March 19, 2013
By Pacific Institute Staff
Maps are powerful tools for analyzing and communicating how environmental hazards and resources are distributed in a given place. Mapping technologies that link cell phone technology, the internet, and spatial analysis software have created vital new tool sets for developing solutions to complex environmental problems that impact community health and quality of life. Yet those most affected by environmental and health disparities rarely have capacity to take advantage of these tools. Barriers to access such as having to purchase expensive licenses to use mapping software, combined with the steep learning curve of developing the technical capacity to use it, prevent many low-income and communities of color from using mapping technologies.
While mapping has exploded in recent years, too few mapping projects are able to open the process to involve residents in the construction and use of maps. Residents involved in mapping bring insight to the maps and can develop powerful leadership qualities as they master the process. The Pacific Institute’s Community Mapping Initiative achieves high levels of community participation through participatory research and popular education approaches to engage impacted residents of varying formal education and technological literacy levels in documenting, analyzing, and communicating spatial patterns in local environmental and health conditions. The workshop curricula and tools we provide build community capacity to access and strategically use mapping technologies to document and share local knowledge about their environmental and health conditions. We work closely with organizational leaders to integrate mapping into community organizing and advocacy goals and strategies so that the new information and leadership is linked to organized efforts for change.
Our Community Mapping Initiative builds on over 10 years of experience with mapping projects and capacity-building workshops we have done with community and coalition partners on issues ranging from lead contamination risk and liquor store concentration to diesel pollution and access to open space. Community mapping tools we have used include hand-drawn mapping by residents over computer-generated base maps; spatial analysis using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to answer questions posed by community residents; and internet-based mapping to document and share community knowledge. We also provide technical assistance in creating digital maps or conducting spatial analysis on a contract basis to nonprofit and community-based organizations working on environmental health and justice issues.