From Representation to Conversation Mapping in Practice

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Jeanette Petti


This essay explores how maps perform, not in theory or in principle, but when used in practice. It analyzes the dangers and opportunities of using maps for community engagement, as experienced by practicing planners, landscape architects, and educators. Interviews with these professionals about their experiences in the field reveal commonly-held assumptions about the accuracy of maps, the technical expertise required for mapping, and the resulting influences upon non-experts’ willingness to provide feedback, to participate collaboratively, and to feel ownership over the mapping process. We learn from these practice stories that maps can be dangerous: they can mislead, they can intimidate, and they can prevent collaboration. But we learn, too, that maps can also provide powerful opportunities for stimulating inquiry, for facilitating conversation, and for producing shared visions. The professionals interviewed for this essay explain how they avoid the dangers of mapping and instead capitalize on its opportunities by reframing maps ­– not as static representations – but as dynamic, conversational tools for learning, negotiating, and visualizing.

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How to Cite
Petti, J. (2019). From Representation to Conversation: Mapping in Practice. Undergraduate Journal of Service Learning & Community-Based Research , 8, 61-87. Retrieved from
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Author Biography

Jeanette Petti

Jeanette Petti graduated from Cornell University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in city planning. She is continuing her education at Cornell in the master’s of city planning and landscape architecture programs.