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Modern Day Innovative Mapping

Author: Lorna Reed, Intern at SIX
Published Date: 29 February 2016

In today’s world, connectivity in part comes from the use of digital maps, whether it’s looking at holiday destinations, places to stay or finding the quickest route. Maps form an integral part of our visual culture; they can be found on walls, on our phones and in our homes and offices. They appeal to our sense of belonging but also create opportunity to jump into the world outside of our local context. 

For the last couple of years, mapping has been reaching new heights. We are not only mapping routes and destinations but have begun to innovatively map socio-political, economic and geographical issues for the benefit of society. There now exists a vast amount of examples of this work, but here are a few that give an idea of the accomplishments of modern day innovative mapping.

OpenStreetMap (OSM)

Considering the popularity of the bird's eye view that digital maps provide; the newly harnessed power of collaborative technology; and the restrictions on use or availability of mapped information globally, in true Wikipedia style, it was only a matter of time before projects like OpenStreetMap came about.

This project was started in 2004 by Steve Coast and has grown to over 2 million registered users, who can collect data using manual survey, GPS devices, aerial photography, and other free sources. This is a collaborative project to create a free and editable map of the world that can now be used to support humanitarian organisations in the event of a natural disaster.

In 2010, Haiti was struck with an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale. OpenStreetMap and Crisis Commons worked in partnership and used available satellite imagery to map the roads, buildings and refugee camps of Port-au-Prince in just two days.

After Haiti, the OpenStreetMap community continued mapping to support humanitarian organizations for various crisis and disasters including Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa. OpenStreetMap have also worked with donors like USAID to map other parts of Haiti and parts of many other countries, both to create map data for places that formerly were blank, and to engage and build capacity of local people.

Peta Jakarta

Disaster relief mapping continued to grow.

As the population of Jakarta continues to expand, the impacts of flooding are significantly heightened; the flood in 2007 inundated houses of 320,000 residents and claimed the lives of 80 people.

PetaJakarta is a research project led by the SMART Infrastructure Facility, University of Wollongong in collaboration with the Jakarta Emergency Management Agency (BPBD DKI Jakarta) and Twitter Inc. Activated in 2014, Jakartas citizens were able to report the locations of flood events using Twitter, forming a publicly accessible real-time map of flood conditions. This then supported the creation of information for flood assessment, response and management. Throughout the extent of the monsoon season, the PetaJakarta project received and mapped 1,119 confirmed reports of flooding. These reports were formed by 877 users, indicating an average tweet to user ratio of 1.27 tweets per user. 

Through disaster mapping, the local population is now able to make independent decisions on their own safety and actions in response to flooding in real time, making them more resilient in the face of crisis. Users are able to see the results of their contributions on a real time map linked to their twitter account. The map is also used by both public and government agencies which created a two way interface between users, PetaJakarta and the government. 


Mapping can also help solve social problems as well as aid in disaster relief. In India, there is a crisis surrounding sexual assault and harassment, which was not being actively addressed or acknowledged. D’Silva founded ‘Safecity’ in 2012, after the infamous gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student on a Delhi bus took place. This app allows women to anonymously document accounts of sexual assault and maps the locations of each incident. After ‘hotspots’ have been identified, Safecity then works with local partners to find solutions that fit within the neighborhood context.

In Delhi, for example, they identified one hotspot by a tea stall where men would intimidate women. The culture meant asking for it to stop wasn't an option, so instead, a local artist painted an entire wall next to the stand with staring eyes to convey the same message, and the situation has since improved. 

So far, Safecity has had reports from more than 50 Indian cities, including Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi, as well as the Nepalese city of Kathmandu. They also have (tiny) datasets from the Kibera slum area of Nairobi and from Cameroon, as well as some reports from London, New York and San Francisco.