MIT Creates A New Map A Day To Inspire Social Change

Mapping everything from urban greenery to independent coffee shops, the “You Are Here” project aims to build a whopping 10,000 city maps in total.

Mapping a city used to take an incredibly long time; one 18th century map of London took more than a decade to survey and draw by hand. Now, thanks to easy access to data online, a group of designers, computer scientists, artists, and educators at MIT is able to make at least one new map of a city each day. Eventually, the Social Computing Group hopes to make 100 maps for each of 100 cities, or 10,000 maps in total.


The You Are Here project maps can be used in many new ways, because they are so much easier to create. Each is meant as a tool to inspire action.

“We feel that maps can help people make their city a better place,” the group writes on their website. “Mapping where bike accidents occur might encourage cities to put separate bike lanes where there are lots of accidents…Mapping greenery in the city might encourage people to plant trees where there are none.”

One of their first sets of maps focused on how long it takes to walk to independent local coffee shops, which the group calls “markers of a living community.” Having walkable coffee shops, they argue, helps build community not only in a cafe itself but on surrounding sidewalks. They’re hoping that the maps might make it easier for local entrepreneurs to see where there are opportunities for new businesses that can create stronger neighborhoods.

“In the near-term, our hope is that these maps will be a tool for people to better understand their city, and that they will provide a language to help people discuss the facets that involve living in their city and making it a better place,” says Sep Kamvar, director of the Social Computing Group. “In the medium term, we hope that these maps will change as people act on the information in them, making their cities greener, or safer for human-powered transportation, or with more public space.”

Eventually, they hope to give others the tools to create maps for advocacy at a much broader scale. “We hope to enable people to make their own maps and kick off the process themselves,” Kamvar says.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.