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Keywords:

  • Ireland;
  • local sustainability;
  • community mapping;
  • governance

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Community mapping
  4. Research objective
  5. Community mapping in Galway, Ireland
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Community mapping is a relatively new tool with considerable potential in giving practical effect at the local level to sustainable development rhetoric. As a repository of socially constructed knowledge, it has considerable value in democratizing information both in terms of what is recorded and public access to it, in a manner that facilitates more meaningful participation of non-experts in planning and advocacy processes. Focusing on a community mapping project in Galway, Ireland, this research paper explores how the city's municipal authority is employing community mapping not just to record and promote the city's social, environmental, economic and cultural assets but also as a practical tool to bolster public participation in policy-making and to improve local communities’ trust in the municipal authority, thereby shaping sustainability practices through enhanced governance.


Community mapping

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Community mapping
  4. Research objective
  5. Community mapping in Galway, Ireland
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Difficulties associated with giving practical effect to the abstract concept of sustainable development have stimulated a good deal of research on the challenging task of assessing progress towards that goal. Despite its increasingly high profile in international, national and local policies, it is argued that the concept is in danger of moving from a stage of ambiguity to cliché without ever having passed through a stage of meaningfulness or comprehensibility (Kelly et al. 2004). Sustainable development is fundamentally linked with integration of ecological, economic and social considerations at all geographic scales from global to local. People's sense of place and their relationship with nature and the environment are seen as critical within this regard (Cheney et al. 2004).

Core requirements and general tenets of sustainability must be accompanied by context-specific elaborations (Kemp et al. 2005). This means that there is scope for, and indeed a requirement for, locally derived sustainable development options (Fahy and Ó Cinnéide 2008). The need for more effective tools to develop and assess sustainable development was one of the major themes identified as a priority under the EU's Sixth Framework for European Environmental Policy to 2010. The development of practical tools for the application of a local process of sustainable development represents a major challenge. Some new tools have been reported in recent literature on sustainable development (Devuyst et al. 2001; Wheeler 2004). Such tools include: ecological footprinting, visioning, environmental impact assessment, best practices and sustainability indicators (Wheeler 2004). Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have been utilised increasingly to map and analyse many different phenomena across a region: for example, topology, census data, soils (Wheeler 2004). Such information is vital to support sustainable development planning. Community mapping is another relatively new tool that may be deployed to good effect in promoting a sustainable development agenda at the local level. One such application of this tool in the city of Galway, Ireland is reported and evaluated in this paper.

Maps have always been part and parcel of geographical research. They have the capacity to reveal and link knowledge, learning and power (Lydon 2003). Traditionally they have been regarded as abstractions of reality that displayed data about the world around us in an objective manner. More recently, they are increasingly viewed as products of culture reflecting the world-views of the map-makers (Soini 2001). From this perspective, map-making is regarded as a creative response to ‘the environmental perception and the geographical imagination of humans’ (Soini 2001, 225). In recent times maps have escaped the clutches of professional cartographers and are no longer the preserve of an elite discourse. The advancement of technology and indeed the opening up of many new mapping spaces, for example, GoogleEarth or WorldMapper, have brought maps to the masses. Community maps represent another form of mapping that has engaged the public imagination to a significant extent. They are locally produced visual depictions of an area that record and promote social, environmental and cultural resources. The maps display what people value in their neighbourhoods. As such they are collective representations of local geography and landscape. Community mapping is the process of creating these representations (Lydon 2003). The process enables a community to reflect on what they treasure in their communities. The mapping is not so much of the community, but by the community in a manner that reflects their assets, values and visions for the future (Lydon 2003, 136).

Though community mapping is still in embryonic form, it has already been used in various ways and in different settings dating back to Aberley's (1993) work on local empowerment in the US. The process has been used extensively in developing and expanding GIS programmes in schools across North America (Knapp 2003; Tate 2005). Community mapping is contributing significantly to the growing area of Public Participation Geographical Information Systems (Tulloch 2004; Wood 2005). Other community mapping projects have been initiated with the objective of promoting tourism in particular localities (Grasseni 2004). Community mapping is also deployed as a communicative and engaging tool for community learning and planning. In this respect community mapping is shown to have potential to enable a community to identify and record elements of its neighbourhood on which it wishes to focus attention. In so doing, citizens and communities develop a sense of identity with their localities.

