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Mapping Zaatari

Community-led mapping project of Zaatari, to engage incoming & established refugees in informal exchanges of knowledge of their environment.

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Refugee Camps, built with the intention of being a temporary fix, often become long term realities for millions. As time goes on, these camps constantly evolve to accommodate new residents. One example is Zaatari in Jordan, which has grown exponentially in since it's creation in 2012. While the camp has already been mapped using Open Street Map, we seek to map cultural & educational areas that can only emerge from local knowledge. As more residents add to the public map, they can help co-plan for future public spaces, functional needs and residential areas. Mapping local informal knowledge of a place can have two main advantages, both of which allow residents to be better resources for each other: 1. It identifies opportunities in the form of recourses and services: - As a new resident in a refugee came, a map can be an ideal wayfinding tool to become accustomed to the lay of the land but to the local culture - Residents can plot places of cultural significance as well as informal businesses 2. It identifies needs: - Gaps to fill on a policy and development basis as the map continues to evolve - Potential gaps in services on which entrepreneurs can capitalize


- Current refugees in camp can learn about the changes in/evolution of their community - New and incoming refugees learn about their new environment - Data collection mechanism for UNHCR to understand the cultural layout and needs of the camp (the people in the camp are co-planning the growth)


We plan to start this map on a public, physical place to maximize access for all residents. Eventually we’d like to make this a digital storytelling platform that explores stories from the residents’ points of view, much like the Refugee Republic Project or MAS and Fokelore’s Place Matters project. A large chalkboard map will be mounted in a public space with only the essential “permanent” structures plotted out, such as medical center, water distribution, schools, main transit routes, etc. The initial skeleton will be a creative interpretation of existing UNHCR maps such as the one above (credit:UNHCR) The map is a way to post locally known knowledge of a neighborhood for new people coming in. Critical to its design, the map must be able to undergo continuous editing as people move in & out of the camp, or as new entrepreneurial businesses are formed. In this way, the map is part directory, part public art project.


We have reached out to contacts at the following organizations to receive feedback. Each group has worked on projects in relation to cultural community mapping and/or refugee camp planning: - Ennead Lab: - Refugee Republic:

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We have experience with a variety of data mapping and community mapping projects in our local community. We would love to hear back from experts in the field, on their experience working with refugee communities or refugee camps to better refine this idea.


We are a small team created from the NYC OpenIDEO meetup group. Alison works at the Municipal Art Society: Sarah works at TED Talks and TEDCity2.0:


  • Yes, and I am looking for a partner working with refugee communities to implement this idea.


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