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  • Adele Birkenes and Lydia Hatfield, Vassar College

Vassar College’s Hudson Valley Mappers Celebrates One Year as a YouthMappers Chapter

This September, Vassar College’s Hudson Valley Mappers celebrates the one year anniversary of its founding and establishment as a YouthMappers chapter. Adele Birkenes, president and co-founder of the group, and Lydia Hatfield, Community Wealth Building Coordinator at Hudson River Housing (HRH), share reflections on the chapter’s first year and goals for the year ahead.

Adele: During the past year, Hudson Valley Mappers has solidified its identity as a student-led group dedicated to community mapping work in Poughkeepsie. In November, we partnered with the City of Poughkeepsie’s Planning Board to host our inaugural event, Mapping Our Community, where we mapped empty tree pits and lawns in support of the City’s 2019 tree planting initiative. In the spring, we worked with Lydia from HRH and Alessia Cutugno from Rebuilding Together Dutchess County (RTDC) to identify priorities for housing justice-related mapping projects. This process led us to develop a community mapping series entitled Mapping Our Community: Middle Main Edition. Over the course of two afternoons in April, we worked in teams to collect data for Hudson River Housing's business inventory using ArcGIS Collector. In total, we inventoried 92 buildings and 108 units and submitted 101 property condition records for the Middle Main neighborhood of Poughkeepsie.

Mapping Our Community: Middle Main Edition participants discussing survey routes

before beginning data collection

Participants entering property condition observations into an ArcGIS Collector survey

Lydia: For many years now, Hudson River Housing has compiled a business inventory of the historic commercial corridor in Poughkeepsie. The goal of this inventory is to keep an up-to-date list of businesses in the area, and to track changes over time in the business landscape and vacancy rates in the neighborhood. Illuminating patterns of occupancy turnover and vacancy in these commercial spaces helps us to ask further questions about what trends, factors and systems are impacting our small business community, and why it may be more difficult for certain businesses to thrive while others struggle. There is no centralized list of businesses in the City of Poughkeepsie, so this is a huge undertaking!

HRH was lucky to have the opportunity to partner with Scenic Hudson in 2018 to develop an app that would make doing this inventory efficient, consistent, and volunteer-friendly. Now, the partnership has grown to include Hudson Valley Mappers, the Earth Science & Geography Department at Vassar College, and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s No Child Left Inside program. It has been a pleasure to work with the HV Mappers and local high school students to take advantage of this app, to find ways to share some institutional resources with a local youth program without access to GIS technology, and create opportunities for conversation about respectful and conscientious community surveying for students interested in studying patterns in public space.

Adele: In the spring, we also hosted a couple of Mapathon-style events to support Earth Science & Geography student and faculty projects. In February, we typed up 836 home addresses of visitors to Dutchess Outreach’s monthly farm stand and created a web map for geography major Erin Clark’s Story Map about the nonprofit. (She completed this project as part of Professor Mary Ann Cunningham’s Web Mapping class -- check out the rest of the class’s Story Maps here.) In March, we assisted Professor Cunningham with her research on land cover change in coastal Shanghai by analyzing satellite imagery from 1984 and 2019. Professor Cunningham and I presented the research at the American Association of Geographers’ Annual Meeting in April.

Mapathon participants mapping the home addresses of visitors to Dutchess Outreach’s monthly farm stand

Mapathon participants analyzing land cover change in coastal Shanghai

In May, Hudson Valley Mappers, in partnership with Professor Cunningham, received a Good Neighbors Partnership Grant from Vassar for the 2019-2020 school year. We will be working with Poughkeepsie High School students to define mapping projects for Hudson Valley Mappers that reflect local needs and will employ high school students through the grant. We will be implementing the grant in collaboration with HRH, RTDC, and the No Child Left Inside program.

Lydia: The idea of not only creating an opportunity for local youth to connect with Vassar College and gain some experience with the use of mapping as a tool for advocacy and research, but also centering their voices in decisions about what issues ought to be mapped is really exciting. Further, we are so glad to be able to meaningfully compensate these young folks for their time in hopes of truly communicating the value of their energy and participation. At HRH we are feeling a lot of gratitude for being included in this process and are looking forward to see where this goes.

Adele: This month, we’re excited to welcome Benjamin Bachman ‘21, Hanqi (Bryce) Wu ‘22, and Hannah Benton ‘20 to our leadership team. Our club’s first major project is assisting the Dutchess County Transportation Council with their annual pedestrian/bicyclist counts, which take place in mid-September. One goal I have for the year ahead is to increase our participation in mapping on the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) platform through college-wide Mapathons; this will expose members of the Vassar community to international mapping efforts for humanitarian action and community development.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the unfailing support our chapter has received from the Vassar community since its inception last fall. In particular, I would like to thank Dr. Lisa Kaul, Director of the Office of Community-Engaged Learning, and Neil Curri, Professor of Geography, for their guidance and enthusiasm. Sincere thanks as well to Mariah Caballero ‘19 and Phoebe Murray ‘21, who helped lead the chapter during its first year. I’d also like to thank Professor Cunningham, Rick Jones, Lenore Hart, Professor Jill Schneiderman, Professor Joseph Nevins, and the rest of the Earth Science & Geography Department; the Engaged Pluralism Initiative team; the Good Neighbors Partnership Grant team; John Bradley at the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative; and Jen Rubbo at The Environmental Cooperative at the Vassar Barns. Finally, I am grateful to our community partners, especially Lydia, Alessia, Natalie Quinn, and Danielle Salisbury.

Adele Birkenes is a senior at Vassar College majoring in Geography and minoring in Biology and Hispanic Studies. She is the president and co-founder of Hudson Valley Mappers. She is also the Community Geographer at Vassar's Office of Community Engaged Learning."

Lydia Hatfield is the Community Wealth Building Coordinator for Hudson River Housing. She focuses on workforce development programming for area youth and Hudson River Housing’s clients, as well as working to bring an equity lens to the agency’s programming and operations.

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