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Faculty present paper at Conference on Informal City Cross-Media Imaging

May 12th, 2014 — Associate Professor Carie Penabad and Assistant Professor in Practice Adib Cure continued their research and academic study of the world’s “informal cities” through participation in the eMerge Americas Conference held at the Miami Beach Convention Center in May. This gathering included a discussion on Cross-media Imaging of Latin America. UM was represented by its Center for Computational Science, the School of Architecture, and the Center for Latin American Studies.

Informal cities or “shanty towns” are spontaneous settlements of people living in extreme poverty at the edges or in the core of major cities around the world, especially in Latin America. It is estimated that 470 million Latin Americans currently live in urban areas, and that at least 25 percent of these urban inhabitants reside in informal settlements, places that are literally off the map and generally beyond the full reach of government services and basic infrastructure.

Gaining accurate data on urban informality is essential to address a range of pressing issues; however computer modeling based on satellite and areal images have been criticized as inadequate. More promising are community-driven strategies which involve the residents in the gathering, processing and control of information about their urban environment. The end result is often not only more accurate mapping data, but also the enhancement of grassroots campaigns that contribute to community empowerment and democratization.

Professors Penabad and Cure seek to strengthen and facilitate these local, community-driven efforts by designing a set of innovative mapping practices. Their recommendation includes software for mapping using hand-held telephones and mobile devices as well as advanced image analysis collected by autonomous aerial vehicles (also known as drones). Together, these methods allow for a level of mapping detail, ease of use, and frequency of observation currently not readily available at reasonable cost. The capabilities of these systems will allow all concerned to monitor trends in urban growth, improve public policy decisions, respond to urgent crises, understand urban life, and create more resilient and inclusive cities.

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