A community mapping project in New York is showing how OpenStreetMap can not only show how mapping can help people navigate, it can shape how people perceive their city.
New York City contains hundreds of community gardens. These gardens represent the the hard work of thousands of New Yorkers coming together to make these spaces come to life, and in some cases growing their own vegetables to be either given away or sold at local markets. Yet these gardens don't appear on most maps. Only a few of them appear on Google Maps, and none of them appear on the New York City maps, where the community gardens appear as vacant lots.
OpenStreetMap NYC, the local OpenStreetMap community group, in collaboration with GrowNYC, a New York City based environmental non-profit, are working to increase the visibility of these gardens through a collaborative mapping project. GrowNYC has released their data about New York community gardens to the OpenStreetMap community to help encourage their inclusion on the map. Because of OpenStreetMap's flexible way of describing features, mappers are able to capture not only the name and address of a community gardens, but also features like the hours that the garden is open to the public, and even whether or not the garden offers composting.
On November 22nd, OpenStreetMap NYC kicked off this collaboration through a meetup where local community members came together to work on mapping the gardens. Leading this meetup was Eric Brelsford, a NYC Mapper and founder of 596 Acres, a non-profit dedicated to land use and advocacy issues in New York City and Mara Gittleman from the NYC Community Garden Coalition, an activist organization working to protect community gardens in the city.
This collaboration presents benefits to both GrowNYC and OpenStreetMap. As Mara Gittleman explains, "Having an up-to-date map can help gardeners, researchers, and allies make the case for community gardens to funders and policy makers by showing their proximity to things like schools, illustrate where they might make up for lack of access to parks, quantify environmental benefits, etc." Unlike proprietary maps like those from Google, the maps provided by OpenStreetMap give direct access to the geographic data, allowing for all the benefits to researchers and policymakers.
Using OpenStreetMap also presents benefits for to the community gardens. Garden organizers and maintainers can now keep the information about their gardens up to date on their own, without needing an intermediary. And because OpenStreetMap is used by so many websites, these community gardens will be getting exposure to millions more people than they have before.
Because of its collaborative nature, its purposefully neutral stance on data and its extensible data representation, it seems likely that more community groups will use OpenStreetMap to shine a spotlight on previously invisible features of our world.