Bridging the Physical/Digital Divide: Hyperlocal Networks and Community-Based Asset Mapping

Hyperlocalism seeks to bridge the physical/digital divide by focusing on the use of information to create technology tools and media oriented around a well-defined area and inspired by the needs of local residents. Maps and mesh networks are tools that can be particularly leveraged to enable hyperlocal connectivity and information flow; I’ll briefly unpack the latter (mesh) and then demonstrate the possibilities for hyperlocal mapping.

510pen as conceptualized by Mark Burdett is based on the principles of the Open Wireless Movement: that by sharing our wifi with our neighbors, we contribute to increasing access to the internet while simultaneously creating more positive relationships with our local communities. This premise is clearly the most obvious benefit of mesh networking and is enthusiastically supported by the folks I’ve been talking with in Oakland, who see the lack of widespread internet access in their neighborhoods as a very present and real issue.

Then there is the application layer – which is the level at which TidePools is working to create software for hyperlocal neighborhood mapping. Beyond internet access, a resilient communications network endeavors to create point-to-point networks that mesh the barriers between physical and virtual space. What kinds of data and landmarks define the available resources and value of a physical community?

It might look something like this:

…in which the skills and resources of your neighbors are made visible and available to others on the local network.

Or perhaps like this, visualizing the history of a neighborhood through a timeline-based photographic montage:

Alternatively, we could use hyperlocal mapping to depict a more realistic sense of the cultural characteristics of various neighborhoods, rather than the oft-arbitrary borders drawn by state governments:

As I continue interviewing and chatting with folks about things they’d love to see on local maps, a few themes have emerged:

  • Environmental activists seeking to visualize pollution data, park locations, local wildlife, etc;
  • Unemployed and homeless folks seeking to map out resources such as public computers, food kitchens, excellent dumpsters for food foraging, and crisis centers for various demographics.
  • Long-term residents wishing to map out and connect local businesses and organizations in their neighborhoods.
  • Community organizers interested in mapping their community to strengthen awareness of existing resources and publicly accessible spaces.
  • Hackers and techies interested in creating decentralized networks and alternative telecommunications (eg; mesh networks, low-bandwidth software radios, etc;) – which necessarily requires mapping line-of-sight on rooftops and potential barriers to connectivity (such as raised highways)
  • Open government folks mapping open civic data such as crime, foreclosed / blighted properties, city legislative initiatives, and historical information.

    Here are some projects I’ve been working on with some other hard-working, socially-conscious people that are tackling these needs:

  • Tidepools – Hyperlocal neighborhood mapping software.
  • 510pen (Five One Open) – Creating an East Bay mesh network.
  • Open Oakland – Volunteers mapping out open civic data in Oakland.
  • OpenOakland Digital Divide – Mapping out existing Oakland efforts addressing the issue of access to technology.
  • Oakland Wiki – A site all about Oakland, with over 2,000 articles written by community members.
  • Mycelia – A decentralized database I’m working on with my partner for mapping tools/inventory, skills, and projects between and among hackerspaces, intentional communities, and other self-organizing spaces.

    I welcome and encourage further suggestions and use cases in the comments below!