A month ago the Grenfell Tower fire happened, killing >80 people. Back in 2009 we did an OpenStreetMap mapping party near Latimer Road, and I remember mapping the area around Grenfell Tower.
We were quite adventurous with our mapping parties back then, often travelling to corners of zone 2/3, meaning somewhat outside of central London, where the landscape is various flavours of urban, not quite suburban. This particular area always stuck in my memory as one of the most starkly mixed wealthy and deprived, or as I put it at the time “concrete estates and super-posh georgian terraced houses strangely existing side-by-side”.
Well ok so if you read exactly what I wrote at the time, I may have described them as a “horrible bunch of dodgy concrete jungle housing estates”, which seems harsh and insensitive in retrospect, but I did form an impression of the area which included some sort of admiration/pride, thinking it’s cool that we live in a city where rich and poor communities live side-by-side.
It was strange and tragic then to recognise the area on the evening news, and to see reporters remarking on what a mixed area it is. The fire was a huge screw up from several more pragmatic angles, but thinking philosophically, it feels like a failure of London to bridge the wealth divide.
But never mind wider society, what about OpenStreetMap?! I think it’s great that my OpenStreetMap adventures have lead me to explore this kind of neighbourhood, although in truth I don’t think I actually surveyed Grenfell Tower up close. I think I remember deciding to stick to the more pleasant mews to the south and didn’t venture round the back to the base of Grenfell Tower. While I appear to have notched up the first version of the building in the editing history, I think it was just pre-sketching from Yahoo imagery, and viewing it from a distance.
As has long been pointed out by Muki Haklay in his academic research (e.g.), OpenStreetMap doesn’t always succeed in “democratising” to the extent we’d like. After all we’d really like the people living in these estates to map them for themselves. Even so, an OpenStreetMap mapping party got me out exploring these areas of London I wouldn’t otherwise have visited and wouldn’t otherwise have paid any attention to.