Can Web 2.0 help bring us back down to 350 ppm? Google Maps, long used to manage car-sharing co-ops, is cropping up in interesting mash-up applications that may give people the tools to inch us closer to a better society.
Here are two local examples of how mapping serves green ends, and an idea about where to go next.
The Cycling Route Planner is a Web interface created by a University of British Columbia research team studying barriers to urban cycling. Enter your destination, and then choose from a variety of route options from a drop-down menu. Not wild about hills? Choose the maximum grade you’re willing to crank. You can also ask for the most direct path, or the one with the least traffic, or the one with the most tree cover. The database crunches topographic data, elevation overlays, particulate emissions concentrations, and voila. (But will it get more people on bikes?)
Then there’s YouMapVancouver, a collaboration between Smart Growth B.C. and the city’s Planning Commission. The city is inviting residents of Vancouver neighborhoods to plot their favorite “amenities” on a Google map. An amenity is planner-speak for “community benefits” — libraries, ice rinks, community centers, and so on, but the city is widening the concept to include “any place that is special to you.” A nice view, for example. A corner where dog-walkers like tend to congregate on Sunday mornings. Some folks are painting their bike commute routes to work on the maps–note the pink lines above.
One of these two examples is a “top down” application — an interface that mines existing “objective” data such as topography and traffic. The other is fundamentally a “bottom up” project — a new-wave cartographic wiki of sorts, a plot of physical space that the collective will hopefully annotate with layers of emotional relevance.
I’d like to see another evolution of this mash-up, a combination of the top-down with the bottom-up. The middle zone between “data mining for green” and the reaching and hoping vaguely socialist vibe that is at the moment compartmentalized inside households that may not even speak to each other on the street.
Could I add a time-sensitive craigslistesque tag to a neighborhood map that is always present in some way in my datastream? Could I add a tag offering free fruit from my backyard pear tree for “this weekend only”? Could I invite people in my hood to dump their grass clippings into the monster compost box that I’ve just built over my back fence? Could I offer my neighbors a stack of surplus building or landscape materials?
Could the network’s social layer work at the scale of the neighborhood to enable culdesactivism? Might tools of this ilk take away one more barrier to a better world by eliminating the “homework” factor? Green shouldn’t be an inconvenience, and it shouldn’t require roll-up-the-sleeves research. (If I want to look into LED lighting for my home, why do I need to spend an evening chasing search-engine dead-ends?)
Let’s open-source the whole damn playbook and watch what happens. More on this soon.