“People today have an urge – an impatient urge – to participate in the events and processes that shape their lives”. UNDP
Participatory development and design can take on many forms and applications in both a local or international context. A participatory approach to development has become a widely accepted model in urban sustainability planning and practise, one form being the purposeful representation of landscapes we’ve all come to know (and for some of us, love) –maps! Untangling local knowledge and community conceptions of place, participatory mapping has emerged as a dominant paradigm in inclusive approaches to sustainable design for cities.
Mapping urban sustainability in eThekwini, South Africa
eThekwini Municipality’s Imagine Durban project has led the development of the eThekwini Green Map – an interactive tool that showcases the sustainability features of the municipal area. Community-oriented in design, the Green Map is a form of participatory development that uses mapmaking as the medium to produce community-asset maps featuring sites of sustainability. eThekwini joins the Green Map system in this global initiative. A universal set of 170 icons are used as the language to visually depict the sites on the Green Map. The online Google platform of the map presents this resource as an open-knowledge sharing platform on localized social and environmental sustainability issues and assets.
The eThekwini Green Map “will involve all citizens in building and enjoying a more sustainable city” says Bongumusa Zondo, Senior Manager of Imagine Durban. Providing an opportunity for locals and visitors to view eThekwini through a sustainability lens, the Green Map offers a new perspective of the municipal area and visually communicates a sustainability portrait of the communities within eThekwini.
By reaching out to a wide range of communities, Imagine Durban seeks to build the Green Map to represent and celebrate all the Municipality’s diverse community assets that support and promote social and environmental sustainability. A print version, published quarterly, is also available to reach an inclusive audience given the digital divide within eThekwini.
Youth community-asset mapping in eThekwini
Championing inclusive participation in development, Imagine Durban led two community-asset mapping pilot projects in the communities of KwaNdengezi, and another in KwaMakhutha. The youth participated in a series of workshops where they were exposed to the concept, practice, and applicability of ‘sustainability’ in a local and global context; explored, located, and photographed sustainability features of their community; and shared them on the Green Map. The project aimed to empower the youth with skills, and develop a sense of community identity and pride, as well as an ethos of caring for the natural environment.
The participatory approach of the Green Map is a pillar for the materialisation of the map to inclusively engage the public as anyone can suggest an asset for the map. According to Wendy Brawer, Founding Director of Green Map system, “The ability for all ages and backgrounds to get involved is one of the most important social changes that Green Maps leverage… Green Maps will help shed light on the journey that each community undertakes, and illuminate the initiatives and innovations that make sustainability happen in a meaningful, actionable way.”
From Finland to Colombia, Green Maps locate and inspire
Green Maps can take various forms, processes, and have tangible benefits that can be approached in different ways.
The Colombian non-profit organisation Fundación GeoVida guided a project that used Green Maps as an instrument for communicating environmental concerns of low-income youth in Pereira, Colombia.
“The mapmaking process is a very rich learning opportunity to understand about our local environments and community resources; improve our communication skills through the use of the Green Map icons” says Carlos Martinez who co-founded Fundación GeoVida, and played an instrumental role in the implementation and coordination for Pereira Green Map project. He continues, “Participants gain new skills such as eco-literacy, new media and technology; participants also learn about leadership and community empowerment, and the possibilities to make change in their own communities.”
As many good things do, the Helsinki Green Map began in a coffee shop. A group of volunteers came together as the Helsinki Green Map team and crowd-sourced people’s favourite green sites in the city. Engagement with Aalto University and the public provided the opportunity to begin organizing sites into themes relevant for Helsinki business, research, and culture. This led to the Helsinki Green Map using themes of Sustainable Mobility, Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Design, and Sustainable Building as guiding pillars to communicate, and stimulate discussion on the city’s visible and not-so visible green sites.
“Helsinki is now experiencing a vibrant ‘pop-up culture’, where grassroots innovators are organizing all kinds of fun community building events. One role for Helsinki Green Map is to help link these people, places and activities; another crucial role is to help link the cultural, commercial and research arenas through mapping” says Cindy of the Helsinki Green Map team.
The Green Map is a tool that promotes sustainable development through community participation, fosters dialogue on all aspects of sustainability, and celebrates ‘the local’ initiatives. There are challenges when operating from an approach to development that aims for inclusivity, yet along the journey the Green Map provides a participative framework for multi-stakeholder engagement in urban sustainability.