Mobility mapping – Mathare

How do people negotiate the spaces in which they live? How are those spaces circumscribed differently according to social class? Which paths are the most traveled in our community and why? Does poverty influence mobility and in what ways? These are questions that I started thinking about during my work in Mathare and decided to do an experiment in mobility mapping.

Mobility of 6 Mathare participants

Mobility mapping is a visual representation of people’s movements inside and outside their community (Tool Name: Mobility mapping, World Bank).

Some also call it “resource or asset mapping”. It is a tool that can be used to identify issues and problems related to a population’s mobility or lack thereof.

The Mathare participants that I worked with on the experiment understand that they are experts within their communities. They wanted to see how GPS technology could make visible their everyday movements, and what the information generated could tell them about their lives.

Each of them agreed to map his/her life for a week. The GPS unit was turned on at all times whenever the participants left their homes; their movements were tracked throughout the day. All of their interactions inside and outside the community were also mapped.

This project is ongoing, but some preliminary results (such as movement patterns) are already visible. For instance, the majority of movement occurs inside the slum, and is localized in the area where the individual resident comes from (see the picture above). Movements gravitate towards Eastleigh, which is a known commerce area adjacent to Mathare, and the City Center, where residents go to attend to administrative matters and enjoy entertainment.

Area of Nairobi covered

The participants in this exercise even took the initiative to focus on specific professions: a garbage collection group, a water carrier, and even a Yoga teacher.

Movement of a group which is involved with garbage collection (red) and location of dumping sites (yellow)

The main purpose of this exercise is to increase the informal settlement’s visibility. The participants and I hope that through mobility mapping, both Kenyan citizens and outsiders come to understand Mathare a little better.

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