Think of where we’d be without maps. Everything would be more difficult: getting to places you don’t know, building homes and infrastructure, working out who owned what. And so on. Simply: maps are essential for civilization.
We’re so well mapped these days–from Google to GPS–that we tend to take cartography for granted. But there are still places on Earth that don’t have that luxury. There are towns and regions that mapping left behind, like the wildernesses that Google now wants tracked), and the slums that nobody cares about, because only poor people live there.
In a piece for NPR, Gregory Warner looks at a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, that used to be invisible to outsiders, because there was no definitive record of it. Fortunately, though, a group of independent mappers are doing something about it. And the effect is good. Warner says:
Their map includes things like informal schools, storefront churches and day care centers, but also dark corners with no streetlights, illegal dumping grounds and broken manholes. They bring the most urgent problems to the attention of the authorities.
Warner explains how mapping the slum, called Mathare, has helped locals lobby for streetlights, and clear space for a communal water pipe. He says residents now can’t be evicted so easily, and have less to fear from developers who send “arsonists in at night and erase all traces of a community.”
It’s still not a nice place to live, but at least the area now exists in a firmer sense.