Green Mapping is a global example of community mapping. A ‘Green Map’ is a locally produced chart, which identifies, promotes and links elements of the natural and cultural heritage of a particular locality. In addition to highlighting such phenomena as green areas, cycle paths, green businesses and organic markets, these maps may catalogue museums, art galleries, religious centres and other cultural sites that make an area unique. The Green Map System is a not for profit organisation that provides a locally flexible, but globally shared framework for environmental mapmaking (http://www.greenmap.org). Members of the Green Map System have access to a collaboratively designed set of icons representing green sites or cultural areas. Map-makers (the publics involved in these projects) throughout the world produce and develop new icons that are particularly relevant to their own localities on an on-going basis and these icons are adopted, standardised and continually added to the system (http://www.greenmap.org). The organisation was initiated in the US where the first green map was produced for New York and it has since spread to countries throughout the world. For example, the Bridge House Trust funds the London 21 Sustainability Network, which promotes and supports community-based action towards Local Agenda 21 in the Greater London region.

Most community mapping projects throughout the world have been undertaken as voluntary activities by local groups (Knapp 2003). School groups and other groupings of children have been responsible for producing a large number of maps (Tulloch 2004; Tate 2005). Universities and other educational institutions are frequently involved as partners. For staff and students of various disciplines, amongst which urban planning and geography feature prominently, community mapping represents an applied field where GIS skills are honed to good effect in support of local initiatives. Community groups may also be joined by national or local level government in effecting a community mapping exercise. Some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with such partnerships are summarised in Table 1. Accessing data, GIS and other mapping resources, funds and professional expertise can be challenging to communities working on their own. Many of the maps they produce are context or display maps. Within the UK, for example, a number of community parish maps, characterised by fine artwork, have been produced (Wood 2005). Involving institutional organisations in community mapping affords the opportunity to bring professional expertise and resources to bear on the project, resulting in enhanced cartographic end products, including more powerful and analytical maps. However, unless the exercise is conducted in a spirit of cooperative endeavour, with due regard to process objectives of promoting community participation and empowerment, the attainment of these long term and potentially far more significant benefits may be undermined through the involvement of institutional partners. In general, community mapping, is revealed in the literature as a versatile tool with considerable potential in engaging local communities in initiatives that promote sustainable development. Its adoption in various community settings throughout the world augers well for its potential as a participative planning tool. Projects such as Planning For Real (2007) in the UK exemplify this.

Table 1. Summary of potential advantages and disadvantages associated with various combinations of community mapping promoters
PromoterAdvantagesDisadvantages
Communities by themselves• Community agenda and vision to the fore• May lack professional inputs and link to policy agenda
• Community engagement and empowerment• Volunteer fatigue adversely affecting completion and maintenance
• Mainly context display maps produced
Communities with university involvement• Access to professional expertise• Danger of becoming university-led and community involvement being marginalised, adversely impacting process objectives of local capacity-building and community ownership
• Access to resources including GIS facilities
• Mapping task objective accomplished to a high standard
Communities with national and/or local level agency involvement• Ready access to official data• Danger of government dominating agenda resulting in a less tangible and less meaningful process
• Secure funding available• Process objectives may be neglected with opportunities for enhanced governance through participatory processes not being realised
• Access to professional expertise
• Mapping task objective accomplished to a high standard
• Project may readily be integrated with formal planning process
• Community joined with government in spirit of cooperative endeavour

