Infusing map culture through participatory mapping

Infusing map culture through participatory mapping

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Rumi Mallick
Rumi Mallick
Senior programme officer
Center for Spatial Database Management and Solutions (CSDMS), India
Email: [email protected]
Maps have existed from time immemorial. But their usage has dwindled over time and space. The main reasons for most people’s indifference towards maps is because most are unaware of their significance. Maps mean more than a few lines. Maps tell the story of a locality and provide a unique language for humans to communicate. Mapping the Neighbourhood has attempted to infuse a map culture

We don’t have a map! Why do we need it anyway? This is our village and we know our village. We don’t need a map. This was the answer we often got from students in Almora more than a year back when we had asked “Have you seen a map of your village?”. Not only students in most rural schools echoed the same note, the students in the urban area of Almora town also felt the same.

“Don’t you think a map of your town might help you to know your town better?” – this question was mostly met by silence. When we asked Bonika, Pradipti, Anjali, and others of eighth and ninth standard of the Government Girls Intercollege, Almora about which side of the town was their school located -east, west, north or south and which development block did they belong to, we were met with deeper silence. This echo went beyond the schools and villages to government development offices.

“Maps? Oh, we use them when we need them”… “So do you have them now?”… “No… but it’s all in these papers!!”And we were pointed to three and a half pages of statistics. This was the Minor Irrigation Department of the Development Office. who construct bunds and channels; lay down pipelines. It’s all in the head ofcourse! And what happens when the site officer is transferred? Silence… “Oh we manage”. The same is the case for traffic management department (a wing of the police department), the water supply, sewerage management (municipality), PWD and others. They have plans (site drawings) but no maps. In brief, map culture does not exist!

Like most small town in India Almora, located in the lower Himalayan area that falls within the Uttaranchal state in India does not have a map. That is to say it does not have a map that can be easily accessed (or purchased) and understood (read) by the people (of Almora). Major (if not all) parts of Almora town falls within the government’s (and Survey of India) “restricted” zones. As a result most maps are unavailable to the common people. A town map does exist (made by the Survey of India) with major roads and landmarks located (scale 1:10000, surveyed in 2001-2003), but not in common use and not even in official use. As far as the villages are concerned, in a map (topographical sheet) of 1:50,000 scale, for a part of the district, they appear as mere dots. Large blank spaces exist too with a number of villages not located in the existing map.

The need for up to date detailed maps is not a rare subject but the existence for such a map does not necessarily guarantee its use. Most maps so far have been generated by specialists in organizations of the government with little “people involvement”. People or the community involvement in map making may prove to be a positive step towards map awareness. Involvement in creating/generating a map of one’s own locality may ignite a sense of commitment for one’s place and a feeling of ownership for the map. Community involvement in local map creation may not only guarantee it’s easy accessibly but can actually hold true the notion of ” maps for the people, of the people and by the people”. However even through innumerable studies uphold community mapping as the cornerstone for inculcating a map culture in the community lies in making this culture deep and encompassing. Infact the forte lies in how well this culture can infiltrate all stratums (both horizontally and vertically) and in all walks of life.

Mapping the Neighbourhood has attempted to infuse a map culture among the community, in this case school children, by involving the community to map their locality/neighbourhood/village and use such maps for local problem solving. Today Kailash, Suraj, Kundan, Asha and the others have seen maps of Almora district and recognize their development block. They have also learnt to generate maps of their villages and not hand drawn mental maps but interactive GIS maps prepared in PDA coupled with GPS and processed on an indigenous desktop GIS software. Today Suraj (and many others) keeps maps (hardcopy) of several villages in their school bags. He and his friends have generated these maps and he proudly explains these maps to anybody ready to listen.

Maps have existed from time immemorial. But their usage has dwindled over time and space. The main reasons for most people’s indifference towards maps is because most are unaware of their significance. Maps mean more than a few lines (of different colors), the north line and the legend. Maps tell the story of a locality and provide a unique language for humans to communicate with one another. Maps can record great losses and discoveries, the changes of physical and political landscapes, great beauty and destruction. Maps reflect our relationship to ourselves, to one another and to the environment-they reflect the geography of our lives and communities. Maps are inspiring.

Harley and Woodward define maps in The History of Cartography as “graphic representations that facilitate a spatial understanding of things, concepts, conditions, processes or events in the human world”. Such representations, could be iconic (pictorial or visual portrayals) and/or symbolic (conventional signs and symbols like letters and numbers). However all maps reflect how an individual projects himself to the nature. “Whether conscious or not, our cognitive or mental maps guide the paths and routes that make up our lives. Each of us has a different mental map, a different sense of place, and a distinct way of seeing and being in the world.” (Lydon, 1985). In effect, we have our own stories and geographies, different physical, mental and social landscapes that we experience and occupy everyday. How we spatially and visually represent such stories and geographies is in effect what maps are.