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The OKFestival week closed on September 22nd with an inspiring side event, the Good Map Summit, a seminar organized by Cindy Kohtala and Helsinki Green Map at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. As the organizers put it: “Whether they are interactive location-based technologies or beautifully hand-drawn cartography that captures a place’s uniqueness, maps are everywhere“. Designers, geographers and thinkers gathered in Kiasma to discuss how to use technology to enhance local business, environmental quality and a new sense of community. A special guest was Wendy Brawer from Green Map System, a featured speaker at the OKFest as well.

Good Map summit Helsinki 22.9.2012

The first project presented was Green Riders, a platform which makes possible to freely share car rides. Founded in 2010 by Željko Bošković and his team, this online and mobile service helps people to easily find car rides, with the aim to reduce CO2 emissions. Free for private users, it also has a business edition for companies, which is increasing its activity. One would expect Finland to be one of the less motorized countries in Europe, but it´s not the case: the number of vehicles is rapidly increasing, in 2011 being almost 3 millions over a population of about 5.4 millions (car density per capita is anyway lower in the most inhabited areas of Finland, as this Europe motorisation rate map shows). Italy was the second country with most cars in 2010, after the US. It´s a poor consolation to see that it also has the highest amount of natural gas cars in Europe. France is doing even better than Finland; the less motorized European areas are between Northern Germany and Denmark and the lest ones in Eastern Europe. There is more and more need to track emssions, which in many countries is becoming also obligatory. Instruments are being developed, such as Global Reporting , or the company targeted Carbon Disclosure Project, and Green Riders might be of help as well.

Pekka Sarkola, geodata expert and entrepreneur, guest programme planner for Open Geodata at OKFest, talked about different kinds of socially useful online mapping: Blindsquare is a derivation of Foursquare, the site which helps you to locate services and exchange points in your neighbourhood. It allows people with sight handicap to locate for ex. cafés or post offices by maps they can hear. Other useful ideas are the Light Map,  showing the concentration or scarcity of artificial lightning. Or noise level maps, showing how noisy a place is.

Green Map discussion at Kiasma

But the most interesting platform is Open Street Map, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2005, with more than half a million volunteers worldwide. Using Google Map as a basis, OSM activists tag the maps with all sort of useful information. In emergency situations OSM proofed to be an important tool, locating in real time the collapsed buildings, but also schools, hospitals and so on. In OSM anybody may add his/her own information, add the maps attribute info tags (highway, cycleway, building, residential etc.) – “a democratic, but also an anarchical idea”, according to Pekka. Contrarily to what we may think, “there is a huge work left to do, there are many missing areas, streets, paths” still waiting to be mapped.

Pauliina Seppälä presented Cleaning Day, a citizen initiative “for friends of flea markets and recycling”. A worldwide event, it took place for the first time in Helsinki in May, and a second time on September 8th. The town´s streets, parks and yards filled in with people selling whatever unnecessary they had at home: the idea is to clean up your home and enhance the culture of re-use in the place of that of endless consumerism. Cleaning Day too would not be possible without a customized Google Map, where you can see (and add) the nearest available marketplaces. Second-hand culture is quite popular in Finland, in many Helsinki districts (as in Töölö or Kallio) you can find cozy shops with furniture, clothes etc.

Green Map local food icon

But the funniest moment of the day was a practical one, a walk in Kiasma area to find out where are the points of environmental interest: the task was to tag them on a mobile map, using the Green Map icons, a set of icons developed by Wendy Brawer and her team: an international platform founded in 1995, Green Map gathers people of local communities to make them more conscious about sustainable everyday choices. Map making is not limited to internet users but it is also encouraged as a manifold handicraft activity, by drawing, painting, sewing and so on. Our action too was carried out with non conventional means: we used blueberry organic colours to tag the places of green interest! Thanks to Elissa Eriksson, from Multicoloured Dreams, who provided the colours, and to some patient architects and designers, we cropped and painted the icons on the ground in front of the shops. An ephemereal idea, considering the autumn rains, but the results are still visible on this web map.

Icons making at Lasipalatsi, Helsinki

Part of the idea was also to tag outdoor places suitable for new artworks: the Multicoloured Dreams art group invites people to find their town´s places in need of a more coloured look. Whoever may become a street artist, previously contacting the City Architect for permission. Contributing to own town´s outlook is also a way of caring about it, hopefully diminishing the acts of vandalism and indifference (such as throwing litter on the street, an increasing problem in Helsinki).

As reported at OKFest Sustainability Stream, Green Map initiatives multiply in Europe: Four Bees Hive (4BsHive) is a transnational project involving four river cities, Bristol, Berlin, Budapest and Bistrita. It was made possible thanks to Grundtvig, an EU programme supporting non-vocational adult education. For a recapitulation of OKFest Sustainability Stream have a look here.

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Open Knowledge Festival third day (Thu 20.9.) opened in a controversial way and closed up with a wave of sheer enthusiasm.

