In February, URBE Latam hosted the meeting of its international team in Niterói, Rio de janeiro. The main idea was to bring the team from different countries together to exchange experiences on the process of the mapping projects in Preventório and El Salvador, acquire new knowledge by dialoguing with community members and reflect upon next steps to use the data produced and keep mapping.
As a member of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, I was invited to join the group and add to the debate on possible future mapping projects in communities throughout the region. During the week, we visited the Preventório community, got to know community banks in Maricá and Niterói and also visited the Maré community.
URBE Latam is a research project that began in 2019 and acts in the communities of Morro do Preventório, in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, and in El Pacífico, in Medellín, Colombia. The main goal of the research is to contribute and potentialize actions of resilience from community members and groups, that are often at risk of environmental disaster and many other adversities. The project is a result of the collaboration between the research centers of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), University of Antioquia (UdeA), in Colombia, and the University of Glasgow, in Scotland.
One of the main activities developed throughout the work in Brazil involved the mapping of the Preventório community, a favela in the city of Niterói, in Rio de Janeiro. Until the base map was drawn by the team with HOT’s Tasking Manager, the region was not represented on the map at all. After the mapping, the idea was to conduct research with the community, in order to better understand the risk conditions of the houses and the residents. To achieve that, community members were involved in the mapping activity and by answering a questionnaire that the URBE Latam team brought from door to door. You can read more about the project here.
On the first day we were all together, the URBE Latam group invited community members to talk about how the mapping of the region was traced and opened a debate about the utility of this data, as well as future possibilities of how to develop the mapping in more detail. Together, we reflected about different points, as what “physical vulnerability” means, the possibility of developing apps that would notice the residents about the status of the streets in case of environmental catastrophe (such as the strong rains that have been happening in Rio de Janeiro), talks with regional politicians in which the data can be fundamental for requests and the possibility to develop the mapping in more details, adding health facilities, schools and community centers, for example. Other community initiatives were discussed during our talk, such as the Preventório community bank and the cultural center Maloca Cultural.
During the second day of the seminar, we went to the city of Maricá, close to Niterói. The idea was, once more, to observe and dialogue about social development initiatives. Maricá was the example we visited, since in the city there is a good involvement of the local government in social projects. Among our visits, we were at the Mumbuca Bank and at Codemar.
On the third day, we had the opportunity to get to know local projects in the city of Niterói, which also showed involvement by the government. In Niterói, we visited the Araribóia Community Bank, where all the reflections around social currencies and the importance of open mapping clearly met. While we were exchanging ideas about different community currencies projects that were previously analyzed by the group, it became crystal clear how important it is to have the detailed data about the local population, the number and condition of the housing in the region and the local infrastructure in order to develop any kind of sustainable social project. As Professor Eduardo Diniz (University of Glasgow) mentioned during the conversation, “there is no point in investing in the development of a community, if in the next day it rains and floods the entire community”. After the bank, we were honored to be received by the Niterói mayor, Axl Grael, who told us about social initiatives in communities around Niterói, around which we were able to talk about the importance of open mapping and the possibility of collaboration in training and data production.
Finally, on Thursday we visited the community of Maré in Rio de Janeiro, where we were received by local representatives at the community center of Redes da Maré. There, the mapping team from URBE Latam once again presented the development of the mapping carried out at Preventório and we were able to talk about possibilities for mapping Maré, the importance of developing and making this data available, but also the delicacy with this information, which unfortunately can be used in order to cause more violence on the region. After a very rich exchange with community representatives from Maré, we were able to visit some places in the community and got to know the Women’s House of Maré and the Maré Arts Center.
The space of a blog post seems too short to be able to express in depth all the very rich exchanges that we experienced during that week. We were able to connect as people and professionals, who are committed to working towards humanitarian, community and social development and we exchanged and learned a lot, with each other and with the communities and organizations with which we dialogued. They were days of a lot of learning, but above all, a lot of strength and hope in the certainty that there are many of us and we want to work together and that there is a lot to be done. Always keeping in mind something that was highlighted by the URBE Latam team on the first day, when we were having the conversation about mapping with Preventório community members: when we map, we map the vulnerabilities. But we also map the prospects of the community!