Properly Reading Maps

Depictions shape opinions, which is why people are becoming more assertive in debating questionable images that tell false stories. Over the long term, people are unable to ascertain which perspectives they originally held and which were manipulated into popular concepts. Images maintain a narrative that leads people do decisions that potentially sustain inequity, and in public policy, maps and charts are the most iconic methods of shaping mindsets. Therefore, if government entities are going to be more accountable, they need to evaluate how they develop maps that affect their citizenry and why, because people’s communities shape how they believe the world should be.

Not everyone knows how to make a map, which is what makes maps so powerful. The software is expensive, updates all the time, and takes up a lot of memory unless it is online, which introduces the problem of the digital divide. While these may seem like ordinary tech problems, consider this: most activist groups are unable to secure GIS analysts because they cost money, and those who have the money to support causes are generally hampered by time. Thus, most people who are developing maps are those in control of the dominant narrative, which has already been weighed and found lacking in all levels of policy.

Also, the data for good maps is not always available, meaning that groups who can afford to obtain or calculate more accurate data will have an edge in creating good maps for public consumption. All data, from the census to a survey, may be collected for one reason but offer solutions for others, which is why private businesses are so hungry from customer-driven data. Meanwhile, most nonprofits are forced to use the data which is publicly available, meaning free, which is revised on a set schedule on limited resources. Additionally, reviewing most of that data for accuracy takes time that more government agencies are lacking due to the change in funding across the board, and without good information, activists are unable to make strong cases to support their causes.

In the end, maps are what determine which communities have the most investment and which are left with poor reputations, waiting for developers to swoop in and alienate long-term residents. They dictate business placement which shapes social acclimatization, which manifests as segregation and displacement–“good” neighborhoods are reinforced by maps, as are “bad” ones. All in all, government entities have greater responsibilities when creating maps and would do well to remember how their populace reflects their efforts.


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