MAPPED, a new online library indexing civic projects across Chicago, went live in September. Credit: Provided

GRAND BOULEVARD — A new online tool is helping neighbors connect with local nonprofits and their projects.

The tool, called Making a People’s Pathway for Engaging Design — or, as it’s more often known, MAPPED — is an online database that documents neighborhood projects. It launched last month.

People and organizations can submit their project to the site under one of six categories: Public Spaces, Community Spaces, Urban Planning/Urban Design, Placemaking, Research/Design and Guidelines/Toolkits.

Once submitted and reviewed, the project is added to an interactive map, offering viewers a comprehensive way to better understand a neighborhood’s assets and the challenges some organizations face when trying to improve their communities.

“We wanted to create new tools that were available to the public that could help us have conversations and share knowledge about designing and planning communities,” said Paola Aquirre, founder of Design Trust Chicago, which headed the effort.

Aquirre, who has been part of the effort to repurpose Bronzeville’s Overton Elementary into a community hub, said she met a Back of the Yards resident who was organizing her neighbors to advocate for a public library. The group members visited neighborhood libraries as part of their research.

That encounter inspired Aquirre, who wanted to create a “digital library card” to help neighbors learn about similar efforts in other areas.

MAPPED prioritizes Black-, Indigenous- and people-of-color-led projects that normally struggle to find support and resources offline, something Aquirre has seen firsthand, she said. Its searchable index allows users to sort submitted projects by typology, category, neighborhood or designer.

More than 20 projects from across the city have been submitted to the website.

Architect Emma Jasinski and Operations Manager Clio Lyons, part of the Design Trust Chicago team that worked on the project, drew from their design and organizing backgrounds, tapping into an advisory group of professionals working in urban planning and community organizing to serve as “thought leaders” who would offer input on what worked and what didn’t.

“We relied on existing map platforms, like the one MAPScorps uses, to hone in on mapping projects related to community organizations in particular as a way to build a more transparent and accessible index of those projects and the resources that went into creating them,” Lyons said.

They also looked at similar efforts in other cities, such as Detroit and Baltimore, where groups of designers and planners are creating mapped databases.

The team said the next phase will be to bring in community members who can help create an “autonomous sort of map support group” to devote more time to building out the project. They also hope to make MAPPED an open-source project, hosting training sessions in which residents can become editors and host “MAPPED-a-thons” of their own.

“We want to provide people with all the skills to eventually wipe our hands of it but still offer support and give resources if needed,” Jasinski said.

Design Trust Chicago is partnering with Design for America for a MAPPED-a-thon event 6-8:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at ACRE, 2439 S. Oakley Ave., in which Design for America alumni can join residents in mapping community projects.

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