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What is Community Asset Mapping?

Community asset mapping is a frequently used tool in socially engaged practices, whether artistic or otherwise. What is this process, and why is it relevant to orgs like The LP and the community-based artists with whom we collaborate?

Asset mapping is a map-making methodology that allows the mapper to understand and appreciate a place through the perspectives of those who live there. This is of value to The LP in particular as we seek to empower artists and neighbors to collaboratively identify social issues and make change in their communities. Developing and maintaining a knowledge of various neighborhood populations, resources, hyperlocal politics, etc.—especially in key neighborhoods we engage across New York City including Harlem and Bed-Stuy—is a core part of The LP’s institutional responsibility as a place-based, grassroots arts supporter.

This essay is part of a series of original writing, video, and interviews on the themes of mapping, understanding place, and celebrating the value of our localities. The series explores how both data and interpersonal relationships form the basis of how a place is understood, by those who live there and those who do not, and how art and creativity can impact that understanding. Follow the series on our blog.

Valuing Place

At The LP, to “Value Place” is one of six commitments that guides our work. In order to equip artists to effectively collaborate with neighbors on creative projects intended to make social change in a community, we guide artists to consider how they can honor the legacies embedded in a place, and meet community members where they are.

Honoring Legacies

To value legacies embedded in place, we ask questions like:

  • Whose land are we living and working on?
  • What is the history of the people who lived here before us—what were their achievements and their struggles?
  • Who lives here now?
  • How did this neighborhood come to be occupied by the people who currently inhabit it?

Meeting People Where They Are

To prioritize meeting people where they are, we:

  • Practice deep listening: listening to understand, not to respond 
  • Regard longtime residents of a neighborhood as experts
  • Withhold assumption about the experiences of neighbors/community members with whom we’re collaborating
  • Regard ourselves as learners, not teachers

Real-Life Example

Artist Misra Walker, 2016 Create Change Fellow, created the Coco Climate Cart, in which she utilized an helado cart like the ones typical to her neighborhood of Hunts Point/Longwood (the Bronx) as a vehicle to both discuss climate change with neighbors, and record climate data like air pollution levels and temperature. Misra honored legacy by using a long-held, common business practice in her community (the helado cart). She met people where they were by operating the cart publicly on the street and sidewalk, and by asking patrons to share their own stories and personal experiences of weather and climate change in their neighborhood, which acted as currency in exchange for helado, and which were recorded to become part of an archive.

Watch a short film about Coco Climate Cart below!

Community Asset Mapping

Community asset mapping, also called participatory asset mapping, is a useful tool in understanding a place, its history, its resources and strengths, and the experiences of those who live there now. In this framework, an asset is anything that improves quality of life in a community, and could be anything from an individual’s skills and abilities, to a local public institution, like a library.

Using an asset-based approach to mapping means that neighbor- or community-identified strengths create the framework of the map—highlighting what is abundant there, as opposed to what is lacking. When we collectively understand where we are, we can better understand where to go or what we might want to change.

A community asset map can be literally cartographical—a visual rendering of a place, like a subway map, a Google map, etc., with markings to show assets—or exist in the form of a narrative write-up, report, video, or other creative medium. In the Coco Climate Cart, Misra engaged in mapping both by tracking climate data at the various locations the cart stopped to distribute helado; as well as collecting stories from neighbors about their own experiences of weather, climate, natural disasters, heating and electricity, and more.

How Do We Do It?

The LP has created a workbook in collaboration with Ebony Noelle Golden to help you engage in a community asset mapping process. Print it out here! Community mapping is the first workshop artists take as part of the Create Change Fellowship program, and serves as the basis for the projects they develop with communities later in the program.

See Other Examples Below!

  • UCLA Center for Health Policy Research
    The University of California-Los Angeles’ Center for Health Policy Research has created their own guide to community asset mapping, which they use to understand how and where residents of LA neighborhoods receive their health care. Mapping these assets and resources can help communities and their elected officials or local policy makers determine together what the communities already use, and what they might need.
  • Advancement Project
    The Advancement Project focuses on progressive public policy change related to civil rights. They’ve created their own guide to what they call participatory asset mapping, which they use as a tool in making a case for policy change in various communities.

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