Mapping Informal Neighborhoods

New mapping tools are helping cities around the world map and understand their poorest communities.

2 minute read

August 5, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Checubus / Shutterstock

"The geography of slum living has long been poorly defined," writes Laura Bliss, but an international NGO hopes to change that by facilitating the mapping of informal neighborhoods in cities around the world. According to Tony Frangie, "It’s no secret that census officials don’t really go deep into these areas, so nobody really knows the real population of the entire city." And "[w]ith no street names or buildings on platforms such as Google Maps, information gaps keep much of the slum landscape hidden to outsiders. For residents, it makes it harder to access the benefits and services of urban development, such as roads, water hookups, sanitation and the internet. "

The ability to create maps of formerly ignored areas can have immediate impacts on people's access to services. Map Kibera, a project in Kenya, "has shown by providing geographic information to NGOs and activists that have successfully improved water connections and the number of schools in slums outside Nairobi."

"In Caracas, a group of researchers and students recorded the streets and businesses of the San Miguel de la Vega slum using notebooks and smartphones, then uploaded the information to OpenStreetMap, the open-source mapping platform" to create a map of the neighborhood. "Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), an international NGO dedicated to open-source mapping for development and humanitarian purposes, has helped dozens of similar projects around the world."

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