Cartography’s New Golden Age

A growing community of "citizen cartographers" is using online tools to create maps of remote areas – and transforming people’s lives in the process. Accurate maps create opportunities for economic growth, improve access to health care and other services, contribute to social development, and broaden people’s horizons.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – Noé Diakubama, an emigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo who now lives in Paris, is one of this century’s intrepid pioneers. Using online mapmaking tools, he created the first map of his village, Mbandaka, which he and his wife have modified more than 100,000 times since 2009. Noé literally put Mbandaka – and the people who live there – on the map.

Noé is not the only such pioneer. There is a vast and growing community of online mapmakers creating useful, accessible maps of lesser-known areas – and transforming people’s lives in the process.

During the Age of Exploration, which extended from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, adventurers like Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and James Cook embarked on dangerous journeys to distant lands, from New Zealand to Newfoundland, drawing detailed charts of their voyages. By advancing geographic knowledge, they broadened people’s worldview, enhanced trade, and helped to usher in the Industrial Revolution.

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