Green mapping across Europe: Four Bees in a Hive

Posted: January 29, 2010 by horger in Press

Eszter Szilva, a talented young Hungarian journalist wrote that article at the end of 2009. Enjoy! (And a big thanks for Eszter for authorizing us to publish it.)

“Think global, map local!” – map makers concerned with green maps in Berlin, Bistrita, Bristol and Budapest launched an international project in August 2009, which is supported financially by the Grundtvig programme of the European Union. The participants promote green mapping as a medium of adult learning and sustainable community development. Similarly to busy bees in their hives, the four B-cities exchange ideas and try to “cross pollinate” each other’s projects. We asked the group leaders to talk about their experiences after their first workshop with adult learners in Bristol.

Berlin, Bistrita, Bristol and Budapest is each a member of the worldwide green mapping community. Green Map System already has 600 members in almost 60 countries around the world. The common goal of the participating organisations is to collect and share information on eco-friendly places in towns, from organic food restaurants to parks, selective waste collection possibilities and second hand shops, in order topromote sustainable community development. They use green map making as a medium also for strengthening local communities and helping education.  Their slogan “Think global, map local!” stands for these goals. Nowadays, green maps are rather published online, thus facilitating a more interactive usage.

4BsHive is a special international project of green mapping organisations in Berlin (Germany), Bistrita (Romania), Bristol (United Kingdom) and Budapest (Hungary). Similarly to busy bees in their hives, the four B-cities exchange ideas and, as the participants say, try to “cross pollinate” each other’s projects. Their common aims are to exchange experiences on green mapping and to motivate adult learners to take part in that.

Berlin: the beginnings

The idea of the project 4BsHive came from the Berlin mapmaker, Peter van de Loo, initiator of the Berlin Green Map as well. Van de Loo, a geographer and GIS (Geographic Information System) expert by profession, talked to us about the initiative in Berlin-Neukölln, a district of the German capital where he also implemented a green map project for high school students. “After I came back from New York to Berlin, I talked to some friends of mine and intrigued them to start a Green Map in Berlin. We collected entries, did a flash animated interactive map of Berlin, then put it on the web. The map has been working very well. Later on, we used this map to apply for a European fund that is granted to areas in towns that are a little left behind in terms of development”, says Van de Loo. As he recollects, at first he found it impossible to be able to cope with the students, but as the work went on, they became more and more involved in green mapping. Since then, the project has been continued successfully in the high school.

Van de Loo got acquainted with the idea of green maps in New York, where he met Wendy Brawer, who invented the first green map in 1992 in New York within a project called the “Green Apple“. Wendy Brawer met the Romanian Ciprian Samoila in 2002 and later became acquainted with the green map makers in Budapest and Bristol as well. Peter Van de Loo got in touch with the map makers from Bistrita, Bristol and Budapest. The group leaders from the four cities made a preparatory visit to Bistrita in January 2009, where they wrote the partnership application assigning Green Bristol as project leader. The 4BsHive project was granted an 18.000 Euro fund of European Union Grundtvig Programme.

As it can be learnt from the web page of the European Commission, Grundtvig programme, launched in 2000 as a part of the Lifelong Learning Programme, aims to provide adults with ways to improve their knowledge and skills. Grundtvig focuses on the teaching and study needs of the participants of adult education as well as of alternative education systems, and the institutions and organisations delivering these services. The programme also focuses on enhancing European mobility for the organisations and learners. But how can green mapping be a part of Life Long Learning?

Discussing and agreeing: green maps as medium of learning

“Making a map is a process. Green maps are designed by the people who will use them – they are a grass roots product”, says Steve Parry, creative director of GreenBristol. Bristol map makers cooperate with the community house Knowle West Media Center (KWMC), which organises green mapping workshops as well. “The local community is invited to design their own map. In the course of doing this, people from diverse backgrounds and age groups come together to learn from each other. This could include what to feature on the map; a recycled clothes store, a location of great natural beauty or historic interest etc. Discussing and agreeing on the content promotes knowledge production and exchange. People will also learn a variety of new skills in making the map that are relevant to today’s digital culture, for example photography, film-making, graphic and website design as well as more ‘human’ skills like communication and confidence building”, says Parry.

Green map makers from each city organize different workshops locally. As Gergő Horváth from the Hungarian Association of Conscious Consumers claims, the green mapping workshops can help local community developments as well, which he finds to be quite important in big cities. “For example the community in the third district of Budapest is very active in green mapping – they meet and work on the map together” – says Horváth. In Berlin, for example, approximately 20 people meet regularly for green mapping, mainly from different NGO’s.

The project in Bistrita is in a more preliminary state, the green map is planned to start in 2010, said Ciprian Samoila, the Romanian green map maker from the Association Ascendent.

