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Participatory Mapping for Improving Disadvantaged Communities: Examples from São Paulo

March 6, 2018
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Urban Planning

This is the first edition in a series of blog posts about how young researchers are using participatory mapping in their work. We’re starting an interview with post-doc researcher Carolina Carvalho who has been researching vulnerable and poor communities in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil.

What is it exactly that you’re working with, Carolina?

I’m doing research on the empowerment and governance of the marginalized Novo Recreio community. It is in Guarulhos, the second largest municipality in the São Paulo urban area. The work belongs to the frame of the international ResNexus project, which investigates resilience and vulnerability at the urban nexus of food, water, energy and the environment.

Can you tell more about the problems in this area?

Guarulhos is facing several urban challenges. Especially water shortages are a contemporary issue. Other problems in the densely urbanized municipality include air pollution, lack of green areas, and the risk of being able to maintain a clean supply of water.

These problems are particularly visible in Novo Recreio, which shelters approximately 4,500 families in a vulnerable social condition. A lack of access to water is a particularly pressing issue in the community. Besides it, the residents have little access to energy and basic services. The neighborhood also occasionally suffers from erosion, landslides, and flooding.

How did you address these challenges in your work?

We wanted to map out the main problems the inhabitants of Novo Recreio are dealing with and how they could be best solved. And in order to do so, we developed a 3-month participatory GIS course on urban sustainability and environmental health for high school students in the neighborhood. During the course, we applied several participatory tools, like Talking Maps, Community Journal, GIS layers produced manually, and of course Maptionnaire.

More specifically, we used Maptionnaire Community Engagement Platform to have the students plan the kind of neighborhood they wanted. With the help of a map survey, we, for example, asked them to mark where they would like to have a school. Currently, there is no school in the neighborhood and students must walk long distances through dangerous areas to attend one.

Other things we asked them to point out included where they’d like to have a cinema, a fresh food market, or a health clinic. We also asked about a good location for a recycling cooperative, and where would it be appropriate to have a shelter for the residents in case of flood or landslides. Finally, we wanted to know their opinion on how these changes could become real.

Residents of Lahti, Finland can also submit their input and wishes about urban developing and budget spending. If you’re interested in how residents can directly decide on how the budget is allocated, read about participatory budgeting.

A snapshot of the locations that students mapped.
A snapshot of the locations that students mapped.

What did you learn from this?

We learned that young people want to have more leisure options and to improve the quality of life within Novo Recreio. But more importantly, we were able to distinguish preferred places for the neighborhood improvements people desired.

Using Maptionnaire for participatory mapping proved to be extremely valuable for the compilation of insights that can guide neighborhood planning in a vulnerable community. Specifically, the possibility to create heat maps out the data made it easy to detect trends in the points marked by the students. I think comparing the data collected with Maptionnaire against municipal data can help to add efficiency in urban planning.

A heat map of the preferred places to have a fresh food market. The main street seems to be the most desirable location.
A heat map of the preferred places to have a fresh food market. The main street seems to be the most desirable location.

What do you plan to do next?

We are building a report of the results and focusing on disseminating it to the public and the managers of the city of Guarulhos. We’re now working on having also the city managers map the same area using Maptionnaire. You can have a more detailed look at our results and keep following the progress of the project on my blog.

Check out the English and Portuguese version of Carolina's blog.

This project is funded by  PROCESSO FAPESP # 2015/21311-0

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