The morning first talk was held by Finland´s former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki, presently working at the EU Parliament: her visit was an unexpected one for this kind of audience and a courageous choice on her part. Jäätteenmäki´s career has been spotted by an act of lack of transparency, known as Irak-gate: elected in March 2003 for the Centre Party, she had to resign in June, accused to have used confidential Foreign Ministry documents for political purposes during the election campaign, against her rival Paavo Lipponen. The documents contained diplomatic information from a meeting between George W.Bush and Lipponen, where the latter would have offered Finnish support to the international coalition, a breach against Finnish official policy of neutrality – in a country where most of the people considered the Iraq war an illegal war of aggression. Jäätteenmäki had to resign rapidly, having lost the trust of both her party and the Paliament.

In spring 2003 Finland was probably the only country in the world where both Prime Minister and President were women. Some inferred that Jäätteenmäki´s conduct was heavily sanctioned also because of her gender. The affair showed indeed a mixture of lack of transparency and political clumsiness.

Her talk at OKFest didn´t convince either. If it may be true that the European Commission has moved forward since 2008 to nowadays, with its growing interest in open data, quoting ACTA ´s rejection as a victory of direct democracy sounded quite demagogical. A couple of provocative questions about EU´s lack of transparency came from the audience: “why farmsubsidies (about 55 billions € per year) are not published anymore?” On the contrary “in Latvia if you get any cent from EU it is instantly of public domain”, someone commented. And: “what do you think about the process leading up to EFSF and ERM and other European financial stability instruments? The process has been very closed”. She answered as she could,  pleading for more transparency in financial instruments and the European Central Bank ´s conduct, without anyway saying anything substantial.

Hans Rosling ´s evening speech contrasted sharply, with its combination of experienced brilliance and an impressive amount of facts. A professor of global health at Stockholm Karolinska Institutet, he spent two decades in rural Africa as a physician, tracking the causes of a rare form of paralytic disease. He is among the founders of Médecins sans Frontièrs (Doctors without Borders) in Sweden and of the Gapminder Foundation, a non-profit venture which aims to increase public conscience about how the world is changing and make statistical information widely understandable.

With a mixture of pragmatism, understatement and irresistible sense of humour, Rosling ranged over some major subjects, from population trends and their supposed impact about the environment, to poverty, new political balances and climate change.

But he especially insisted about one thing, the need to break clichés which circulate at large: “save all the poor children, and the environment will be destroyed”, “all Chinese cannot have a car” or “rainforest people live in balance with nature”. What´s wrong in these catch-phrases?

Data in hand, he maintained that “the demographical bomb” will not explose, due to facts that balance each other in the decades: if it´s true that Africa will double its population before 2050, and Asia will grow of another billion units, on the other hand the combination of prevention and difficult life conditions (e.g. in crisis areas) is already causing a shrinkage of the births. Frequent question like “why are there more children per woman in muslim countries?” prove to be totally wrong, as this is often not anymore the case: prejudice, ideology and ignorance often veil our eyes. Rosling affirmed that population in history has always been a constant, balanced by many concurrent factors. If it will take a certain time to decrease, it won´t certainly increase exponentially, as we fear. Followed the funniest scientific demonstration I ever attended! If you´re curious have a look here (starts at 56´37´´):

The modernized world is “no doubt a better world“, e.g. compared to the Middle Ages, when infant mortality was still dramatically high (as in the rainforest today), still “it is not good“. If China has the largest foreign exchange reserve in the world, with a consistent minority of new riches, 60% of the world population lives with 2-10 dollars a day, while 20% (in the so-called Western world) ownes 74% of the wealth. An unbroken silence filled the auditorium, as Rosling displayed the most dramatic data about poverty and child mortality, sharply contrasting with the laughters we shared a minute before.

The atmosphere changed again, with a brilliant commentary of the photo of the leaders of G20 summit 2008, during the blast of global financial crisis caused by the US:

Bush, the advocate of democracy, stands near Lula, not exactly a democrat (and moreover lending 30 billion dollars to the US); Sarkozy finds himself between a muslim and a buddhist (!), and so on. Rosling found many examples to support his opinion, the Western world is doomed to sink under its “toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance“. The term developing countries is a false one, they will be very soon the world, concentrating the most of the world population. “There is no such thing as we and them, and even less in the future”.

OKFest auditorium

The only hope is recovering from ignorance, fill the gap in our minds between what we think to know and what the data tell us, to accept and realize how the real world is changing (look at the beautiful interactive graphs, available together with the data, on Gapminder´s site). He anyway affirmed that open data and infovisualization are wonderful tools, but will not solve the problems per se: communication is central, to make data comprehensible and useful, and enhance global conscience.

And also environmental conscience, “climate is a too serious issue to be dealt with environmental activists” (!) Climate change is a fact, “we can observe daily the dramatic diminution of the ice at the poles: not only the area diminishes, but the ice grows thinner every day, will absorb more light, melt even faster and so on.

How our countries should report? We are not investing seriously in green technology, renewable energies. We need a serious debate about energy and resources, less emotional and more fact-based; look less at details and consider more the macro situation“.

He concluded, “watch The magic washing machine video, think about it: 7 billions people, everyone 1 washing machine!”