Research objective

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Community mapping
  4. Research objective
  5. Community mapping in Galway, Ireland
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Community mapping has galvanised community action around specific initiatives in a way that has captured the attention of public bodies charged with community-orientated responsibilities, and led them to sponsor and participate in such initiatives. However, very few municipal authorities have initiated community mapping projects and embraced this technique explicitly as a practical tool to assist in formulating sustainable development policies in urban areas, despite its very real potential in this regard. A community mapping project promoted by Galway City Council is examined in this paper. This initiative was based on the premise that this tool can be used to good effect by policy makers interested in progressing sustainable development policies at the local level. The maps were envisaged as useful tools to identify particular needs within neighbourhood communities and in broader city-wide jurisdictions. Furthermore, use of community maps as benchmarks for local communities and the municipal authority to identify sustainable development targets and to monitor progress towards those targets was anticipated. In addition, the processes of developing community maps offer opportunities for high levels of public participation. Use of this visual tool to accommodate cultural diversity and to facilitate the inclusion of marginalised groups in decision-making processes represented important goals of the Galway community mapping project.

Much of the literature on community mapping appears to have emanated from sources closely linked with specific community mapping initiatives. In this regard participant observation has afforded opportunities to gain close insights relating to these projects. However, there is a notable lack of objective critical analysis of such initiatives. This lacuna needs attention in order for community mapping to be fully honed as an effective tool and applied in sundry ways that exploit its full potential. Accordingly, critical reflections on the process of developing a community map for Galway are included in this paper. The respective roles of the wider community, the researchers and the municipal authority within this process are considered. The formulation of a community map as a source of socially constructed knowledge and the practical application of community mapping as a practical tool for the advancement of sustainable development goals are discussed in the final section of the paper.

Community mapping in Galway, Ireland

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Community mapping
  4. Research objective
  5. Community mapping in Galway, Ireland
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Context

Galway City, situated on the west coast of Ireland, is the geographical setting for the community mapping project documented in this study. It is the third largest urban centre in Ireland, with a population of over 66 000 (Central Statistics Office 2005). Galway has experienced rapid growth in recent years, such that it is now extended significantly beyond its administrative boundaries and as a result, the population is considerably greater than officially enumerated. Galway is a multi-cultural city and in recent years new neighbourhoods have been created that vary considerably in socio-economic terms.

Galway City Council has been involved in a local process for sustainable development since the establishment of the Galway City Development Board (CDB) in 2000. In preparing the CDB's Strategy for Economic, Social and Cultural Development 2002–2012, the Galway City Atlas was produced and a range of indicators were developed to monitor the achievement of the economic, social and cultural goals. The City Council recognised that the impacts of the strategies on the people of Galway needed to be assessed and that issues of social and environmental justice needed to be examined. It was in this context that the (Irish) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sponsored a collaborative research project involving Galway City Council and the National University of Ireland, Galway to develop practical tools for sustainability at the local level (Fahy et al. 2007). Using various methods of public engagement, the project aims to investigate public perception of quality of life in the city of Galway. In addition, a primary research objective relates to the public's identification with natural and cultural resources of the city.

In July 2005, as part of this research, Galway City Council underwent an independent evaluation on their progress towards sustainable development. This evaluation process, Local Evaluation 21 (2006), is available to all municipal authorities in Europe. It was created as a follow-up to the research project LASALA (Local Authorities’ Self Assessment of Local Agenda 21 2001), which was funded by the European Commission, DG Research (see Evans et al. 2005). This evaluation highlighted that Galway City Council did not have a strategy for communicating sustainable development issues internally and to the wider community. A detailed assessment of local priority concerns was found to be lacking from the City Council's process for sustainable development. Specific recommendations, outlined in the evaluation, included (i) the introduction of an evaluation scheme to examine the long-term effects of the local process, (ii) a need to include targets and measures in order to successfully monitor and steer progress towards local sustainable development and (iii) increased community participation across sectors in order to integrate different perspectives into Galway City Council's local process for sustainable development.

The EPA-sponsored project addresses these deficits by (i) promoting public participation and feedback, including the involvement of underrepresented groups and (ii) developing practical tools for use by municipal authorities, specifically the development of sustainability indicators and a community map for Galway. EPA funding enabled the City Council to engage university expertise in designing and facilitating the project. By utilising deliberative tools for public participation, such as focus groups and mapping workshops, the project aimed to deploy new methods of public participation that would contribute to local communities assuming the lead role in sustaining the project into the future. Many of the advantages associated with collaborative community planning (see Table 1) were enabled through the partnership between the national level EPA, local government, the university and the wider public.

