Varsity launches million neighbourhoods map
Urban scientists at the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation released new updates to the Million Neighborhoods Map – a groundbreaking visual tool that provides the first comprehensive look at informal settlements at a global scale, helping to identify neighborhoods most in need of roads, power, water, sanitation and other infrastructure.
First launched in October 2019 displaying informal settlements across Africa, newly mapped regions of the world now include Central and South America, India, and parts of Eastern Europe and Asia.
The Million Neighborhoods Map is the first of its kind, aiming to be a complete resource on the state of connective infrastructure in neighborhoods worldwide.The map digitally renders building infrastructure and street networks and classifies each city block with a measure of, or lack of, universal accessibility to its buildings from existing streets. The goal is to provide municipal leaders and community residents with a tool to inform and prioritize infrastructure projects in underserviced neighborhoods, including informal urban settlements, sometimes known as “slums.”
Rapid urbanization in Africa, Latin America and Asia over the last few decades has led to massive shifts in population and the rise of informal settlements that operate without roads, power and sewer lines. In neighborhoods in cities such as Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Kathmandu, Nepal, homes are so densely packed that it can be challenging for residents and resources to move through the community, and difficult for urban planners to identify the best areas to build roads, water pipes, power and sewage lines. The map identifies these locations and provides the basis for context-appropriate solutions.
The issue is more pressing than ever, as the number of people living in these settlements is expected to triple to three billion in the next 30 years if no large-scale action is taken. Without access to basic infrastructure, residents of informal settlements are more vulnerable to health risks and the impacts of climate change, including flooding, extreme heat and natural disasters.
To create the Million Neighborhoods Map, researches applied algorithms to the open-source GIS database in OpenStreetMap, the “Wikipedia” of world maps. This collaborative data source increasingly includes building footprints and access everywhere in the world and has grown recently in response to a variety of international humanitarian crises, driven by mapping volunteers and enthusiasts from all across the world.
“By systematically characterizing the physical connectivity of every community around the world, the Million Neighborhoods Map enables us to identify at-a-glance which neighborhoods are underserviced and in need of expanded infrastructure access. This includes many neighborhoods with mild levels of infrastructure deficits and others that are large informal settlements and require larger levels of effort.
Street access to places of residence and work is necessary to creating addresses, providing basic services, building cadastral maps of land uses and property, and enabling emergency services such as medical assistance and fire protection. It is impossible to generate meaningful sustainable development without this kind of basic infrastructure,” said Luis Bettencourt, the Inaugural Director of the Mansueto Institute of Urban Innovation. “Done well with this kind of emerging information, such investments can unleash a virtuous cycle of improvements in living conditions, economic development and novel sustainable solutions.”
“The Million Neighborhoods Map sparks a dialogue between the city and its communities, enabling residents to collectively engage around what the data shows and how to move towards actionable intelligence,” said Anni Beukes, Resident Fellow at the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation.
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