Transition towards urban sustainability through socially integrative cities in the EU and in China


1. Purpose(s)

The goals of this tool are: 1) to allow communities to represent themselves spatially and 2) to understand the identity of places by highlighting the relationships among many natural, anthropological and built elements in the space-time game (Magnaghi 2010).

By means of the community mapping, which is a choral storytelling, a community builds itself because it becomes aware of its commons goods (Fahy-Cinnéide 2009). The higher the level of participation by all members of the community, the more beneficial the outcome because the final map will reflect the collective experience of the group producing the map, even if it should be recognized that within a community different forms of relationship with places are also given. It is a matter to know, list and spatialize the elements to which value is attributed. The map has a performative force (Perkins, 2007). It can be understood as a social operator, which over time transmits shared messages and builds territorial stability. Conversely, its ability can also be used to encourage new reading hypotheses, by searching for solutions to environmental or social problems that a community may face.

Thanks to the visualization, it is possible to connect actions and strategies to the structural and foundational dimension of the territory, enhancing local assets, memory, cultures, languages and connections that have been represented in the various figures that tell the heritage and the connected social processes.

It is a form of identity mapping, considering the territory as a choral building (Magnaghi 2010), as a social project enabling, knowingly and judiciously, uses of the territorial heritage which are conditions for new care of places.

Through this tool 1) a community "appropriates" the world in which it lives, because the representation constitutes a grammar that can give (uncover) order to the lived territory and to understand it; 2) however, it is never a question of the mere rule of objectivity: each representation selects, synthesizes, integrates, and therefore conveys a “re-presentation” of the world; 3) the tacit power of the map, or its performative value, is both in the process of its construction and then in its affirmation as objective representation. We can therefore say the maps make the community that makes them.

Key Words: mapping, community, identity, relationship, value, performance

2. Relevance and Impact

The community mapping tool is mostly important to the aspects of socially integrative cities relating to fostering dialogue on the relationship between the community and its place, and its visualization.

The tool as such was not tested on a large-scale in the project. However, it has been widely tested in Europe and China’s contemporary community mapping practices, as shown in the case of Puglia Region (Italy) and Da-Shi-Lar Revitalization Project, Beijing.

The impact of the tool largely concerns the acquisition and communication of knowledge and skills thanks to the strengthening of intra-community ties and the focusing on the relationship between the community and its milieu. This allows both the acquisition of greater resilience and the release of creative energies that prevent it from folding into mere passive adaptation.

Communicative dialogue, that is at the basis of the process of the community mapping allows both reflective thinking and creative conflicts among different perspectives on heritage and future. Through this way the participants can learn from each other and improve their capability to understand and integrate differences, and to cooperate together for taking to take care of their common goods. Communities become aware of their relationship to the place they dwell: where place means the meaningful plot of many located natural, cultural, social elements which developed in the long time of history (Poli 2019).

The impact of this tool therefore, lies in the support offered to the community in terms of: 1) registration and definition of its knowledge of the natural and cultural territory, 2) conservation of its knowledge relating to the territory; 3) development of territorial care skills; 4) improvement of one's external communication skills on the territorial value; 5) awareness and identification of the community’s rights about the territory; 6) development of skills for the activation of participatory decision-making processes regarding the use of the territory and the management of natural resources; 7) strengthening of processes of resilience, self-defence and change of management; 8) development of community conflict management skills; 9) development of conflict management skills with external actors.

A further impact to be registered concerns the critical process that comes to concern expert knowledge, which in the comparison and articulation with the knowledge of the settled community is induced a) to a reflective deepening with respect to its acquisitions, b) to a critical reflection that also invests its own epistemological apparatus and the way of relating with other knowledge and c) to consider the social responsibility with which it is invested.

3. Strenghts

Community mapping can be a very inclusive and creative tool (Parker 2006). Natives, residents, immigrants can all participate to share their ways of living the place they dwell, its values and resources. The more points of view are active, the more there is the possibility of an in-depth analysis and representation. Common spatial story telling helps to build the community itself and to become aware about its relationship to the place it dwells. Community mapping is an open communicative process and shows also that places are not static but living beings.

This means, at first, that the positive potential of this tool regards both communities and places (Magnaghi 2010-2015).