Generating the community mapping process

Drawing on experiences of other cities, community mapping was identified as a tool with considerable potential to address several of these objectives, and this led to the establishment of a collaborative mapping initiative involving the local university, the municipal authority and the wider community in Galway as part of the larger research project. In keeping with sustainable development principles, the project involved high levels of public participation at the local level, including under-represented groups such as youth. Involving youth has been identified by community map-makers across the world as a critical factor in developing these tools. Community-based workshops were the principal method used to instigate the process. The project initially operated within existing structures, including Galway Community Forum and the CDB. These organisations identified groups that might have an interest in participating and university-based researchers liaised with these groups. Twelve mapping workshops were convened initially across the city during the period winter 2006 through summer 2007. Average attendance at each workshop was 10 people. These workshops were organised independently of one another in a broad range of socio-economic contexts, including school groups, retired people's groups, mother and toddler groups, ladies’ groups and groups of professional workers. This purposeful approach to sampling was designed to ensure that the voices of various disparate groups were heard. No effort at gender balance was made, nor can the sample as chosen be regarded as statistically representative of the population as a whole.

The university researchers organised physical resources for the workshops, such as base maps, stickers and flip charts. During the workshops participants located and marked the items they spoke about on a large-scale map. The researchers acted as facilitators and attempted to ensure that mapping sessions were conducted in a relaxed atmosphere that encouraged participants to express themselves. Discussions during the workshops were recorded and transcripts were used as the basis for discourse analysis. In keeping with a citizen-led approach, no attempt was made to delimit neighbourhoods as long as the discussions addressed issues that were considered germane to the domain of the municipal authority. Citizens, in their conversations, paid little or no heed to official borders of city subdivisions, and in fact, these had little relevance to their ideas of what constituted their neighbourhoods.

Findings

Participants mapped everyday walking and cycling routes, bottle banks for recycling, organic markets and sites of religious worship. Many of these elements of the cityscape generated much discussion regarding such dimensions as their origin, their traditional uses, accessibility and safety. Some themes that featured significantly in the discussions of particular community groups were notably absent from the considerations of other groups. References to sites of religious and literary significance were prominent in workshops comprised of elderly citizens but did not feature at all in some of the other workshops. Youthful participants, i.e. school children, primarily emphasised their own agendas relating to sports facilities, school walking routes, places to swim and vantage points to see wildlife in the city. Some interesting social awareness themes also surfaced in the discussions of young people. For example, in an all-boys school, a number of students raised the issues of access for elderly people to pathways and services in the city and identified locations that were inaccessible to less mobile citizens. The main themes that arose in one workshop, comprising a ladies’ community group, are summarised in Table 2. Discussions ranged widely over social, environmental and cultural issues and covered contemporary and historical elements of the cityscape. Other workshops considered many of the same phenomena, but very often included elements of the urban fabric of special interest to the group in question.

Table 2. Main themes that emerged from Workshop 2, a ladies’ community group in Galway
ThemesExamples
ReligionLocation of the local mosque, R.C. church, Indian prayer group and times when these congregations meet, location of old mass rock
Literary referencesLocation of book clubs, poetry readings as well as references to their local area in well known texts (e.g. local cemetery is mentioned in James Joyce's short story The Dead)
LanguageAreas where the Irish language is spoken in the locality
EducationLocation and opening hours of local library, multi-denominational schools in the area
EnvironmentLocation of parks, walking routes, dog-friendly area, bottle banks for recycling
Social facilitiesLocation of playgrounds, skate parks, tennis courts, location and time of bridge game in local community centre
Visual landscapeNice views of the city, good spots to watch the sunset, quiet places to sit

