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November 16, 2015updated 28 Jul 2021 3:17pm

"Maps that fight the mafia": How Italy is leading the way in collaborative mapping initiatives

By Grao

In Europe today, there are many communities of developers, urban planners and other experts using open data to map their cities. But when it comes to the direct involvement of citizens and users in collaborative mapping initiatives, Italy is leading the way.

From the far north to the southernmost extremity of the Italian boot, these projects are contributing to a radical re-thinking of the use of public spaces. At the same time, they’re fostering the active participation of residents in the development of their urban neighborhoods.

The challenge faced by many of these initiatives is making collaborative mapping a tool for new types of relationships with local authorities, in order to support innovative policy process. A growing debate on the topic is also being promoted within the framework of the first National Network of Social Innovators, a part of the EU co-funded SEISMIC project.

Here are three examples of such schemes currently under way.

Naples and MappiNa

The most successful experience of collaborative mapping is based in Naples, but is ready to expand its model to other Italian cities. MappiNa is an alternative map of the city, taking its name from a play on words: in the local dialect “mappina” can mean little map or rag.

The aim of the platform is to break stereotypes on Naples and suggest new angles of view on the city, through content uploaded by a community of 400 mappers. Users can post materials geotagged photos, videos and texts in categories including treet art, sounds, events, and abandoned spaces and buildings.

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A screen shot from Mappi-Na.It

This platform, which could be replicated in other cities, will be further improved by the end of this year, thanks to funds collected through a crowdfunding campaign which used Telecom Italia’s WithYouWeDe platform. The aim of the improvements is to add new sets of open data, and give users the tools to produce their own maps, which they can host and distribute through the MappiNa website.

The project will help to foster the use of open data in the cities; but it will also offer new opportunities to promote change. A wide debate among experts and mappers followed the publication of the first map of buildings owned by the city of Naples: 60,000 structures, partly unused or unoccupied, sprawled across the entire metropolitan area, whose reuse could be the starting point for a decisive process of urban regeneration.

Rome and CityHound

Conceived as a “social network for abandoned spaces”, CityHound was created by the architecture studio T-Spoon to conduct a census of the unused buildings of I District in the centre of the Eternal City. Through its participatory maps, CityHound enables contact between the owners of these buildings and groups which may put them to temporary use.

A screenshot from CityHound.

Rome’s participation in the TUTUR (“Temporary use as a tool for urban regeneration”) scheme, a part of Europe’s URBACT programme, was used as the occasion to expand CityHound’s coverage to the III District in capital’s northern suburbs. The platform contributed to the collaborative mapping of this area, highlighting unused areas in markets or other public spaces, and working in close cooperation with the residents for their regeneration.

This collaboration with the city of Rome and its districts is enabling the creation of new economy, and the reuse of abandoned school theaters, overpasses and other urban structures.

Using maps to fight the mafia

In southern Italy, collaborative maps are also helping to solve one of the problems linked to the presence of criminal organisations: what to do with the property confiscated from them.

The “Libera il bene” initiative is promoted by the Apulia region, and involves many municipalities and cities in the south eastern part of the country. The aim of the programme, which is funded by EU Structural Funds and conducted in collaboration with Libera, Italy’s most influential anti-mafia association, is to foster the reuse of buildings previously owned by mafia organisations.

The scheme merges spatial regeneration with the promotion of a sense of a community, by involving groups of citizens, often young, in its work. To date, more than 70 of the 600 seized and abandoned properties are in course of rehabilitation for social purposes. The initiative is also working closely with the national collaborative project Confiscati Bene, which is supporting local authorities and groups of citizens by improving their knowledge of the opportunities offered by the confiscated structures.

Through a wide range of maps and data set elaborated by the Spaghetti Open Data team, the initiative is showing how the collaboration among mappers, local institutions and residents can offer unexpected solutions to urban challenges – especially in the areas most affected by Italian political paralysis.

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