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Green mapping across Europe: Four Bees in a Hive

| Eszter Szilva

“Think global, map local!” – map makers concerned with green maps in Berlin, Bistrita, Bristol and Budapest launched an international project in August 2009, which is supported financially by the Grundtvig programme of the European Union. The participants promote green mapping as a medium of adult learning and sustainable community development. Similarly to busy bees in their hives, the four B-cities exchange ideas and try to “cross pollinate” each other’s projects. We asked the group leaders to talk about their experiences after their first workshop with adult learners in Bristol.

Berlin, Bistrita, Bristol and Budapest is each a member of the worldwide green mapping community. Green Map System already has
600 members in almost 60 countries around the world. The common goal of the
participating organisations is to collect and share information on eco-friendly
places in towns, from organic food restaurants to parks, selective waste
collection possibilities and second hand shops, in order topromote sustainable
community development. They use green map making as a medium also for
strengthening local communities and helping education.  Their slogan
“Think global, map local!” stands for these goals. Nowadays, green maps are
rather published online, thus facilitating a more interactive usage.

4BsHive is
a special international
 of green mapping organisations in
Berlin (Germany),
Bistrita (
Romania), Bristol (United
) and Budapest (Hungary).
Similarly to busy bees in their hives, the four B-cities exchange ideas and, as
the participants say, try to “cross pollinate” each other’s projects. Their
common aims are to exchange experiences on green mapping and to
motivate adult learners to take part in that.


Berlin: the beginnings

The idea of the project 4BsHive came from
Berlin mapmaker, Peter van de Loo, initiator of the Berlin Green Map as
well. Van de Loo, a geographer and GIS (Geographic Information System)
expert by profession, talked to us about the initiative in
Berlin-Neukölln, a district of the German capital where he also implemented a
green map project
for high school students
. “After I came back from
New York to Berlin, I talked
to some friends of mine and intrigued them to start a Green Map in
Berlin. We
collected entries, did a flash animated interactive map of
Berlin, then put
it on the web. The map has been working very well. Later on, we used this map
to apply for a European fund that is granted to areas in towns that are a
little left behind in terms of development”, says Van de Loo. As he recollects,
at first he found it impossible to be able to cope with the students, but as
the work went on, they became more and more involved in green
mapping. Since then, the project has been continued successfully in the high



Eszter Szilva

Peter van de Loo in his Berlin office

Van de Loo got acquainted with the idea of
green maps in
New York, where he met Wendy Brawer, who invented the first green map in
1992 in
New York within a project called the “Green
“. Wendy Brawer met the Romanian Ciprian Samoila in 2002 and later
became acquainted with the green map makers in
Budapest and Bristol as
well. Peter Van de Loo got in touch with the map makers from Bistrita,
Bristol and Budapest. The group
leaders from the four cities made a preparatory visit to Bistrita in January
2009, where they wrote the partnership application assigning Green Bristol as
project leader. The 4BsHive project was granted an 18.000 Euro fund of
European Union Grundtvig Programme.


As it can be learnt from the web
 of the European Commission, Grundtvig
programme, launched in 2000 as a part of the Lifelong Learning
Programme, aims to provide adults with ways to improve their knowledge and
skills. Grundtvig focuses
on the teaching and study needs of the participants of adult education as well
as of alternative education systems, and the institutions and organisations
delivering these services. The programme also focuses on enhancing
European mobility for the organisations and learners. But how
can green mapping be a part of Life Long Learning?


Discussing and agreeing: green maps
as medium of learning

“Making a map is a process. Green maps are
designed by the people who will use them – they are a grass roots product”,
says Steve Parry, creative director of GreenBristol.
Bristol map makers
cooperate with the community house Knowle
West Media Center
 (KWMC), which organises green mapping workshops as
well. “The local community is invited to design their own map. In the course of
doing this, people from diverse backgrounds and age groups come
together to learn from each other. This could include what to feature on the
map; a recycled clothes store, a location of great natural beauty or historic interest
etc. Discussing and agreeing on the content promotes knowledge
production and exchange. People will also learn a variety of new skills in
making the map that are relevant to today’s digital culture, for example
photography, film-making, graphic and website design as well as more ‘human’
skills like communication and confidence building”, says Parry.

Green map makers from each city organize
different workshops locally. As Gergő Horváth from the Hungarian Association of Conscious Consumers 
claims, the green mapping workshops can help local community developments as
well, which he finds to be quite important in big cities. “For
example the community in the third district of Budapest is very active in green
mapping – they meet and work on the map together” – says Horváth. In
Berlin, for
example, approximately 20 people meet regularly for green mapping, mainly from
different NGO’s.

The project in Bistrita is in a more
preliminary state, the green map is planned to start in 2010, said Ciprian
Samoila, the Romanian green map maker from the Association Ascendent.

