Micro Interventions: DIY Cartography

Western North Carolina Campus DIY Cartography, Image Courtesy of PLOTS
Maps are exceptionally powerful tools. Aerial photography presents itself as of the most stunning and convincing of those tools.  Traditionally, cartography has been an expensive, time consuming, and highly specialized activity.  To a large degree, it still is.  But what does it mean when you make aerial photography accessible to anyone with $100 worth of supplies and a digital camera?

That is what a group of of "activists, educators, technologists, and community organizers now known as Public Laboratory developed when they came  together with the goal of generating new ways to promote action, intervention, and awareness through a participatory research model."

Photo Courtesy of PLOTS
"The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) collaboratively develops and publicizes accessible technologies for investigating and reporting on local environmental health and justice issues. PLOTS provides an online research space for citizens, linking them to scientists, social scientists, and technologists. PLOTS is an expansion of Grassroots Mapping, where citizens use helium-filled balloons and digital cameras to generate high resolution “satellite” maps."

Their map making goals are simple:
  • low cost
  • data legibility (including a preference for maps and other rich visual means of representation)
  • ease of use/low barrier to entry
  • public participation
  • high quality, environmentally and socially relevant data
  • creative reuse of consumer technology
  • open source and user modifiable design
Image Parts List, Courtesy of PLOTS

Here is a link to a pdf which gives an illustrated process with a parts list:

This pdf has a little more instruction:

Some other great links include:


This is a related organization called Grassroots Mapping that has a ton of great information and a great network of friendly folks:


It's exciting to think about what this can mean as a tool for homegrown community planning to land use and zoning disputes to art and design.  We can 't wait to try this out ourselves at (a)bitotic, in the mean time, Happy Mapping Everyone!