Session 7

Civic Maps

There are multiple and overlapping histories of communities using maps for civic action, from participatory GIS to environmental justice, from indigenous land claims to crisis mapping. Currently, there is an explosion of new civic mapping tools and practices. For example, Open Street Maps allows large numbers of people to participate in improving an open map base; Grassroots Mapping provides tools for community-created aerial imagery layers; Ushahidi's hosted Crowdmap service allows quick and easy creation of incident report maps; etc.

Visiting facilitators:

Jo Guldi : A historian of modern British history and the commons and a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and teller of true stories about why things are the way they are (history).

Catherine D'Ignazio : A current student with the Center for Civic Media, director of the Institute for Infinitely Small Things and the Experimental Geography Cluster at RISD and proponent of experimental mapping as civic action.

Arlene Ducao : A current student at and creative computerist at the MIT Media Lab and coresident of Boston and Brooklyn where she is working on, among other things, OpenIR, making geo-located infrared data available for civic purposes.

Pablo Rey : Visiting researcher with the Center for Civic Media and creator of civic mapping platforms Meipi and Basurama.

Jeff Warren : Researcher with Grassroots Mapping, enablers of balloon and kite mapping.

In class:

  • Blog post chat. (10 min)
  • Students will talk about an ICCM experience, the Civic Maps Toolkit project and how we are defining civic maps.
  • Jo will share a brief history of mapping and why we need a class of maps called "civic" maps. Jo will talk about who owns maps and why aren't they inherently useful for civic purposes and about civic mapping from a time before the internet. (30 min)
  • Then we'll hear from some civic mapping practitioners about forms of civic mapping that they are currently working on. We'll ask probing questions about how these are and are not participatory and connected to action.
  • Catherine talks about critical mapping. (25 min)
  • Arlene talks about OpenIR and how it's being used. (20 min)
  • 5 min break.
  • Pablo talks about Meipi and Basurama. (15 min)
  • Jeff talks about Grassroots mapping. (30 min)
  • Hands on: Local Ground. (15 min)


    (Choose by theme) - choose a category you are interested in, get the contact info of the other students in the category; write up 5 resources that you find, keep in touch with each other about which resources you are writing about so that you don't duplicate. Storymaps may also be interesting.

    Take some time to brainstorm kinds of resources (when writing up, use tagging/writing instructions~)!.

    • Walking Papers is a tool to submit hand-drawn contributions to with corrections for new streets and street formations and details about the ways that buildings are occupied—public, private, residential, businesses. You can print out a map with a QR code, annotate by hand and send to Walking Papers who contribute it to OpenStreetMaps. The goal of Open Street Maps is to geospatial data in an open way to update and correct for the geospatial data sets available commercially that may be incorrect, out of date, misrepresentative.
    • Local Ground is a similar tool, but for creating your own maps rather than contributing to another mapping project. You can see examples of use on their website.
    • We'll break into small groups, print out maps either of our home areas or work areas (what do people prefer?) and in groups, choose things to map that are important to you—what are the routes you most commonly move along, what kinds of paths would you like; where do you hang out, why; where do you find groceries, other staples?; what would you add to your immediate surroundings if you could? Work together to share ideas about what you would like to share about this area and what you would like to change. After a bit, we'll try to take a picture of these and scan them into the platform to share them with each other.

Case Study

(5–10 min) Choosing Assignments

Assignment: Write 1 case study for the Civic Maps toolkit or 5 resource entries. We'll select these in class from a list. Case studies are due as drafts in session 8 and final drafts in Session 9. Resources are due in session 8.

Please use these templates to organize your case studies and resource write ups:

Case study template:

Resource template:

Couple up for grabs:

  • Japan Digital Archive - Crisis Mapping Case study
  • Safecast - Safecast is a global sensor network for collecting and sharing radiation measurements to empower people with data about their environments.
  •,, a nonprofit organization that strives for the day when everyone in the world can take a safe drink of water, works to provide access to clean water and sanitation to hundreds of communities in Africa, South Asia and Central America. NiJeL developed the WaterPortal, an internal, custom-built content management system, and the Map Explorer on top of a robust database that now houses all of's programming data.
  • My Dot Tour - Boston youth media education and empowerment - contact, Kate Balug, Rahul Bhargava, Leo Burd
  • Villa Victoria - Grassroots planning and development in South Boston, contact, Jenny Larios Berlin

From our list or if you know of others and are excited about them as Civic maps.

  • toolkits and how-tos
  • mapping platforms - online/web-based
  • open source tools
  • data
  • mapping projects
  • NOTE: resources for students: our brainstorm, articles, look for other aggregations of resources, etc.

Hands-on workshop:

In groups of 2–3, create an annotated critique of Kony2012 (using critical commons, Zeega, popcorn js, macro generators, or any tool of your choice. And/or:



« return to classroom notes