On completion of the initial 12 workshops, the university researchers abstracted salient community features as identified by the groups to a community base map. The map was digitised with the assistance of the local university and placed on public display by the municipal authority online (Galway Green Map 2008). The map was publicised widely through local media and this stimulated the participation of new groups and individuals who wished to add other elements to the base map (Figure 1). Specially designed suggestion forms were made available online and were distributed through the local press. This in turn generated new material for abstraction to the map, as well as broadening the range of issues considered by the original groups. The City Council dedicated staff time to the update and addition of new material to the map on an ongoing basis. This incremental community mapping process served to sustain a form of two-way dialogue between local communities and the municipal authority that was initiated with the conception of the project. The hosting by the City Council of the community map on its official website was interpreted by community participants as recognition of the value of their endeavours. A sense of shared awareness of these elements of the cityscape featured on the map represented another important outcome of the ongoing process. Heightened awareness by city planners of these elements of the cityscape is contributing to their enhanced consideration in the course of formal planning processes.

image

Figure 1. Organic evolution of the community mapping project in Galway, Ireland

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Over a relatively short space of time, short of three years in total, the community mapping project has grown organically and has assumed an internal dynamic that is sustaining it into the future. A digitised map represents the main tangible output of the process and the map is maintained and constantly updated by the municipal authority as new data emanate from community groups. An extract from the map is depicted in Figure 2.

image

Figure 2. Extract from the community map of Galway (http://www.galwaygreenmap.ie)

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Limitations

The Galway community map may be presented as a grassroots perspective of the city. Within the rhetoric of participation, however, it is important to note that this perspective is not necessarily representative of all members of the community. The purposeful and non-representative nature of the original sampling introduced certain biases to the process. Additionally, although the production of a digitised map and its online display has conferred many advantages on the community mapping process in Galway, the publication of information exclusively online limits access to certain sections of the population. High levels of exclusion are associated with a range of socio-economic factors including education, age, employment, language and access to technology (OECD 2004). This has implications for the participatory nature of the project as it has evolved locally. There is an inherent bias in favour of those on one side of the digital divide, despite the attempts that were made to overcome this through the additional use of more traditional local media. Furthermore the community map can be perceived as a classic reductionist tool that displays the geographical distribution of selected elements, but it excludes the wealth of knowledge shared and generated in the process of collating the data. On the positive side, this information has been recorded, transcribed and submitted to the municipal authority as part of the wider project. There is also a risk of community maps being used as commercial advertising tools. To date this problem has not arisen in Galway, although no pro-active steps have been taken to avert this potential problem. These criticisms are not exclusive to the Galway project, nor do they detract sufficiently from the process to undermine its value.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Community mapping
  4. Research objective
  5. Community mapping in Galway, Ireland
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Communities making their own geography

One key feature of the whole process of community mapping is that of sharing lived experiences, raising awareness and increasing knowledge about local areas. Community maps reflect interrelationships with one another and with the environment. They reflect and record the geographies of our lives and our communities (Lydon 2003). All maps represent and reflect how individuals or societies name and project themselves into nature, literally and symbolically. This project revolves around the notion of making maps that express stories about participants’ lives and their local places. Indeed, mapping of a local area facilitates citizens’ participation in the creation of a new geography. The mapping process assists in harmonising cultural needs with every day practical life.

The process of community mapping in Galway is designed as a collaborative endeavour not simply between the researchers, the municipal authority and the community, but also amongst the community members themselves as a means of promoting a sense of belonging to the community. The mapping workshops provided opportunities to retell local history and reflect on developments in the area. Participants listened to each other, discussed the places they had lived in, leading many to discover, to their amazement, their lack of awareness of interesting features and activities that were present in their local areas. Networking with other community groups involved in the Galway community mapping project represents another key element of the project. Furthermore, through existing community websites and online networks such as the Green Map organisation (Green Map organisation 2006) community groups share their experiences with groups in other cities, in Ireland and abroad, creating an international community mapping network. This wider geographic dimension facilitates the exchange of ideas and experiences and, in so doing, helps generate innovative solutions to local issues of sustainability.

