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Meaningful maps


In the autumn of 2010, Transition Hereford created the ‘Mappa Sustainability’, modelled on the thirteenth-century Mappa Mundi. This modern version, naturally, shows Hereford in pride of place, and has been a centrepiece of many of the group’s activities. It is an imaginative way of documenting what is happening and, as Rob Garner of the group told me, it

“helps people to see they are not working on their own”. 

When Transition Hereford and New Leaf (an organisation set up to bridge sustainability groups and the local council) were planning ‘H.Energy week’ (the H stands for Hereford), they decided they wanted a physical map on which individuals and organisations could register existing initiatives and future commitments. 

The Mappa Sustainability was first exhibited in a city-centre church, before being paraded through the streets to a big launch called ‘Small Steps, Big Difference’. It then went to other venues, including the library and cathedral, before being a centrepiece for 2011’s H.Energy week. People were invited to attach stickers showing what they are doing, what else is happening where they live, and their visions. Rob told me it had been a great success:

“in my view it increases a sense of togetherness, community involvement and success”.

 Many Transition initiatives use electronic maps, in particular Google Maps, in their work.

Examples of electronic mapping done by initiatives:        

  • Transition Los Angeles has created a Google Map of ‘Transition in LA’, which maps individual participants, initiatives and projects across the city as a public map, offering a very accessible way in for newcomers.
  • Transition Town Stoke Newington’s ‘Hackney Harvest’ project and Sustainable Haringey’s ‘Urban Harvest’ projects both use Google Maps to map street fruit trees in the area.
  • Sustainable Frome created the ‘Frome Apple Tree Map’, showing all the town’s apple trees. They also use Google Maps to map potential sites for future wind farms and other Transition infrastructure.
  • Transition Cambridge have done much the same; theirs includes the intriguing entry, to a walnut-lover like myself, that there are “two walnut trees near the boathouse at Fen Ditton”. I’m on my way
  • Transition Taunton went a step beyond fruit trees with their Google Map project, the ‘Wild Food Free Food Map’, which mapped the wide range of forageable wild food in the area. They combined this electronic mapping with more old-fashioned mapping exercises. At their ‘Abundant Taunton’ event, they invited people to plot fruit and nut trees, and other wild food, on physical maps, which were subsequently uploaded to the Google Maps.
  • One of the most cutting-edge uses of maps is being developed by Geofutures in Bath, in association with Somerset Community Food. The ‘Foodmapper’[i] website invites people to become community researchers, mapping all the land in the area being used by the community to grow food. It has huge potential as part of more detailed analyses of potential local food security.

Physical mapping examples from initiatives: 

  • At a Transition Los Angeles event, a large printed map of the city was displayed, and people were asked to put themselves on the map. Joanne Porouyow of Transition Los Angeles said this “gave people a sense of how much of the area was represented at the session”.
  • Making your own maps is worthwhile. Transition Finsbury Park in London ran their ‘Places that Matter’ project, which invited people to make short films about what they loved about the area. They held an event where people made their own ‘imaginative maps’, which “made explicit the different ways people view the same place”. People worked in groups and created their own maps of the places that matter most to them, weaving in their visions for the future of the place.

Maps can, of course, be used to do more than show what exists.

They can also be a powerful way to explore the future. Sustaining Dunbar’s ‘2025 Map and Action Plan (MAP) project uses maps to encourage people to set out how they would like the community to become more resilient. As their website says, “Maps can show you where you are. But a good map can show you where you want to go and how to get there.”

Transition in Action: Making maps with people

Maps can also be made with people, not paper. At large Transition events, mapping is often used for a quick insight into those attending. By asking people to stand in different places, you can get instant and useful insights. For example:


·         Geographical: “North is this end of the room, south is the other end, arrange yourselves in relation to each other in terms of how far you have travelled to be here.”

·         Attitudinal: “If this end of the room is ‘passionately agree’ and that end is ‘massively disagree’, arrange yourselves in relation to the following question . . .”

·         Age: “Youngest this end, oldest that end.”

·         Stage in the Transition process: “If you think your Transition initiative has just started, go to this side. If you think it is very advanced, go to that side.”

  . . . and so on.

When each question has been asked and the group has mapped itself, have two people with radio microphones move among the group asking people at different places for their stories. This exercise has become a key feature of Transition Network conferences, and for events that explore attitudes towards particular questions. However, be aware of the needs of your audience when doing this – this is an activity that can be more challenging for people with mobility issues or who are partially sighted.

Transition in Action: Community resilience mapping in Port Phillip

by Chloe Farmer

The Community Resilience Mapping project sprouted from Transition Town Port Phillip, Australia, in April 2010. Our vision is to explore, through creative mapping, different themes central to resilience, and to uncover, develop and strengthen connections in our local bayside community (south of Melbourne).

We chose to begin with hand-made maps as a direct approach to engaging with the community. We’ve been taking maps to local community events and inviting people to map themselves, their connections, projects, resources and examples of emerging resilience. The maps attract interest, stimulate stories and facilitate the sharing of insights, knowledge, skills and resources. They become living, evolving tools. Community Resilience Mapping is a rewarding process and a powerful creative pathway to invite community interaction and participation, and to stimulate awareness and collective vision.

Food is a great place to start. The Food Resilience maps, which have had a few incarnations, depict farmers’ markets, community gardens and redistribution and educational programs, amongst other networks. The Eco Connections Map was seeded by project groups involved in the local council sustainability program, and is growing at the Port Phillip Eco Centre. We’re continuing to explore community connections in the arts, public space, water, culture and ‘heart and soul’, and will be hosting creative mapping workshops and exploring online mapping in the future.


  • Green Map is a very useful emerging resource:
  • Tom Chance has been developing sustainability maps – check out this emerging version for London:
  • Open Street Map – an open-source map of the world:
  • REconomy have produced a list of 30 useful maps




Rosemary Abetz-Rouse's picture

Mapping Local Food Worldwide was launched in 2009 and aims to help people find food within a certain vicinity. It is available free, on a non-profit basis. Using the site, food growers can sign up and list their eggs, fruit, vegies, etc, which are displayed on the map with the icon of their choice.
Another useful feature of the site is that customers can "subscribe" to a particular food grower, to receive emails when fruit is in season ready for picking, for example.

At this stage, most of our producers are located in Australia. However the website uses Google Map technology and is ready to go for use worldwide. If you wish to see a demonstration of the website working, try searching Victoria, Australia as your locality. For example: 

Find All Produce nearest to Victoria, Australia Max 40

... and click the "search" button (this will display up to 40 producers on the map).

We also have a widget allowing the map to be placed in a corner of anyone's website. 

More info is available at

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