India: Build Your Own Map to Improve Your City

Transparent Chennai is a platform for citizen engagement which invites users, both individuals and groups, to create and submit their own data about the Indian city of Chennai. The aim is to help them counter inaccurate or incomplete government data with these updated and crowdsourced ones, and make better claims on the government for their rights and entitlements.

Last year, with the help of a Rising Voices Microgrant Transparent Chennai has added new elements to their existing work by focusing on directly engaging two fishing villages in South Chennai named Urur & Olcott. In their project blog at Rising Voices project blog the steps are described:

How some google image printouts looked after it had been drawn over. Image courtesy Transparent Chennai.

1. Getting the proposal signed and approved by Panchayats (local self-governments).

2. Google Maps images of the coastline were printed out on A1 paper for the participants to understand what was there.

3. Using coded symbols (keys) they drew over the Google Maps images.

4. The Transparent Chennai team prepared rough maps based on these images.

5. The draft maps were presented in a public meeting for feedback.

Based on the feedback the final map was drawn.

The question that was asked was what would you like on your map? Image courtesy Transparent Chennai.

In the Transparent Chennai portal, using a configurable tool you can now build your own map of Chennai with layers ranging from flyovers and special road projects, census data by Ward, slum information from the Slum Clearance Board and location of public toilets. Lucy Chambers of Open Knowledge Foundation India writes:

In Chennai, we took part in Transparent Chennai’s Open Data Camp, organised by Nithya Raman, Srinidhi SampathKumar and team. Transparent Chennai aggregates, creates and disseminates data and research about civic issues in Chennai, including those issues that particularly affect the poor and the marginalised. Transparent Chennai’s work is unique because they actually create maps and data to help people to understand the issues facing city residents. Using their Build a Map tool, users can also select layers of features to create their own interactive city map. The team are doing some fantastic work, and are actively seeking ways to openly license the data they collect.

Some of the notable works of this project include a heritage mapping session in Chennai. Suraj Nair writes in the Transparent Chennai blog:

On Saturday (May 12, 2012), a group of students from IIT Madras and Stella Maris college, summer interns with Transparent Chennai, set out for a heritage mapping session. By visualising data and information that is otherwise found in voluminous reports, Transparent Chennai advocates for better planning and conservation of the city’s heritage and we were excited to be a part of this. We set out early on Saturday with lists of heritage buildings, their sketchy descriptions, GPS devices and cameras. Our aim was to find some of the lesser known sites hidden in the nooks and corners of the city. [..]

On the whole, it was a thoroughly satisfying day, having seen a rarely known side of Chennai. Over the next couple of weekends we will walk down other streets of Chennai, looking for lesser known buildings that were witness to many events and hosted important personalities, and possibly hearing stories of love, tragedy, deaths, births, marriages, political alliances. After all, what is a city without its people and how can we do our bit to preserve this city’s rich cultural and built heritage.

Nithya V. Raman writes that the most common problem with city data is that they are often wrong. Nithya shows the uneven distribution of sidewalks in Chennai city. Priti Narayan shows how data fom Google earth can help in determining where foot overbridges are required for safe pedestrian crossing.

The project's current challenge is in ensuring that the research and data reaches those people who can use it, including citizens advocating for change, policymakers and elected legislators, the general public, and the media.

You can follow the project on its Twitter and Facebook Page.

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