Participatory Mapping, Las Flores, Barranquilla, Colombia Computer Vision

Participatory Mapping Las Flores


More than half the world’s population lives in cities. Nearly one billion people within this urban population live in informal communities that are generally undocumented, lacking land tenure, and containing non-durable or overcrowded housing among other challenging conditions (e.g., lack of security or access to improved water sources). Inhabitants of these communities also generally face increased exposure to environmental hazards resulting in a greater risk for adverse health effects (particularly children), as well as being in locations that are “highly vulnerable to natural disasters and are expected to experience the greatest impact of climate change”. By 2050 the United Nations estimates that 66% of the world population will be urban, with a large part of this new population joining (or creating new) informal communities (in conditions of poverty). Addressing these trends of unplanned urban expansion will be one of the principle challenges for sustainable development for the foreseeable future.


Supported by funding from the National Geographic Society, with additional support from Fundación Tecnoglass and IDSC, the goal of this project was to facilitate participatory mapping in the informal community of Las Flores in Barranquilla, Colombia. The project tested novel geospatial technologies (drone imagery, computer vision techniques, and GIS systems) in conjunction with participatory mapping methods to advance the self-documentation of the community. The project produced tangible results such as digital and printed maps, photos and videos, high-resolution aerial imagery, databases/GIS systems, and urban design concepts. The project contributed to “smart” city initiatives that included the human element in technologically and data-driven solutions.

Current Status

Since October 2018, the team has:

  1. Established an office within the community to house computers (GIS) and support a local community survey team;
  2. Hired and trained eight local community members in GIS use and other methods needed to conduct a community and built environment survey of the ~2,500 dwellings in Las Flores;
  3. Conducted a drone-based aerial survey and constructed a high-resolution scaled and orthorectified composite image of the community;
  4. Conducted public workshops within the community to identify priorities; and
  5. Conducted interviews to collect oral histories of the community.

The survey team is completing digitization of the image; and recording building footprints, approximate lot boundaries, location of green space and other features. The survey team is also entering the results of the community survey into the GIS (for each dwelling), which includes information on topics such as: security, connectivity to public services (e.g., electric, sewer), perception of environmental health risks (e.g., water, air), construction materials (e.g., roof, floor, etc.), and a number of other topics. The Miami team is helping to analyze these data to produce maps and other data products that will ultimately be published on a community website (currently being designed). Students and professors from the UM School of Architecture are also developing an urban-design project concept based on information collected during this project. This funded project ended in the Summer of 2019, at which time the team held a set of public meetings to present project results to the community, the local government, businesses, and local academic institutions.

About Las Flores

Las Flores is an informal settlement in Barranquilla, Colombia, at the mouth of the Magdalena River, and adjacent to the Ciénaga de Mallorquin (a lagoon on the Caribbean Sea). Established for at least 70 years, it was founded as a fishing community. It is largely built on landfill that has been more or less continually added to the Ciénaga de Mallorquin. Two-thirds surrounded by water, and otherwise adjacent to factories and other industrial areas, Las Flores is a residential island, separated by kilometers from other residential spaces of Barranquilla. Las Flores consists of approximately 2,500 dwellings (~10,000 people) with varying degrees of access to government and commercial services such as sanitation and power.