Mapping Your Neighborhood

(Thanks to Jim Belcher of Transition Orlando for submitting this piece to the Transition US Community Blog)

Last semester I introduced a new assignment to my environmental science classes. The mapping your neighborhood assignment goes like this: individually or in small groups map your neighborhood.  With your home near the center, include at least 300 home locations. Identify all buildings, street names, schools, businesses, lakes, open-spaces suitable for gardens and all other useful resources.

Start thinking: What will make your neighborhood self-sustainable? Walk your neighborhood. Observe and interact. Look for patterns. Appreciate details.

Pay attention to what has heart and meaning for you.

What might be useful for the future?   What improves neighborhood sustainability?

What needs to go? What decreases sustainability?

What resources might you need? What relationships would be helpful? 

What changes would you make? What would heal your community?

What structural changes would increase the possibility of more effective collaboration, cooperation and compassion in your neighborhood?

I then introduced the following scenario. Imagine the Middle East countries have stopped selling oil to the US. Gas prices are now $35 per gallon. Gas is being hoarded by the very rich. The wait in line for gas is now approximately 8 hours, sometimes longer and the amount you can buy is limited. A nationwide truckers’ strike has been in effect for 2 weeks. Most stores are empty and most businesses are closed. People are out of work.

Water is being rationed: the water to your home tap comes on for 2 or 3 hours every 4 or 5 days. Hospitals, schools and banks are closed due to economic collapse. Dialing 911 gets a dial tone.  Police and fire departments are volunteer now and rarely available when you need them. Mass transportation is very sporadic at best. Your bicycle was stolen yesterday. Your family is hungry.

What are you going to do today? 

Where are you going to get food, water to water your garden every day, electricity for refrigeration, health care supplies and advice, home repair supplies and advice.

What are your core concerns?

Who are you going to turn to for help?

What are you going to do if your neighbor’s house catches fire?

What things will you need help with? 

What resources do you need?  Where are you going to get these resources?

When your friend falls and breaks his arm, what are you going to do to help?

Your baby has a fever of 104. Who are you going to turn to?

People are stealing food from your garden during the night.What is your plan?


LotusAs we discussed these questions in class, I asked the students to pause, reflect and write briefly what they thought their biggest challenges would be for their particular community. Most of the answers were very similar:

“The biggest challenge is getting people to work together.” ~Ricard L.

“The biggest challenges I see in my neighborhood are coming up with a way to bring everyone together to build community gardens.” ~Kelsey W.

“… getting neighbors to chip in and take care of each other.” ~Joseph M.

“The biggest challenges I have to face are convincing my fellow neighbors to stop and think about the future. I have to convince them to start thinking about sustainability and to work together as community. The biggest challenge is how do we start and where do we start.?” ~Justin B.

“… making people cooperate with each other.” ~Alexis V.

“The biggest challenge.. is actually getting everyone to work together and put these plans into action to make the neighborhood more sustainable. I know that we have the resources to be successful, we just need cooperation. The hardest part is getting the neighborhood to move away from fossil fuels and … more into gardening, etc.” ~Shayna C.


Have you tried projects like this one? What results have you had? What improvements might you suggest?

If you haven’t tried this, TRY IT. Start something. Let us know how it goes?




jim belcher






Newsletter Signup


User login