Could Google Maps Help End Poverty?

by Rachel Baker on February 4, 2014

This is a really interesting idea. In India, a group of activists drew a brutally honest picture of a city’s homeless population that the government could no longer ignore. I wonder what would happen if someone decided to do the same thing in some of our already over populated cities.

Last year in the Indian city of Chennai, more than half a million people suddenly appeared from out of nowhere. These men, women and children weren’t rural migrants who had just moved to the city. Neither were they incomers from somewhere else in the world. They were slum dwellers who had lived in the city for generations. It’s just that no-one had bothered to notice them.

It wasn’t until a group called Transparent Chennai decided to digitally map the sprawling city’s slums that the local government even realized these half a million impoverished souls existed. Using open source software, Google Maps and good old-fashioned shoe leather, this collective of maptivists set out to draw a brutally honest portrait of their city in the hope of persuading politicians to make decisions that would improve the lives of the urban poor. What they achieved in the past year has already influenced anti-poverty groups across India, but some American academics want to see their ideas implemented across the world. Could this tiny group of social cartographers teach the West a thing or two about running a city?

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