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Equitable Development Toolkit
Equitable Development Toolkit
Community Mapping
What Is It?
Why Use It
How To Use It
Keys to Success
Tool in Action

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 Community Mapping: A Visual Narrative

Community mapping is a vibrant way of telling a neighborhood's story. It can highlight the rich array of neighborhood assets, analyze the relationship between income and the location of services, or document vacant lots and buildings.  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.

Context Display Analytical
Context: Concentration of African American population by census tract. Milwaukee, WI (Endeavor Corporation) Display:
Lead exposure risk levels by property parcel
Minneapolis, MN (Longfellow Community Council) Analytical:
Property parcels with code violations and concentration of Latino population by census tract
Los Angeles, CA (Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles)

(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.

Community Mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

The terms community mapping and GIS are often used interchangeably.  We define community mapping as the entire spectrum of maps created to support social and economic change at the community level, from low-tech, hand-drawn paper maps to high-tech, database-driven, Internet maps that are dynamic and interactive.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS), as defined by the US Geological Survey, are

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.

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