Those working in community revitalization frequently wrestle with questions such as:
These questions-along with countless others about socio-economic conditions, development opportunities, and neighborhood change-can be answered through the use of community mapping. Mapping is the visual representation of data by geography or location, the linking of information to place. Community mapping does this in order to support social and economic change on a community level. Mapping is a powerful tool in two ways: (1) it makes patterns based on place much easier to identify and analyze and (2) it provides a visual way of communicating those patterns to a broad audience, quickly and dramatically. The central value of a map is that it tells a story about what is happening in our communities. This understanding supports decision-making and consensus-building and translates into improved program design, policy development, organizing, and advocacy.
The products of community mapping can take several forms: Context maps represent one or a few variables by a broad unit of geography (e.g., income level by census tract). Display maps are more complex, illustrating single or multiple variables by smaller units of geography (e.g., the condition of individual properties at the parcel level.) Analytical maps are the most complex, layering and analyzing multiple variables by various levels of geography. An analytical map might combine income at the census tract level and condition of individual properties at the parcel level and highlight how the two variables relate to each other.
(Please see the map gallery for more examples of cutting-edge community mapping applications used to promote equitable development.)
Community maps can be hand drawn or computer generated. Some of the more complex, computer-generated maps are also interactive, allowing users to analyze data and create maps based on the locations and kinds of data that interest them.
Increasingly, community practitioners are using computer software such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) (see sidebar) to carry out community mapping projects. Other technological advances, such as handheld computers and public access to the government's Global Positioning System (GPS), are also transforming the world of community mapping.
This tool is an overview of community mapping, with an emphasis on how mapping is used to support equitable development. It offers general guidelines for engaging in mapping and discusses the benefits, the possible types of analysis, how various approaches work, and the scale and cost of different efforts. It reviews a range of community mapping efforts, from low-tech to high-tech and from communities around the country, with an emphasis on projects using GIS.