I love maps. Their communication power to reveal and clarify our world is like little else. But they also have political power — and they can be used to influence how we interpret the world around us. (The blog Strange Maps is full of such examples.)
GrassrootsMapping.org is a admirable project that seeks “to invert the traditional power structure of cartography.” The site teaches people how to use simple and inexpensive technology (a digital camera, a helium balloon or kite, and a computer) to create their own haps.
“The resulting images, which are owned by the residents, are georeferenced and stitched into maps which are 100x higher resolution that those offered by Google, at extremely low cost. In some cases these maps may be used to support residents’ claims to land title.”
It’s not to say that map making is a neutral act, but giving people an alternative to official maps is a powerful tool in information democracy. The Grassroots Mapping site is full of great stories of people creating maps, and some of how they’ve engaged in political processes.
Putting the images together isn’t the most streamlined task. The Cartagen Knitter allows images to be stitched together, but it’s a far cry from something like Photosynth, which does a lot of the tedious work automatically. It’d be great to see some sort of technology share here.