Activity 3.6

Activity: 3.6 Planning for Community Mapping

Purpose of Activity:

This activity is designed to assist your group with planning a community mapping project. First, the participants will clarify exactly what will be mapped, and then the group will determine the various materials and roles needed to do the mapping project.

By the End of the Activity Participants Will:

  • Discuss exactly what you want to map
  • Come up with a plan to prepare all of the necessary materials you need for mapping (maps, walking lists, canvassing sheet etc.)

Before this Activity Participants Will Need to:

Have determined your research goals and research question

Have decided on your research method

Tools Needed:

Copies of Tool 3.10: Description of Community Mapping Materials and Steps

Materials Needed:

Butcher Paper


Key Terms

Street Maps

Walking List

Rap Sheet

Canvassing Sheet

Intended Audience:

Members and Staff of Your Organization

Time Needed:

1 Hour

Part I: Deciding what you want to map (30 minutes)

Facilitator Instructions:

1. Hand out paper and markers.  Give the group five minutes to draw a map that reflects what they think you should be mapping through this project.

2. Popcorn questions to the big group to share what they have drawn and refine exactly what it is you want to map. Record responses on butcher paper. Use the following questions as a guide:

  • What did you draw on your map?
  • What do we want our maps to show?
  • What point(s) are we trying to prove?
  • What type of data do we need to prove those points?
  • How will these maps help our campaign?
  • Where in the community can we go to find what we are looking for?
  • What do we want to include/ leave out of our study?

3. Use responses to clarify and decide exactly what you want to map.

Part II: Create a Mapping Plan (30 Minutes)

Facilitator Instructions:

1. Before meeting prepare butcher paper with three columns as seen below:

What is the research task that needs to be done?By when does it need to be complete?Who will be the point person to make sure this task gets done?
Prepare Street Maps
Prepare Walking Lists
Prepare Canvassing Sheets
Prepare Rap Sheets
Prepare Cameras
Community Mapping Training for Members
Coordinate Community Mapping Outreach Days
Report Back Meeting

2. Next give everyone a copy of Tool 3.10: Description of Community Mapping Materials and Steps. Refer to this handout as you fill out the chart.

3. Fill out the planning chart with your big group being sure to clarify what each material or step entails and using the handout as necessary. Also be sure to fill out the “who” and “when” columns.

4. Debrief. Does everyone feel ready to start mapping? Is there anything else you need to prepare?

Activity 3.7

Activity: 3.7 Community Mapping Training

Purpose of the Activity:

This activity is designed to train your members how to do community mapping, and how to use all of the community mapping materials (canvassing sheet, street map, walking lists, rap sheet) you will use in the mapping process. It is also designed to pilot the materials you have created in order to get feedback and adjust them as necessary.

By the End of Activity Participants Will:

  • Be trained in how to do community mapping
  • Have gone into the field to pilot the mapping materials
  • Have shared information and lessons learned about the process of community mapping

Before this Activity Participants Will Need to:

Have created all of the materials that will be used for community mapping

Review the research questions, goals, and timeline for the project

Materials Needed:

All of the mapping materials you need (street maps, walking lists, rap sheets, canvassing sheet, clipboards, cameras etc.)

Butcher Paper


Key Terms

Street Maps

Walking List

Rap Sheet

Canvassing Sheet

Intended Audience:

Members or Staff of your Organization

Time Needed:

2 Hours

Part I: Community Mapping Training (15 minutes)

Facilitator Instructions:

  1. Prepare all of your necessary materials in advance. If you are using maps, walking sheets, canvassing sheets, cameras, rap sheets etc. make sure to print out enough copies for each participant, or team of participants.
  2. Review the purpose of your community mapping project and how it fits into your wider campaign goals.
  3. Train your members in how to do community mapping by reviewing all of the different mapping materials (maps, walking sheets, canvassing sheets etc.) you’ve created and how they fit into the mapping. Address questions as they come up.

Part II: Piloting (1 hour)

  1. Split participants up into groups of 2-4 people.
  2. Have each group select a photographer, a navigator and a note-taker (if there are only 2 people, the note-taker and navigator can be the same person).
  3. Assign each group to a specific set of turf that you want to map and give them the materials for that turf.
  4. Send members out into the neighborhood for 1 hour. Make sure each group has all of their necessary materials, maps and a camera.  Also, make sure each group has a pen and paper to record any questions/concerns that come up in the process of mapping.