Green map making can help education, says Steve Parry. “Several of the participants have either no educational qualifications or none beyond school level”, says the Bristol group leader. Some of them are unemployed or illiterate – the district where GreenBristol works, has a low literacy level. “Three of the Bristol ladies who enthusiastically attended most of the workshops are in their fifties and sixties. Two of the ladies have a mother tongue other than English; one is a native Greek speaker and the other is French”.

The organisers hope to reach directly at least twenty local people in each B-city through engaging them in map making. “Of course this number reflects only those directly involved; they would each in turn influence their relatives, colleagues and friends etc. So the cumulative number of people in the project could be much higher”, says Steve Parry. From Hungary, eighteen adult learners will have the opportunity to travel to the international workshops, says Gergő Horváth. Besides the activists of the organisation, other NGO-members are invited, who can later spread the knowledge gained and act as “multiplicators”, says the Hungarian map maker.

Plastic Bags? Differences and communication

The participating countries and cities are obviously in a different state of development in terms of sustainability, education, or even internet usage. In spite of, or precisely because of these differences, working together at the Bristol workshop in October went well. In Bristol, the participants took part inpresentations about Bristol green map projects, learned about the work of the Knowle West Media Centre, and had special workshops on sustainable community development. “The cooperation among four different cities is much more than a simple exchange program, and therefore it is also more effective”, says Van de Loo.

According to Ciprian Samoila, it would be too early to identify the similarities and the differences that may bediscovered between each city and the participants’ opinion on these. However, as Steve Parry claims, this process is an important part of the project and promoting learning between the cities is just beginning.

After the first meeting in Bristol, Samoila says, “I have been privileged to travel a lot lately, so the main experience I have now is looking at the people I bring with me outside the country and see them sometimes shocked at the differences they meet outside of their own country. Or people from the UK, Germany or Hungary surprised when they got to Romania”.

However, there are already some lessons learned after the first workshop. As Steve Parry says, for example, “there are many similarities between Berlin and Bristol regarding their diverse ethnic communities, integration issues and disparities in education/income levels for instance”. Therefore, working together might be beneficial for both organisations. “I think Bristol can learn a lot from Berlin for example concerning the mass rapid transit system, GPS hire bikes, glass and plastic bottle recycling”, says Parry, who is, in turn, of the opinion that “all the visitors learnt a lot about Bristol and they will be disseminating it  over the project’s two year life”.

A common feature of the participants’ experiences in Bristol was a sustainability project in Knowle West district with the help of the Media Centre. Some locals in Bristol Knowle West launched a campaign against the use of plastic bags in local shops. The team “FAB” (Fight against Plastic Bags) made eco-friendly bags out of recycled materials. Gergő Horváth finds this project quite impressive, as it was a local people’sinitiative. However, for Pete van de Loo “it was a little bit of old story because in Germany it is well-known for fifteen years”. But it was interesting for him to see that another country is starting to think about the problem. “It is good to communicate; not being superior but saying ‘hey let’s continue, what you are doing is great and refreshing'”, he adds. And the initiative is still a good example for Hungary and Romania. “The textile bags have been used for many years before the plastic bags were introduced. So using recycled materials is not new to Romania, perhaps Hungary, but just got lost at the time the invasion of the plastic bags started throughout all supermarkets and then small shops”, says Ciprian Samoila.

Gabriella Schneider, a delegate of Wekerle Circle (a civil organisation in the Wekerle district in Budapest) at the Bristol workshop,  was also impressed by the work of KWMC and GreenBristol.  “The differences between the participants were tangible, but I would not highlight them. It is more important that we could work together well. Our Hungarian team was also well-prepared, it was a good feeling to be Hungarian there”, says Gabriella Schneider. The activist, who recently launched a local knit circle, thinks that the work of the KWMC can be a good model, as the newly opening Wekerle Children Centre’s director has similar conception andideas to those that characterise the Bristol Centre. “For me the centre’s philosophy is quite convincing: they do not want to teach you, they just want you to enter the community house, bring ideas about what you want to do for your environment and community, and in turn, they give all the help they can. The director in Wekerle Children Centre is of the same opinion and was open to my remarks and experiences I gained in Bristol. I think the workshop was useful in this respect as well”, she adds.

Another important facet of the project is the fact that the four countries have a relatively different attitude to the European Union, says Pete van De Loo. The two Central-Eastern European countries are new members, while Germany and the United Kingdom are older ones, with a slightly different attitude towards the “European Union idea”. The project is useful precisely because it makes communication about the differences possible while sharing ideas on topics of sustainable community development, says the German map maker.

The cities will meet next May in Budapest, then in July in Berlin and in October in Bistrita. But till the next meeting “in the hive”, the Bees continue green mapping.

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