Using Digital Technology to bring Maps to Life

by Professor Chris Gibson, University of Wollongong

Cultural asset mapping involves using maps to document what a community values as important to its way of life. Rather than relying on lots of words written about local culture, maps are used to locate important sites such as venues, heritage precincts and museums. Maps can also be used to illustrate changing social patterns; things like in-migration, growth and decline in agriculture, tourism trends and shifts in the creative industries. But maps really 'come to life' - as a geographical recording of mobility and cultural meaning - when they are used as a talking point for people discussing their everyday life, creativity and interactions with their town or village.

Once upon a time, all maps were produced 'hard-copy', on paper. Nowadays, it is possible for communities and scholars to develop their own digital maps using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology. This is the technology inside car navigation devices and, increasingly, in mobile phones. A benefit of GIS technology is its ability to overlay  or 'stack up maps on top of each other', also known as a 'map mashup'. So a map of cultural heritage in a town could be overlaid on top of a map of venues and performance spaces, an aerial photograph, a map of demographic change, or a map of council zoning regulations. Sometimes surprising patterns of commonality and difference emerge from viewing maps 'stacked up' like this.

GIS SoftwareA screen shot mapping cultural worksite in Darwin, taken from arcGIS, ESRI's mapping software.

Digital mapping technology is at the heart of the CAMRA project. Over time, each project partner will become a co-creator of a series of digital maps of each case study location. What these maps will contain exactly will depend on the location, the interests of the project partner, and what local communities define as cultural assets. They may include: maps of cultural facilities, venues and institutions; maps of demographic change (including information on creative industry employment); maps of local heritage, cultural diversity and Indigenous country maps; maps of networks and linkages between organisations and individuals; maps of festivals and maps of creative industry businesses.

In 2009-10 the CAMRA team will work with industry partners on identifying their mapping preferences and exploring technical options for development of the CAMRA maps. It is anticipated that each region will develop a 'basic' mapping platform (including information on the presence of cultural industries in each region), but that some may wish to pursue more complex, creative and experimental uses of mapping technology.

As our project unfolds we expect the mapping component to inform other research findings (and vice-versa).

To see featured GIS resources from mapping projects around the world, visit the Featured GIS Resources. For references to texts on GIS, and many more, please see our Bibliography . . .