Slum mapping: threat or opportunity?


pictured above: Bhubaneswar staff learn to identify and map settlements using Google Maps.

By Alyssa Battistoni, SPARC

Residents of India’s slums have long faced the threat of eviction from or destruction of their homes, the majority of which are built on public property. So when India’s housing minister, Kumari Selja, recently announced a plan to use satellite technology to map slums across the country, she stirred anxiety among settlement residents who worry that the maps will be used to target slums for demolition.

These worries are valid: maps could certainly provide the government with a tool to use in removing residents from desirable land.  Yet India’s Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) believes that this announcement reiterates how important it is that communities produce and map settlement information on their own so that they are able to contest or clarify the maps and information produced by the government and prevent unilateral evictions or demolitions.

Mobilizing communities to get involved in the mapping process helps ensure that governments don’t simply use maps for their own purposes. In the same way that community-based enumerations act as a check on government-produced surveys, community-based mapping provides a visualization of community space that acts as an alternative to that offered by government mapping initiatives. Furthermore, the process of creating maps helps people develop a familiarity with maps and area-based representations of their communities, allowing them to evaluate externally produced maps more confidently and negotiate more knowledgeably.

In recognition of these benefits, and of the challenges posed by the government’s growing interest in mapping informal settlements, the Indian Alliance is starting to explore a process for GIS mapping led by communities. Experimental mapping projects are currently ongoing in three cities: Bhubaneswar, Pune, and Bangalore.

In Bhubaneswar, in the eastern state of Orissa, SPARC is currently beginning a project to train communities to map 337 settlements using Google Maps. The city of Bhubaneswar is in the early stages of implementing a major JNNURM housing scheme, and the municipality is undertaking its own mapping and survey processes in the course of the planning process. The community mapping exercises conducted by the Alliance will be integrated with the government’s plane table surveys to create a deeper, more complex portrait of the city and its informal settlements. Once this process has been completed in Bhubaneswar, community members will participate in exchanges with people from other cities in Orissa to introduce the concept and process of community mapping.

Similar community mapping projects are also taking place in Bangalore, where biometric survey data collected by communities is being linked to Google maps produced by communities, and Pune, where Mahila Milan groups are creating maps of every settlement in the city. Eventually, groups from Bangalore, Pune, and Bhubaneswar will meet to compare processes and determine which strategies work best for creating participatory, information-rich maps. In time, SPARC hopes to expand the community mapping project to other non-metropolitan cities that can use the data produced to help prioritize urban development projects and better understand the development needs of slum communities.


pictured above: Staff and community members have mapped the boundaries of Nuapalli Sabar Sahi, a settlement in Bhubaneswar, Orissa.