Green map making can help education, says
Steve Parry. “Several of the participants have either no educational qualifications
or none beyond school level”, says the
Bristol group
leader. Some of them are unemployed or illiterate – the district where
GreenBristol works, has a low literacy level. “Three of the
Bristol ladies who
enthusiastically attended most of the workshops are in their fifties and
sixties. Two of the ladies have a mother tongue other than English; one is
a native Greek speaker and the other is French”.

The organisers hope to reach directly at
least twenty local people in each B-city through engaging them in map making.
“Of course this number reflects only those directly involved; they
would each in turn influence their relatives, colleagues and friends
etc. So the cumulative number of people in the project could be much
higher”, says Steve Parry. From
eighteen adult learners will have the opportunity to travel to the
international workshops, says Gergő Horváth. Besides the activists of the
organisation, other NGO-members are invited, who can later spread the
knowledge gained and act as “multiplicators”, says the Hungarian map


Plastic Bags? Differences and communication

The participating countries and cities are
obviously in a different state of development in terms of sustainability,
education, or even internet usage. In spite of, or precisely
because of these differences, working together at the
Bristol workshop in
October went well. In
Bristol, the participants took part inpresentations about Bristol green map
projects, learned about the work of the Knowle West Media Centre, and had
special workshops on sustainable community development. “The
cooperation among four different cities is much more than a simple
exchange program, and therefore it is also more effective”, says Van de

According to Ciprian Samoila, it would
be too early to identify the similarities and the differences
that may bediscovered between each city and the participants’
opinion on these. However, as Steve Parry claims, this process is an
important part of the project and promoting learning between the cities is just

After the first meeting in Bristol, Samoila
says, “I have been privileged to travel a lot lately, so the main
experience I have now is looking at the people I bring with me outside the
country and see them sometimes shocked at the differences they meet outside of
their own country. Or people from the 
UK, Germany
Hungary surprised when they got to Romania“.

However, there are already some
lessons learned after the first workshop. As Steve Parry says, for
example, “there are many similarities between
Berlin and Bristol regarding
their diverse ethnic communities, integration issues and disparities in
education/income levels for instance”. Therefore, working together might be
beneficial for both organisations. “I think Bristol can learn a lot from Berlin
for example concerning the mass rapid transit system, GPS hire bikes, glass and
plastic bottle recycling”, says Parry, who is, in turn, of the opinion that
“all the visitors learnt a lot about Bristol and they will be disseminating
it  over the project’s two year life”.

A common feature of the
participants’ experiences in
Bristol was a sustainability project in Knowle West district with the help
of the Media Centre. Some locals in Bristol Knowle West launched a
campaign against the use of plastic bags in local shops. The team “FAB” (Fight against Plastic Bags)
made eco-friendly bags out of recycled materials. Gergő Horváth finds this
project quite impressive, as it was a local people’sinitiative. However,
for Pete van de Loo “it was a little bit of old story because in
it is well-known for fifteen years”. But it was interesting for him to see that
another country is starting to think about the problem. “It
is good to communicate; not being superior but saying ‘hey let’s continue, what
you are doing is great and refreshing'”, he adds. And the initiative
is still a good example for
Romania. “The textile bags have been used for many years before the plastic
bags were introduced. So using recycled materials is not new to
Hungary, but just got lost at the time the invasion of the plastic bags
started throughout all supermarkets and then small shops”, says Ciprian

Gabriella Schneider, a delegate of Wekerle Circle (a civil organisation in
the Wekerle district in
Budapest) at
Bristol workshop,  was also impressed by the work of KWMC and
GreenBristol.  “The differences between the participants were
tangible, but I would not highlight them. It is more important that we could
work together well. Our Hungarian team was also well-prepared, it was a good
feeling to be Hungarian there”, says Gabriella Schneider. The activist, who
recently launched a local
knit circle
, thinks that the work of the KWMC can be a good model, as the
newly opening Wekerle Children Centre’s director has
similar conception andideas to those that characterise
the Bristol Centre. “For me the centre’s philosophy is quite convincing:
they do not want to teach you, they just want you to enter the community house,
bring ideas about what you want to do for your environment and community, and
in turn, they give all the help they can. The director in Wekerle
Children Centre is of the same opinion and was open to my remarks and
experiences I gained in
Bristol. I think the workshop was useful in this respect as well”, she

Another important facet of the project is
the fact that the four countries have a relatively different attitude
to the European Union, says Pete van De Loo. The two Central-Eastern European
countries are new members, while
and the
United Kingdom are older ones, with a slightly different attitude towards the
“European Union idea”. The project is useful precisely because it makes
communication about the differences possible while sharing ideas on topics
of sustainable community development, says the German map maker.

The cities will meet next May in Budapest, then in
July in
Berlin and in October in Bistrita. But till the next meeting “in the
hive”, the Bees continue green mapping.   

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