In The Field: Green Maps

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Graphic by Green Map System.

Manhattan has more compost piles than cross streets — from South Ferry to Marble Hill, the island, which measures 263 blocks long, has nearly 300 places to compost, all marked on the NYC Compost Green Map. Within one year of the map’s release, the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s compost collection tripled. All the extra food scraps went toward producing more fertile soil for lush community gardens and natural areas around the city: in other words, the green map actually created more green space.

In 1992, New Yorker Wendy Brawer embarked on a personal-interest project—creating a map of local sustainability-focused businesses and initiatives, as well as cultural and nature sites. The final product, Green Apple Map, showcased 145 sites to inform residents and visitors of environmental efforts underway in the city and inspire them to join the movement.

And join they did—the most recent edition of Green Apple Map contains about a thousand sites, and Brawer’s humble project has blossomed into Green Map System, a nonprofit organization which has helped create green maps in over 850 communities in 65 countries. There are maps of conservation activities in African Biosphere Reserves, maps of local food systems in the Philippines, maps of where to recycle old clothes in Helsinki. The award-winning Open Green Map, a collaborative platform available in nine languages, allows anyone to make a new map or add to existing ones, letting diverse groups like lifelong locals, earth science experts and elementary school kids contribute.

In Aichi, Japan, a community group created the Rokujogata Tideland Green Map to document the coast’s ecological features. When the city announced plans to expand a landfill into the tideland, the map-making team used their map to educate people on the rich natural heritage that was at stake. Soon after the media caught on, the city withdrew its landfill plans.

A Green Map of Java’s Borobudur, the world’s largest ancient Buddhist temple, is underway, with the goal of mapping the temple’s cultural treasures and the living environment connected to it, both of which are imperiled by the stresses of intense tourism. Buddhist students have used it in negotiating with local officials to scale back commercial exploitation of the temple. It also highlights little-known destinations nearby, to take tourism pressure off of Borobudur while boosting surrounding villages’ economies. Here mapmakers are actually designing their Green Map as a tool to help save natural and cultural wonders, rather than simply pointing them out.

So next time you plan a trip abroad or around your own neighborhood, check out to learn if your destination has a Green Map. If it does, print one out. If not, help create one with friends. And then keep an eye out for great changes to come.

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