On the one side, it is interesting due to its performativity towards the community in which it is put to work. It expresses the identity of the community, giving it a certain stability, consistency and visibility. Moreover, it builds the social subject who builds it, by developing mutual knowledge and sharing practices. It strengthens communication and relational capabilities, motivates participation and imagination, improves sense of belonging and gratitude. At the same time, it presses to imagine new and more positive scenarios for all. The possibility that all the members of the community participate to the mapping is a very relevant contribution to more open considerations and to the mitigation of reductive points of view. It is a very fruitful deterrent for the affirmation of partisan interests, as well. On the other side, it brings out the territorial heritage, that sometimes is familiar but unseen, even if it constitutes the condition of possibility for what a community is and for the repro-duction of its life.

This tool makes it possible to provide shared territorial transformations and that all the people in the community recognize a transformation project as its own project.

It has epistemological potentials, as well. It shows the fruitfulness of a multifocal approach and the relevance of narratives, memories, emotions and practices for describing and understanding what a place is and means.

4. Weaknesses

Whereas regular maps seek conformity, community maps should embrace diversity in presentation and content. However, to be seen as effective communication tools and to be useful for outside groups - such as institutional authorities – the mapping needs to follow recognised cartographic conventions, as well. It is necessary, but far from easy, to find a good balance between standardization and originality. The availability of limited configurative capacities can therefore lead to a certain representational conformism that remains unable to free the prefigurative and imaginative performativity of mapping.

Moreover, maps show interpretive information that is relevant and important for the future of the participants, but they could be “adaptive expectations”. They can imply a narrow image of the community, as well. In fact, the self-image of a community can be impressed by forms of colonization, due to the market or the dominant economic or political relations, which condition its self-representation, the ideas it has about its relationships with the environment and the project about possible transformations. The map obviously risks reinforcing occultly some kind of subordination.

Another point of possible weakness is that the knowledge of the settled community, which comes to be expressed in the map, is complex and can have conflicting features. This is not a problem in itself, but if the conflict is not considered as a real and important question, the risk is that the mapping process leads to representing the world image of the strongest subjects in the community. The risk is to legitimate and conceal - while expressing them - the power relationships. A lot of attention must therefore be placed on the social process which sustains the community mapping, as well as on the result, since the restitution of the community to itself, which community mapping makes possible, is not at all something which functions automatically. Moreover, accessibility to the process must be sustained also in order to be able to involve those who are less socially committed and towards whom the process - which however also needs their voice - can perform a civic function of education for the common good.

5. Good practice examples

Puglia Region, Italy

The experimental project of community mapping in Puglia Region aimed to create a local network of experiences of active citizenship to raise awareness of the value of the Apulian landscape in the populations who live there (Figure 1-2-3). It aimed to trigger cooperation and exchange processes also within the communities themselves.

The experiences were fostered by:

  • Ecomuseum of the stone landscapes of Acquarica di Lecce (Vernole);
  • Urban Ecomuseum of Botrugno;
  • Ecomuseum of the Salento greenhouses (Neviano and Tuglie);
  • Ecomuseum of the Cursi Lecce stone;
  • Ecomuseum of the ancient villas of Mola di Bari;
  • Ecomuseum of the Carapelle valley (Ascoli Satriano, Casapelle, Ordona, Ortanova, Stornara and Stornarella);
  • Ecomuseum of the Itria valley (Locorotondo, Cisternino, Fafano, Martina Franca and Monopoli).

The project is articulated in activities carried out within these laboratories to develop a process of public landscape construction.

You can find the map here in interactive format: Moving the mouse within the Interactive Community Map will display the "titles" of the video interviews related to the place / matter of interest. Each illustration (or area) is associated with a video that explores the topic (the video is uploaded on the dedicated Youtube channel).

The construction of the Interactive Community Map of Neviano involved many members of the Ecomuseal Association and the entire Nevianese community. The video interviews were carried out from September 2011 till the summer of 2012.

The aim of the Ecomuseum of the Landscape of the Serre di Neviano is to value the entire area, identifying in the Serre (last extensions of the Murge Salentine) the element that best represents the origin of their identity.

The opportunity was offered by a project to restore an ancient farmhouse in the landscape of the Serre: Abbey of San Nicola di Macugno.

The restoration was financed with the resources made available by the PIS 14 - POR / Puglia Funds and benefited from funding by CUIS - Salento Interprovincial Universities Consortium, in 2007.

The Ecomuseal Laboratory aimed to find the hidden signs that history, culture, uses and all the collective actions have impressed on the territory, modelling its specificity.

The participatory reading of the landscape and the choral construction of the Community Map of Neviano were considered "pilot projects" of the Puglia Region urban plan.

