Mapping the Future: Green Maps

A world-wide phenomenon, Green Maps highlight everything from bicycle paths and renewable energy sources to farmers’ markets, green stores, and wildlife.

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Youth from New York City's Friends Seminary nominated vibrant sites for LoMap, the Lower Manhattan Green Map.

Photo by Beth Ferguson

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After Wendy Brawer published the first New York Green Apple Map in 1992, activists all over the world embraced her concept of using maps to highlight environmental and cultural resources. These new converts developed a universal icon system and began green mapping such far-flung cities as Copenhagen and Montreal. Brawer soon found herself at the head of the Green Map System—a global movement to help people make lower-impact lifestyle choices and get involved in urban ecology.

Green maps highlight everything from bicycle paths and renewable energy sources to farmers’ markets, green stores, and wildlife. Brawer’s nonprofit, grassroots organization provides support and inspiration to thousands of volunteer mapmakers from Australia to Cuba. More than 100 green maps have been completed, including about 48 U.S. cities, towns, and counties.

These creations link local residents with underutilized community resources and give a boost to green businesses. “It’s not an easy project, but the rewards can be astonishing,” Brawer says. “Maps gently guide people. They reach a broad cross section you might not get with any other medium.” Even a small-scale neighborhood map can help raise awareness about the environment, she says. Her organization has a strong component of young mapmakers, who often use schools as the epicenter of their maps.

Brawer’s New York Green Apple Map is in its fourth edition, and roughly 1.8 million green maps are in circulation. A healthy selection of online-only maps is available for viewing at the project website, and potential mapmakers continue to contact the Green Map System’s headquarters about starting projects in their own communities.

In the coming year, Brawer hopes to create a green map atlas to anthologize her organization’s work and chronicle the history of green mapmakers. “Our ultimate goal would be even better maps that are easier to understand and more transparent in their sustainability,” Brawer says. “When we think about home, we need to start thinking beyond personal space.”