Have you ever visited a new city and found yourself eating at the same tourist-oriented restaurants or buying wasteful plastic trinkets to give to friends? Have you been frustrated by a lack of local produce, community gardens, or composting stations in your home town? In a bustling metropolis like New York, green resources and businesses can be hard to find, even though they are present in almost every neighborhood, which is why a group of local designers led by Wendy Brawer developed the Green Map System, a tool that eases the search for a more eco-friendly life. During the Festival of Ideas, we stopped at Green Map’s booth to learn more about the organization and its hopes to resolve the lack of accessibility and visibility of New York’s sustainable urban features through an open source mapping website.
By compiling information on green places and initiatives from the citizens themselves, Green Map hopes to accelerate the growth of sustainable, interconnected communities. Green Map System was established in 1995 with the mission to promote inclusive participation in sustainable community development through the mapmaking medium.
The Green Map website provides adaptable tools and a graphic language, while local leaders and residents throughout the world create and populate the cartography with personal, intimate knowledge of places. These inventories turn into practical sustainable living guides for residents, and greener tourism options for travelers. Participants in the mapping process can access the interface online through user profiles and mapping groups, or can participate in workshops provided by the organization. The collaboration between individuals to inform themselves and others about their neighborhood enhances the general public’s knowledge about the area and fosters community building.
The communities then publish their graphic guides with the help of Green Maps, in various formats and graphic styles representative of each project. Green Maps in New York City include the Powerful Green Map, created in the aftermath of the 2003 blackout with the intent of teaching New Yorkers about their energy choices, and possibly preventing future blackouts. Green Maps can act as devices for education and change towards more sustainable communities.
With the implementation of smartphone apps and Open Green Maps in the last couple of years, Green Map hopes to expand the network of sustainable communities that have coalesced under the program. The i-phone app, winner of Treehugger’s 2011 Best of Green “Best Eco App for a Smart Phone,” includes a “What’s green nearby?” feature, which pinpoints sustainable businesses in the immediate surroundings of a mobile device. The Open Green Map, a participatory mapmaking website with more than 16,000 locations on view, provides an interactive platform to share insights, images, and impacts of local green sites of all kinds. Individual, thematic maps can be opened for a city or neighborhood, and all locations in user-created maps are compiled into a global Green Map.
Sites are organized within three main categories: Sustainable Living, Nature, and Culture and Society; icons on the map indicate the subcategory each location represents. Additional information about each place is presented real-time through an interface similar to that of Google Maps. Locations in New York City include East Village community gardens, organic and local food restaurants, and social service organizations. Open Green Map connects the local economy, green development and ecotourism movements, engaging citizens with local environment, climate and equity issues in New York and worldwide.