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Community Cartography in Moscow

by Shriya Malhotra

Partizaning, an artist-activist collective based in Russia, recently teamed up with the Strelka Institute of Design to organize a series of Cooperative Urbanism workshops in Moscow. The workshops brought practitioners from around the world together with local residents to initiate positive change in public space. Mapping served as an essential tool for collaborative research and neighborhood improvement.

The partition of Africa between 1912 and 1920. Source: Wilfraco

While maps have often been used to establish power relations that provoke enduring conflict, they've also helped solve problems and change the world for the better.

John Snow's cholera map of London. Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are many creative ways to use mapping for research and intervention in cities, from sharing experience to drawing attention to site-specific problems and redrawing boundaries. The process may combine exploration, design, narrative and activism.

New York City blocks rearranged. Source: Armelle Caron

Maps are becoming more and more dynamic, interactive and collaborative as digital technologies make them easy to create and share. People are experimenting with cartography in fascinating ways, including practical low-tech methods.

A neighborhood map by Denis Wood, Carter Crawford and Shaub Dunkley. Source: Mammoth

The Cooperative Urbanism workshops approached community cartography experimentally, adding data from surveys, interviews and site observations to a Google map (below). The map is still in its early stages as we keep working with residents to fill it in over time.

Source: Google Maps

Michiel de Lange and Marc Tuters of The Mobile City led a workshop in Moscow's Yuzhnoye Medvedkovo district, which involved mapping ethnographic information from interviews and photos. Interview questions were focused on discovering important locations and concerns from the perspective of people in the community.

SynchroniCITY website mockups. Source: Camilla Burke

The workshop by Nitin Sawhney and Christo de Klerk of the New School for Public Engagement began with an exercise in food mapping in central Moscow. As the name suggests, food mapping involves pinpointing and describing the culinary options in a given area. It's a helpful way of assessing the extent to which these options meet the needs of different populations. The group developed a prototype for an online tool called SynchroniCITY (above), which geotags problems submitted by residents and spreads the word about D.I.Y. solutions.

Emotions and perceptions mapped by color. Source: Christo de Klerk

One team mapped spatial perceptions by coding their reactions to a series of places and tracking their routes with a GPS device.

Walking routes tracked with a GPS device. Source: Christo de Klerk

Urban hacktivist Florian Riviere led a workshop that included exploring Moscow's Voykovskiy district and marking interesting locations on printed maps. Participants also created a map for D.I.Y. neighborhood games.

Announcement for the neighborhood games. Source: Marika Semenenko

Making a D.I.Y. badminton net. Source: Cooperative Urbanism

TYIN Tegnestue Architects led a workshop in which participants mapped the sights, sounds, smells, circulation routes and textures of the Mitino district. The group printed a blank map and placed it on walls to be filled in by passersby.

Creating the legend for a community map. Source: Alex Melnikov

Aurash Khawarzad of Change Administration led a workshop in which D.I.Y. aerial mapping (with a camera attached to a giant balloon) became a tool for studying traffic patterns in the Troparyovo-Nikulino neighborhood. The results can be used to improve cycling infrastructure.

Aerial images from a balloon-mapping workshop. Source: Change Administration

D.I.Y. traffic counters by Ted Ullrich of Tomorrow Lab helped with mapping vehicle circulation and density in the district. We used Tomorrow Lab Contrails (containers of water-soluble pigment that mark the path of a bicycle) to highlight cyclable trails.

Ted Ullrich testing his bicycle Contrails. Source: Yulya Besplemennova

Jona Piehl and Sarah Featherstone of Central St. Martins College of Art and Design led participants on "performative interventions" in the Otradnoe neighborhood. One group devised a cartographic walking game arranged like a chessboard.

Diagram of a chessboard walking game. Source: Anastasia Chernyshova

Testing the "hackability" of mailboxes for resident feedback. Source: Katerina Gonchareva

Partizaning encouraged community feedback by installing mailboxes in accessible locations throughout the city. Some people wrote messages several pages long, and some included hand-drawn maps.

A scanned message from one of the mailboxes for community feedback.

The Cooparative Urbanism workshops encouraged a rapid, experimental approach to mapping for community development. Although schematic and transitory, they provided a valuable opportunity for people from different parts of the city and world to share ideas for public space. More information on the workshops is available in English and Russian at coop.partizaning.org.

Shriya Malhotra is an urbanist and artist working with Partizaning in Moscow.

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