Why are up-to-date maps so important for pro-poor planning and decision-making? Given the resource and capacity constraints facing developing world cities, how can decision-makers obtain and use maps for effective planning? What technology strategies should low income countries consider to capture new opportunities in urban mapping?

Read the Mapping Urbanisation Report from the Max Lock Centre

The most basic planning requires an understanding of the extent and nature of urban areas. Yet, decision-makers in many developing world cities have to get by with basic maps that are outdated, or with no maps at - all too often leaving the poorest at the greatest disadvantage. In planning terms, the poor do not exist when the areas where they live are 'off the map'. Ensuring that development is planned fairly and effectively with the full participation of key stakeholders, particularly those representing poor neighbourhoods, requires up-to-date maps as a point of reference.

During 2002 and 2003, together with its partners in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Brazil, the Max Lock Centre carried out a scoping study on low cost mapping of urbanisation and urban areas. The study explored the potential for using readily and cheaply available satellite imagery to produce basic maps for urban and regional planning. The study reveals the potential benefits of technical solutions - Remote Sensing (RS) data and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in particular - but also the overriding need to build capacity.

The final report is a combination of a technical study and a series of case studies in contrasting contexts. The evidence demonstrates that with a minimum of training and basic computer technology, satellite images can be acquired, processed, and, by using local knowledge, transformed into basic maps. However, it also shows that readiness to adopt the full GIS approach differs markedly both across and within countries, reflecting levels of local and national development, as well as political will. Not withstanding these challenges, the report recommends practical strategies for significant progress to include:

  • A phased or "gradualist" approach with an initial focus on developing primary skills in map reading and spatial comprehension, use of which will then generate demand for better maps.
  • Planners should take advantage of publicly available software and imagery that, although 'out of date' for some purposes, is still useable for planning (e.g ArcView 3.3 software and military maps).
  • Simpler user-friendly tools could be developed to aid the capacity-building process, e.g. customised user interfaces that would sit in front of a GIS package.
  • Further understanding should be gained of how people would use the approaches identified in the scoping study, and how these relate to local planning, decision-making and unplanned urban growth processes.

This scoping report is intended to form the first stage of a larger study. Building on the opportunities identified, the larger study will develop detailed guidelines enabling step-by-step progression from the production of basic maps to more complex GIS-based methods. An online forum will provide practitioners and researchers with access to recommended mapping data and techniques.