Since she was a little girl growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Wendy Brawer says she always wanted to make a difference. She wanted to be connected with other people and change her own environment.
As a teenager, Brawer decided to leave her suburban high school and transfer to a school in downtown Detroit, where she would meet people of other races and backgrounds. "It was against my parents' wishes," she recalls, "but it introduced me to many new ways of living and enjoying life and connecting with people.
As a young adult, Brawer traveled to South Asia as a tourist and worked in Japan as an English teacher. When she moved back to the U.S., she settled in Washington State.
Brawer says what she saw in Tokyo and Seattle 20 and 30 years ago had a lasting impact on her. "In Seattle and also in Tokyo, people are very resource conscious. Everybody recycles, uses less materials, uses bicycles very often to get around."
Brawer moved to New York City in 1990, and translated her interest in environmental issues into action. She volunteered with a trash-recycling project and taught a course called 'Design for the Environment' at a community college.
The idea for a green map of the city came to her in 1992. "I realized there were several thousand people who would come to New York City for five weeks in the spring of 1992 to work on the documents and planning related to the Earth Summit, which was taking place in Rio that year," Brawer recalls. "So [I thought], 'What could I make to help them find the farmers' markets, the recycling centers, the bike shops? Aha, I could make a map!'"
She identified the businesses and services environmentally-minded visitors would be interested in, and created computer graphics for each type. Then she superimposed the icons onto a New York street map. It was a big success, Brawer says, and inspired others to want to create green maps of their own cities.
"People who used the map kept asking me, 'How can I make one for my community like this?'" In response, Brawer started formulating the idea for a local/global network. "I realized if we made a set of icons that everybody could share, we would have a great way to identify and link all these different kinds of places all over the world."
And that's just what her GreenMap software has done, as mapmakers around the world adapted the program to their communities. The shared set of icons has grown to well over 100, including graphics representing organic cafes, places to hear music or watch birds, composting sites, historic buildings, shaded boulevards and even sources of pollution.
Four hundred-forty cities, towns and villages in 50 countries have used the software. The company has published over 330 maps, and Brawer says hundreds more have been made in workshops and classrooms around the world.
Brawer is especially excited about the opportunity green mapping offers for young people to get involved in exploring their own communities. The Website offers project ideas and tools to help them get started, as well as examples of projects completed by young people in 20 countries.
With a growing number of cities joining the process, Wendy Brawer says green mapmaking has raised people's awareness about their local environmental, social and cultural resources. It has become a vehicle for them to explore their world with new eyes, and see new ways to make a difference in their communities.