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American Society of Landscape Architects


January 2005 Issue

Creating a Green Vision
Community mapping in a digital age.

By James L. Sipes, Asla

Creating a Green Vision
Image Courtesy of Common Ground Community Mapping Project

Online mapping is a popular way for citizens to share information with each other during the community planning process. Online mapping allows for sharing data across organizations, platforms, and formats and makes information easy to access and modify. Many earlier online mapping systems had limited data input/output options and did not permit new data to be mapped. Users could pull up existing information but could not add to it or make modifications—a frustrating situation for those who wanted to provide input. Some of the more complex, computer-generated mapping programs are interactive, meaning that users can explore alternatives and ask “what if” questions in real time as part of a public meeting.

The basic idea behind community mapping is to get citizens involved in making decisions about their neighborhoods. In the old days, public involvement consisted of workshops where discussions were led by a moderator, and helpers used flip charts and felt-tip markers to write down what was being said. But regardless of how well comments were documented, it was impossible to capture all thoughts and to demonstrate to participants how their input influenced planning decisions. “Many participants felt that they were not being heard,” says Steve Mullen, Asla, a landscape architect and principal of Foresee (4c) Consulting. Participants felt alienated from the planning process and, as a result, were not supportive of decisions that were made.

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