New green maps track environmental landmarks with icons

WASHINGTON – It’s not easy to be an environmentalist in an era of megamansions and SUVs. That makes tools like the popular green maps all the more valuable.

The maps are a tribute to the work of Ian McHarg, who died this spring, leaving a legacy of faith in the power of mapping to show what’s wrong and what’s right with the world.

Perhaps the latest green map was released last month in Santa Monica, but more than 100 communities worldwide have their own versions.

About green maps.

Their aim is the same: to identify good, green places (and a few problems) and to educate local residents about environmental issues.

New Yorker Wendy Brawer created the first green map – or at least the first to go by that name. Originally from Detroit and an artist by training, Brawer calls herself an “eco-designer.”

In 1992, she became involved with meetings held in New York to prepare for the United Nations Earth Summit, which was to take place in Rio.

“I started thinking about ways to tell the visitors to New York about local progress toward sustainability,” she said.

Her answer was the Green Apple map, a guide to the city’s environmentally and culturally significant places.

The Municipal Art Society supported the first print run of 10,000 copies. Since then, there have been four paper editions of the map and a Web version.

Important tool.

“When people looked at the map,” Brawer said, “they saw things about the city they had not seen before. I realized that it was a great tool kit for working on the environment.

“I also began to hear from people all over the world who wanted to create green maps of their own cities.”

The 135 projects now complete or under way in 35 countries are a diverse lot, ranging from the Lower Manhattan Youth Green Map (LoMap) and a series of neighborhood maps in Chicago; to city maps (Malmo, Sweden, and Kyoto, Japan); to a map covering a nine-county region in western Pennsylvania and a statewide effort in Rhode Island.

Variety of maps.

Almost 60 maps have been produced to date. Some focus on landscapes or plants. Others are oriented to “green tourism” (as in Toronto), and others are related to planning projects.

In March, Thailand published a green map of the country’s national parks. Buenos Aires’s map looks to the future, predicting how sea level rise will affect the city in 2050.

Holland released a green map for cyclists on the country’s first national car-free day in 1999.

“Through the maps, we want to help people see themselves as stewards of the environment,” said Brawer, “and to see the results as part of the web of life.”

In 1996, a group in Utrecht, Holland, produced the first online map. But access to the maps is not limited to computer users, Brawer points out.

“A lot of projects are in places where they’re using off-computer means to create maps.”

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