- Returning to the idea of building maps together, I showcased the City of Boston’s Bike Map project, which asked people to share their bike routes using paths on Google My Maps. The city then took the more than 200 submitted routes and used them to create a printed map (PDF) of the cities best bike thoroughfares.
- Since I had been talking a lot about using maps for directions, I showcased the I Love Mountains campaign website. This website uses maps to show visitors the coal powered generators near them and then draw a line to where the fuel coal is mined. This is to raise awareness that issues of environmentally damaging mining practices (like mountain-top removal) are linked to all of us. Maps can be a great tool for finding commonalities between people that might not otherwise think of themselves as connected. The world (or even a neighborhood) can be made much more intimate through a map.
- Lastly, I gave people a quick hands on demonstration of how easy it can be to create a map using Google My Maps. Using the (extensive but ungainly) list of Boston Community Gardens from Boston Natural Areas Network, I quickly ran through how to create a map and begin adding points to it. A map like this could begin any number of neighborhood dialogues about acting upon and improving the world around you.
I was pretty satisfied overall with the presentation and I think I only went over by a minute or two. A few community members spoke to me afterwards and said that the presentation had inspired ideas for their neighborhood association and for starting a campaign to increase the number of benches at bus stops in the city.