Part III: Report Back (30 Minutes)

1. After members come back together, have each group report back to the larger group on their experience. Have each group answer some of the following questions:

  • What did you learn about______ (the issue you are mapping)?
  • Did you talk to any community members, if so how did they respond?
  • What did you learn about the community mapping process?
  • Were there any questions, concerns, or challenges that came up as you were mapping?
  • Do you have any suggestions for how we could improve the mapping process?

2. After each group shares, debrief and troubleshoot. What issues came up during the mock mapping exercise? How can you respond to them? Do you need to create any new materials? Is the group ready to conduct the rest of your mapping?

Tool 3.10

Tool: 3.10 Description of Community Mapping Materials and Steps

The following is a list of materials and steps commonly used in community mapping.  You may develop additional materials depending on your project.

Street Maps: in order to assist canvassers in the community mapping, you will need very specific street maps that show canvassers where in the neighborhood they need to go. Often times these maps are split up into small geographic areas such as census tracts, so they can have a high level of detail, and are feasible for canvassers to accomplish in one outreach session.

Walking Lists: are a tool used with street maps, that list out all of the properties or sites that a group of canvassers need to investigate. The walking lists should correspond directly to the scale used for each individual street map.  You will only need a walking list if you are investigating specific properties.  This will not be needed for every community mapping project.

Canvassing Sheet: is a data collection tool that a canvasser can use to track specific information or observations. The canvassing sheet should be carefully filled out for each relevant site or property that the canvassers find.  (See Tool 3.8 for a sample canvassing sheet).

Rap: frequently community mapping will involve engaging community members in conversation to collect information related to the issue you are mapping in the community. A rap is a tool used to help canvassers prepare how they will approach and talk to different community that you may encounter while mapping.

Community Mapping Training: before you send members out in the community, you may want to schedule a community mapping training to make sure everyone understands the specifics of the mapping project. Typically these trainings are done to teach members how to use all of the mapping materials, and to answer any questions about the mapping process.

Community Mapping Outreach Day: an event where you bring a group of members and allies of your organization together, split up into small groups, and go out to different parts of the neighborhood for a day of group community mapping. Outreach days often begin with a training to be sure all participants are familiar with the goals and materials of your mapping project.

Report Back Meetings: are meetings that bring together members who have participated in your community mapping outreach. These meetings are a good place to gather information, and stories about the issue you are investigating in the community. These meetings are also a good place to discuss any challenges or issues that might have come up in the mapping process, and adjust your mapping technique accordingly.

Tool 3.11

Tool: 3.11 Sample Canvassing Sheet


Canvasser Name________________­­­­Org_____________Date ____________ Census Dist______

Camera  #_____                  Photo #______

Tool 3.11
as a
Word Doc


Street Number____________  Street Name______________________________

Street Name Suffix (Ave., Blvd., St., etc)___________________Borough_______________

If building address is not visible, note the side streets, as well as the addresses of nearby buildings and where they in relation to the building

Cross Streets:_____________________________________________________________

Addresses of nearby buildings:_______________________________________________


Only complete this section for buildings that appear to be 50% vacant.

We are looking for buildings that are: 1. Residential; 2. Newly constructed; 3. Newly renovated; 4. Fully built but DO NOT appear to be lived in; OR  5. NOT fully constructed and construction seems to have stopped.  For the questions below, please circle Y or N and write additional information in space provided. Please record as much information as possible.


Number of Stories_______________ Building Type _________________________(Highrise, Brownstone, tenement, etc)

Completed Building or Evidence of Construction (circle one)________________________

How many units? (count doorbells or mailboxes) ______________ Commercial Space?  Y / N

Evidence that people are living in any of the units? Y  / N _____________________________


Development Company listed on the building? Y / N

Co. Name:_______________________________

Real estate agent listed on the building? Y / N Name:________________________________________

Contact number/website listed on the building? Y / N Number/website:__________________________

Is there a for sale sign on the building? Y / N


Tool 3.12
as a PPT

Tool: 3.12 Sample Canvassing Training

This power point is an example of a training used by the Right to the City-NYC alliance to prepare community members to conduct a canvass of vacant luxury condominiums in various neighborhoods across New York City.  This power point can be modified or used as a model for creating your own training.


