Nashville is now home to a notable mapmaker whose projects have had a tendency to go viral. One of his first local mapping efforts began this weekend, as he coached families on how to find safe walking routes to their schools.
Wansoo Im is an associate professor at Meharry Medical College and director of its National Community Mapping Institute. Much of his work focuses on health disparities and how communities can build maps and learn from them.
But the projects that first gained notoriety were on two very different subjects.
One let people post, in real-time, where gasoline was available during Hurricane Sandy. The other pinpoints New York City’s best public bathrooms.
“So I was known as the restroom guy,” Im said.
He designed the “Mappler” smartphone app specifically for civic projects and crowdsourcing, in which people add facts about their surroundings.
The launch this weekend in Nashville was for safe walking routes, with teams exploring near two elementary schools — Eakin in Hillsboro, and J.E. Moss in Antioch.
Families took notes and photos about bad sidewalks and dangerous intersections and posted the information in real time to the safe routes map. And the kids themselves contributed.
“Sometimes you don’t see the things the way that the children see,” Im said. “They walk differently. So there are a lot of things you can learn.”
Im is working with the nonprofit Walk/Bike Nashville to land funding to assess more schools.
And he said he wants to help communities use maps more often to study and improve their surroundings.
“It’s a great way to observe the collective intelligence,” he said. “This is actually an amazing experience of how a group of community people collect the data.”