12 December 2010

Citizen scientists go fly a kite

In many parts of the world citizens do not have accurate maps of their communities and lack access to original satellite data. The mapping may not be up to date or the resolution of the maps high enough quality to answer legal questions concerning native title or the true impact of an environmental disaster, such as the Gulf oil spill. Grassroots Mapping involves balloons, kites and other simple tools for citizens to produce their own imagery, which they then own.

In true social media fashion, mappers seek to invert the current power structure of cartography by making their own ‘satellites’ with inexpensive cameras.

I had the pleasure of hearing one of the founders of the technology, Jeffrey Warren from MIT Media Lab’s Design Ecology Group, talk about citizen mapping of the Gulf oil spill at the PDF 2010 conference in New York in June. There is a great video of him talking about grassroots mapping using the MIT Legatum Center 2010 seed funding he received to deploy the mapping tools to youth in a settlement outside Lima, Peru.

A quarter of the world’s population lives in urban slums but most cities have no means of mapping them, and efforts to produce slum maps by governments and nonprofits have excluded the communities themselves.

Margaret Puls is a communications consultant and a member of the Annerley Branch.

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