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How A Map Made By Residents Transformed A Slum Area in Nairobi

The City to City Barcelona FAD Awards seek to recognize on an international scale any urban experiences or actions utilizing innovative ideas and entrepreneurial attitudes that have a positive and transforming effect on cities and their inhabitants.

This year the first prize went to Mumbai and I covered it here. This article is number 1 of 3 covering the runners up. The others are Libera Terra, Sicily; and Slums, City and Education in Architecture, Bangladesh

Map Kibera let inhabitants of a forgotten slum map their territory, deciding what was important to go on it, thereby grabbing the attention of the authorities to get them to answer their needs.

Map Kibera painted on a wall

Map Kibera

Kibera, one of the most densely populated, poor and marginalized suburbs of Nairobi, was a gaping void on the map until 2009, when a group of young people from this region created the first digital map, free of charge and open to the world of its own community.

The Map Kibera project sought to give a voice to this invisible and silenced community by creating a map of the suburb and digitally putting it in the world. Once the digital platform initiative was launched, it has served to amplify the community's voices, raising awareness of the tough life in Kibera through its news items.

Map Kibera was started by Mikel Maron and Erica Hagen, collaborating with local grassroots organizations such as Carolina for Kibera. They selected, trained and equipped around 15 youngsters to introduce them to the world of ICTs and teach them to formulate the programmes and use GPS devices.

Once they were able to handle the computer and the applications, they were shown how to collect their community's points of interest, and they were encouraged to put on the map whatever they considered suitable. With this information a map was produced by using the website, which permits creating and sharing maps in a simple way and free of charge.

Once the suburb's streets were mapped, additional information on Kibera was added according to the topics that the youngsters wished to highlight in their community; one of the most important to them was security. They entered the least safe points and those with the highest crime rates.

The map was thus made more useful for the neighbours and reported to government agents any aspects that needed improving in the district. The map was printed to enable ongoing discussions on topics, distributed around the community and even painted on street walls.

They then began to write small news items on events relating to discussed topics, establishing a text messaging system to instantly issue notifications on events. They were put on the map and illustrated with photos or video reports.

The project thus began to grow, going from being a digital map to a dissemination platform called Voice of Kibera. Its website had special repercussion during the 2013 elections, as different volunteers came forward to follow and critically comment on the election campaign.

Through Map Kibera the suburb's residents have gained in security, representation and influence. The project uncovered the district's specific needs and pressure was brought to bear to promote urban planning changes such as the installation of an additional police office or the rehabilitation of public toilets.

The project will be exported to other parts of Nairobi such as Mathare and Mukuru, as it has been a successful example of how new technologies can pull a community out of marginalization.

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