- When trying to connect with place, sometimes it helps to have a map. Technology-based projects are cropping up to create guides and maps to assist people in discovering and connecting to place. Here are a few of my favorites:
Geocaching is essentially treasure hunting using a GPS (Global Positioning System) . Essentially, people hide "caches", which are some type of container containing, at minimum, a logbook, and likely some trinkets and treats for taking or trading. The geographic coordinates of the caches are registered with geocaching.com, along with hints, photos and other optional information, and people can record their visits both in a logbook within the physical cache and on the website.
I had been wanting to try it for years but lacked a GPS system. When I bought an iPhone late in 2009, I suddenly had the capability- the iPhone has a GPS system and you can download a geocaching app that identifies and navigates to geocaches based on your location. It is loads of fun, especially with my 4-year old (that is us in the photo above, after a find).
I love this game. For one, it builds community- albeit a strange and quirky one, as I am still learning. There is an entire community of geocachers out there, complete with a language I don't yet understand (non-geocachers are "muggles" a la Harry Potter). And unlike many technologies, this one gets people outside instead of discouraging them from leaving the house.
I love it because it is a wonderful, lighthearted way to connect people with place, and provides opportunities for people to discover new localities in their own areas. Caches can be hidden nearly anywhere, and creative uses of geocaching can highlight and promote a community asset or resource. (Here's a great example).
2. Green Map
The Green Map concept has been around for 15 years or so but recently was rebuilt using Google Maps as a platform. Green Map supports locally-created and locally-managed online mapping projects that identify sustainability resources, using universal iconography. Users can suggest sites and provide a location via Google Maps.
According to their website:
Over 400 unique, vibrant Green Maps have published to date, and hundreds more have been created in classrooms and workshops by youth and adults. Both the mapmaking process and the resulting Green Maps have tangible effects that:
Strengthen local-global sustainability networks Expand the demand for healthier, greener choices Help successful initiatives spread to even more communities
The website for Metro Detroit is relatively new, and still seems a bit buggy and does not have many sites yet. To see the full potential, visit the NYC map. I have hope for this technology, though I think a lot of local administrative details, especially data custody and management issues, will need to be sorted out before it becomes truly useful.
A mobile web app is available that uses your current location to identify green assets in your vicinity.
Atlas Obscura is billed as "a compendium of the world's wonders, curiosities, and esoterica." Users can submit esoterica (via Google Map) under a variety of categories (you can select more than one) such as "Incredible Ruins", "Disaster Areas", "Mystery Spots and Gravity Hills", etc.
Detroit entries thus far include The Heidelburg Project (Outsider Architecture), Detroit Salt Mine (Natural Wonder), Edison's Last Breath at the Henry Ford Museum (Memento Mori), Hamtramck Disneyland (Eccentric Homes).
It should be mentioned that each of these projects relies on Google Maps technology as a platform. I think the building and dissemination of Google Maps to the public for free is a major contribution to society, one that will continue to reap benefits so far as helping people communicate about and connect to place.