Case Study: 3.4 Right to the City-NYC’s Report: People without Homes and Homes without People


Background on Organization and Issue

Right to the City NYC is a local chapter of Right to the City national alliance and is composed of twenty base-building, community organizations, research groups and other allies in New York City.  The alliance aims to build a united response to gentrification and neo-liberal development policies in NYC and to a build collective movement to promote and create community-based economic development policies.

Over the last several years, during the housing boom, NYC saw the rapid development of luxury condominiums, many in neighborhoods where low-income people live.  Due to the economic crisis, many of these luxury condominiums were left vacant.  Some have been forced to stop construction because their financing has dried up, while others have been unable to sell units and are falling behind on their construction loan payments.  Despite all of this new construction, the number of housing units that are affordable for low- to middle-income families has decreased precipitously. From 2002 to 2005, the city lost more than 205,000 units affordable to the typical household.   Accordingly, NYC is left with many vacant units of housing but these units are not available or affordable to those most in need of housing.   Many of the neighborhoods where RTTC members live are full of these recently developed condos that have unsold units or are completely empty.  RTTC-NYC conducted a community mapping project to identify where the vacant condos are located; examine the current state of these condos and determine how NYC can convert these condos into low-income housing.

Below is a description of the RTTC Condo Count, based on the Participatory Action Research Guiding Framework (see Tool 2.1 and 2.2).


Were the organizing goals connected to this research?

  • To show number of unsold and vacant units in luxury condos in specific NYC neighborhoods;
  • To highlight number of vacant luxury units versus number of vacant units affordable to low income people;
  • To educate members of RTTC-NYC groups about type of development occurring in NYC neighborhoods;
  • To educate elected officials and media about type of development occurring in NYC neighborhoods, particularly low-income communities of color;
  • To increase affordable housing in NYC.

Overall questions did RTTC want to answer through their research?

  • What is the state of vacant and stalled residential buildings in low-income communities?
  • How are vacant condominiums and stalled construction projects affecting low-income communities?
  • What policies helped contribute to this problem?
  • What opportunities exist to convert vacant condos into low-income housing?
  • What are the most effective policy and financing options to convert them?

Information did RTTC need to collect to answer these research questions?

  • Block and lot numbers and addresses of vacant condos;
  • Size of buildings, number of units, vacancy rates and cost of units;
  • Information about the buildings developers, construction companies and financiers;
  • Background information about targeted neighborhoods;
  • Potential policy and funding mechanisms to convert vacant condos into low-income housing.


Is this research useful or important for RTTC?

  • Internally: The condo research project provided valuable information to assist the coalition in campaign development.  The collective project also helped to strengthen the RTTC alliance through increased interaction between member groups.
  • Externally: The research helped RTTC become part of the conversation about the future development of New York. RTTC used the report and results to hold several meetings with elected officials and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) to educate them about high-end development in target neighborhoods. Media coverage stemming from the report release educated the general public about excessive condo development and gentrification.


Are the stakeholders in this issue?

  • Low-income community members that live in the targeted neighborhoods in NYC and those in need of affordable housing.

Is RTTC trying to influence?

  • The Mayor, City Council, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.


Did RTTC gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • RTTC decided they wanted to physically map the luxury condos as a way to demonstrate the rampant gentrification occurring in the target neighborhoods. Organization members canvassed and identified over 250 vacant condo buildings with an estimated 4,000 empty units.  The results were shown on maps in the final report and helped visually show the spread of luxury condos. Community mapping also engaged a high number of community members, who walked the streets of their neighborhoods, sharing ownership of the research and building buy-in for the campaign.

How Research Supported RTTC’s Organizing Efforts

RTTC-NYC released the preliminary findings during a rally in Brooklyn, launching their campaign to convert vacant condos to low-income housing.  After extensive secondary research, RTTC-NYC then released a full report and conducted a tour in Harlem of several vacant condos, highlighting the exorbitant prices, the length of time on the market, and the significant tax arrears owed to NYC.  This event garnered much press and gave RTTC hard numbers to take to elected officials and push to convert the condos into affordable housing.   The policy research also enabled RTTC to come up with several scenarios for converting condos into low-income housing and eventually led RTTC to hone in on Community Land Trusts as the focus of the Alliance’s campaign.

Click here to read the report.