Putting Communities on the Map: New Community-Based Research Center Opens in the Department of Geosciences at Georgia State

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Georgia State University’s Department of Geosciences is introducing the Atlanta Community Mapping and Research Center (ACMRC) to enable Georgia State students, faculty and staff to work with local groups to address complex, community-defined urban issues.

Georgia State University’s Department of Geosciences is introducing the Atlanta Community Mapping and Research Center (ACMRC) to enable Georgia State students, faculty and staff to work with local groups to address complex, community-defined urban issues.

The center’s seven-person staff uses skills including field data collection, geographic information systems, smart phone and mobile mapping techniques, focus groups and participatory sketch mapping. These tools let local groups focus on the spatial aspect of urban issues. All are offered free of charge. In addition, the data produced in these projects are freely available to the public, and the center’s tools are open-source.

“We are completely committed to providing Atlanta community-based organizations, non-profits and residents with free tools that allow them to tell the stories of their city, their neighborhoods and their communities,” said Timothy Hawthorne, director of the ACMRC and assistant professor of geography. “Maps are powerful visual communication tools, but often they are created without a whole lot of community input. We want to change that by putting communities on the map.”

The ACMRC is led by faculty members Ben Miller (English), Hawthorne (Geosciences), and staff members Brennan Collins (English), Joe Hurley (University Library) and Jack Reed (Geosciences). The Georgia State Honors College provides funding to the center to support two undergraduate research assistants.

“The ACMRC helps us understand issues and problems by giving us the ability to layer information and see connections that our mind might not make on its own,” said Collins, an academic professional in the Department of English. “The community has so much it can teach the university, and the ACMRC is a great way to make those connections.”

The ACMRC is already partnering with organizations, including Atlanta Food and Farm, Food Commons Atlanta, Atlanta Regional Commission, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), Atlanta Botanical Gardens, The Conservation Fund and Atlanta Mobile Market (AMM).

“Maps are a visually stimulating way to demonstrate community assets and opportunities for growth,” said Karlyn Wilson with AMM.

“The ACMRC can help us in communicating the importance of spatial thinking in community issues,” said Darryl Haddock, co-founder of WAWA. “For us, that means using spatial analysis and social science skills to evaluate Atlanta’s urban hydrology issues.”

Any metropolitan Atlanta organization interested in working with the AMCRC should fill out the form at http://acmrc.gsu.edu/suggestproject. Projects are undertaken on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We can partner on any issue in Atlanta that lends itself to mapping as long as it is defined by a community partner in Atlanta and can benefit society,” Hawthorne said. “We’re a center in a public urban research university, and we take that to heart. We want the public to be involved in a way that transforms our research, engages residents as citizen-scientists and develops real-world research results with practical value and meaning to the broader society.”

The AMCRC is funded by the Georgia State Cities Initiative as part of the ATLmaps Project.

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Leah Seupersad
Georgia State University
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