Mapping Sustainable Community Resources from Manhattan to Beijing
Is there a store in your city that offers products made out of recycled materials? Are there grocery stores that sell local and organic foods? In 1992, I wanted to design a catchy way to help people locate such green living resources in New York City. So, I started to map out every farmers market, solar site, community garden, and park in the city. Keep in mind, this was before the internet, before Yelp, and Google Maps. Within a few months of printing that first Green Map, people wanted to know how they could make their own editions, and now, the network of locally-led Green Map projects includes 65 countries.
Excitingly, one of those countries is China. It’s a place I have been thinking about since diplomatic relations were established in 1979 and my in-laws traveled there with one of the first United States-China Friendship groups. Photos and books they brought back portrayed a place so different and difficult, crowded yet elegant. It made a deep impression on me. A few years later, while on route to teaching in Tokyo, I ‘dipped my toe’ into China. I found Guangzhou bleaker, more timeworn and unsettling than expected.
My experience there and in other rapidly changing, crowded cities made me anxious to impact urban dwellers and local environments around the world. It made me aware of the power of maps. They were universally understandable and shared a unique perspective of place efficiently. I knew instantly that this medium would amplify my eco-design skills and help everyone answer the question, How green is my city?
In 1995, Green Map System sprang to life, supporting a locally-led, globally connected movement charting progress toward sustainability. Sparked by the reaction to that original Green Map I made in New York, the vision for the emerging Green Map network included China. Could we actually impact communities there? As we started making adaptable tools and co-creating award-winning universal icons to identify, promote and link local green living resources, natural, social and cultural sites across our communities and around the world, the needs of people on the other side of the world were always in mind.
Each of these efforts is unique in helping people forge authentic connections to their local environment and make lower-impact choices for everyday commuting, consuming, learning and leisure time. I’m happy that a broad diversity of Chinese communities, from Beijing and Shanghai to the Zhangjiangkou Mangrove National Reserve, are on the Green Mapmakers list, representing 40 of our 863 projects. A quick way to tour five years of outcomes generated by Chinese Green Maps is to peruse our Global Giving China reports.
Map of Kunming, China
The process of making a Green Map can have as many impacts on community as the published maps. Led by city agencies, universities, NGOs, social entrepreneurs, youth and community groups, some go on walkabouts to gather sites by direct observation; others depend on official information, research and interviews to interpret a district or natural area. All have the option to use our Open Green Map social mapping platform, which combines our icons and Google Map technology on interactive maps that can be embedded, exported and used on any device, thanks to our brand new responsive website at m.greenmap.org.
Open Green Map has an 8-language interface, including Chinese. We have newly translated resources, such as the four methodologies guide from Europe, exemplary student outcomes from Taiwan, Cuba and other countries, as well as the potential for adapting educational tools like our Energy & Environment Exploration modules which will involve kids in mapping urban ecology and green living to support nearby nature. Every site, route and area on the map is open to public insights and images. Whether it's a volunteer effort, a social entrepreneur’s project or fully funded paid initiative, all Green Map projects have access to our full suite of tools, including youth, community and professional mapmaking and community engagement resources.
Our partners in China include Friends of Nature Beijing, one of China’s first NGOs. They organized our 2007 workshops and meetings with support from Delta Electronics, which also created high-impact Green Maps of all their workplaces, as seen at GreenMap.org/csr. It’s been exciting to see how different organizations utilize our tools with their own volunteer networks, such as the China Mangrove Conservation Network and WWF China, which involved dozens of universities in a wetlands mapping initiative. Dozens of expressive editions produced in China are in the Green Map Archive, housed at the New York Public Library Map Room.