Urbinsight: The EcoCitizen World Map Project


LOCATION: Oakland, California, USA

SUMMARY: The Urbinsight project connects communities with web-based mapping tools designed to explore and measure holistic urban health from a citizens’ perspective. Based on a bottom-up approach to documenting environmental conditions at the neighborhood scale, the project provides tools, training, and knowledge for creating more sustainable, resilient urban environments.

PROBLEM SPACE: “Cities play a critical role in the quest for solutions to global environmental challenges. Recent decades have witnessed an increasing trend of concentration of the world’s population in urban areas — by 2050 it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. Urban areas currently account for 60% to 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the numbers are similar for demand for water and energy.

An important step in the process of addressing these challenges and creating effective solutions is the ability to understand, measure and quantify the environmental impacts of cities, in terms of consumption of energy and natural resources and generation of waste. There is a need for detailed, accurate data and information about local urban environmental conditions, as well as social and economic conditions that affect both the immediate quality of life for residents and the long-term resilience and sustainability of urban areas. Furthermore, access to such data and information is a key consideration, both for citizens (so that they can be involved in governance and action to improve environmental conditions and quality of life) and for local governments (in order to support good public policy, decision making and urban management).”

SOLUTION: “Urbinsight uses GIS and online multimedia applications to graphically and spatially display information about the state of the urban ecosystem. The project is implemented in each pilot city through collaboration with local universities, community-based organizations, and government agencies. The key goals are to actively engage citizens in learning, planning, and advocating for their communities; and to provide original neighborhood-level data to complement official government data that can inform policy and decision-making for more sustainable cities.

Urbinsight incorporates an educational component based on the “EcoCompass” curriculum, which includes participatory action research methods and learning forums. It also utilizes a methodology known as urban metabolism modeling, which measures the “source to sink” flows of resources, including water, energy and solid waste, as they move through the built environment.

The initial phase includes the creation of a base map that displays key features of the natural and built environment, as well as several urban environmental indicators (these initial data to be mapped are obtained from open government data sources). After taking part in workshops on participatory information technologies, citizens can then contribute community-generated data and upload their observations and reports about neighborhood conditions to the map via mobile phones or the web.”