Researchers’ reflections

The manner in which the university-based researchers’ roles have evolved and changed in the course of championing the community mapping process in Galway is particularly noteworthy. At the outset the researchers facilitated the process by acting as key information providers and sharing their cartographic and data resources with the community groups. They also briefed the community groups on community mapping projects undertaken elsewhere. They outlined the manner in which such projects were conducted elsewhere, but stressed the uniqueness of each mapping project and the desirability that the maps should reflect the special features that captured citizens’ interests in their locality. As awareness of the community mapping projects spread throughout the city, the researchers encountered increasing volunteerism, with several local community groups (attracted to the idea of an enhanced sense of belonging to their localities, which they associated with the project) pro-actively seeking information and involvement in the process (Figure 1). As the project's appeal grew, the community mapping process became the main item on the agenda of various local groups. The researchers’ roles were transformed from that of instigators, promoters and facilitators to that of observers who recorded and analysed proceedings and provided a source of specialist cartographic advice as requested.

Community mapping and the municipal authority

Central to this project is the engagement of Galway City Council in dialogue with citizens and communities in order to gather relevant information and shape sustainable development practices. In accordance with sustainable development goals, the project is assisting the City Council in bolstering public participation in policy-making and in improving levels of trust between local communities and the Council. Sustainable development discourses place heavy emphasis on the need to develop more democratic decision-making processes. Despite the earlier criticisms of community mapping in Galway City, the on-going mapping process is contributing significantly in this regard. This map provides the City Council with grass-roots perspectives of the city. It details aspects of life that various publics have identified as important to them. The map represents a practical tool, with potential to investigate issues of sustainability and land-use planning in the city. For example, it can be utilised to examine the perceived distribution of facilities across urban neighbourhoods and highlight areas of felt needs within Galway. The community mapping process generates high levels of public participation at the local level, even though it is not truly representative of the entire city population. The process has inbuilt mechanisms to create shared awareness amongst stakeholders, including the public at large. Integration of community-based views and initiatives into local authority planning processes and activities has become a holy grail for many people involved in planning for sustainable development. In this context it is noteworthy that Galway City Council has enthusiastically embraced the community mapping project. The map appears on the Galway Priority Action Plan 2008–2013 (City Development Board 2007) and individual sections of the municipal authority have recognised the tool's potential and incorporated it into their practices. For example, the map has been availed of by the Information Technology section within the City Council to further their objective of creating an E-Galway by 2013. Potential applications of the mapping process in other policy areas are currently being explored; for example, the map records the publics’ identification of cultural resources in the city and the manner in which this information may be useful in formulating a new cultural policy for the city of Galway is currently under consideration.

Further applications

The potential of community mapping as a tool to progress a local process of sustainable development has not been explored to any considerable extent. There is little evidence in the relevant literature of attempts to use community mapping to this end. The Galway project is highly innovative in that community mapping is being used explicitly by the municipal authority to bolster the city's LA21 activities through a process of enhanced governance arising from an informal partnership arrangement that has stimulated public interest and participation in city affairs. Results to date are strongly encouraging. A process that was instigated through an action-research project funded by a national-level agency and mediated by research staff of a local university has assumed a life of its own, with community groups throughout the city actively collaborating with the municipal authority in a community mapping project that is contributing significantly to the realisation of sustainable development objectives. Local community groups are reflecting on sundry aspects of their urban environment and identifying those elements of the cityscape that are of particular significance to them. The community groups are joined with their municipal authority in compiling a cartographic record of these elements. The publicly accessible map is promoting a new level of awareness amongst citizens and stimulating civic engagement. New knowledge is being generated through a process that is giving voice to communities and this knowledge is informing decision-making in the municipal authority. Shortcomings of the tool in furthering local sustainability practices doubtlessly will emerge in time. However, the Galway experience of community mapping strongly indicates that it merits application and evaluation in other settings.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Community mapping
  4. Research objective
  5. Community mapping in Galway, Ireland
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

We wish to thank Galway City Council and all the members of the community who participated in this research. We gratefully acknowledge the EPA/STRIVE programme for their generous support of the research presented in this paper through a research grant (# 2004-SD-FS-23). Finally we extend our appreciation to Alastair Bonnett, Amy Swann and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Community mapping
  4. Research objective
  5. Community mapping in Galway, Ireland
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
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