The process for building the Community Map: 1) involved a stable group of about 15 people who met every fortnight; 2) during the celebrations for the patronal feast in honour of Our Lady of the Snows (5-6 August 2008), the Laboratory set up an exhibition on peasant civilization and exhibited the preparatory works for the Community Map, inviting all Nevianese citizens to collaborate in the drafting of the definitive map, adding elements and points of view, 3) on September 21, 2008, on the occasion of the National Landscape Day, the Laboratory organized a walk to discover the Serre Salentine, which involved around 250 people, including children and adults. On that occasion, the ecomuseum headquarters was inaugurated at the Abbey of Macugno; 4) on 15 December 2008 the Ecomuseal Laboratory of Neviano presented the “Quaderno” and attached the Community Map to it; in May 2009 it drafted the second “Quaderno”, which indicates (both in the urban and rural context) a series of good rules and bad practices adopted on the territory; 5) in 2009 the members of the Laboratory formed an Association and continue to be active in the Neviano area: the Ecomuseal Association of the Serre Salentine di Neviano has about forty members, engaged in various initiatives during the year.

Community Mapping in Da-Shi-Lar Revitalization Project, Beijing, China

Da-Shi-Lar revitalization project was launched in 2010 under the guidance of a set of historic preservation policies of Beijing Central City (map) and with the support of the Xi-Cheng District government. The project was led by Beijing Da-Shi-Lar Investment Company as the main implementing body and aimed at combining creative industry development with urban regeneration by internalizing the vitality of cross-boundary design and art intervention to generate endogenous, sustainable and self-growing power of the historic district. An open working platform has been set up through the annual event of Beijing Design Week from 2011 in order to bridge the gap between the government, market and social resources, and to engage community members, community-based organizations, and local business, as well as designers, planners, architects, artists, and entrepreneurs from outside through a series of initiatives and activities. During this process, community mapping as an effective tool for engagement and collaboration has been wisely applied to the interventions in different dimensions towards a comprehensive development and integration with the community.

For community members, the events of community mapping gave them the opportunity to come together to collect field data, such as a geographical inventory of shops, restaurants, pedestrian infrastructure, utilities, historical buildings or an evaluation of conditions, which can be used for improving local environment, pedestrian safety, and architectural style. The information collected can be dealt with a range of different types of statistical analyses to identify “hot spots” which can be extremely useful in targeting interventions and viewing changes over time. Moreover, in this process, local residents and business people were engaged in mining and developing local assets by means of oral history, community museum, and workshops with artists, etc., local knowledge and shared memory among community members were reconstructed.

For diverse actors from outside, community mapping can be used to tell a story about what has happened and what is happening in Da-Shi-Lar, so as to make the area more intelligible to the visitors, designers and entrepreneurs who are interested. The community mapping of Da-Shi-Lar has been included in the visual system of Beijing Design Week and been regarded as a soft infrastructure of Da-Shi-Lar on websites, apps, social media and business networks to help with marketing and branding, and thus stimulating the business and tourism vitality.

In addition, during Beijing Design Week in recent years, visual representation and interaction techniques have been embedded in community mapping. The visual information about the culture and history or exhibitions and events related to the buildings or sites in the viewing frame would automatically appear when using the specific app with a cell phone, which not only provides the opportunities for information exchange between community members, artists, local businesses and organizations as well as tourists, but also connects past to present (Figure 4).

6. References

Fahy, Frances, and Cinnéide Micheál Ó. 2009. “Re‐constructing the urban landscape through community mapping: an attractive prospect for sustainability.” Area 41 (2): 167–175, Accessed April 30, 2020.

Magnaghi, Alberto (scientific coordinator). 2010-2015. PPTR Regione Puglia. Le mappe di comunità nel piano paesaggistico territoriale della Regione Puglia, Accessed April 30, 2020.

Magnaghi, Alberto, ed. 2010. Montespertoli. Le mappe di comunità per lo statuto del territorio. Firenze: Alinea Editrice, Accessed April 30, 2020.

Parker, Brenda. 2006. “Constructing Community Through Maps? Power and Praxis in Community Mapping.” The Professional Geographer 58 (4): 470–484.

Perkins, Chris. 2007. “Community Mapping.” The Cartographic Journal 44(2): 127-137.

Poli, Daniela. 2019. Rappresentare mondi di vita. Radici storiche e prospettive per il progetto di territorio. Milano-Udine: Mimesis.

7. Author(s) of the article

Carla Danani (UNIMC), Jiayan LIU (THSA)