Aleksa Korolija (Politecnico di Milano);
Silvia Boca (Politecnico di Milano)

Challenging and Empowering GIS: Mapping to Question the Structure of the Countryside

Largely used by in the Italian tradition of urban studies (Muratori, Caniggia, Rossi, etc.) interpretative mapping is even more important to interrogate the relationship between specific geographical features and territorial transformations (settlement patterns over the long period of time, hydraulic works, new rail and road infrastructure, land-use change).

Based on body of work undertaken for the MA degree thesis and later for the supervision of graduating students, our paper argues that – particularly when referred to landscape change in the countryside – interpretative mapping  should go well beyond geo-morphological features, addressing the complexity of historical layers embedded in the landscape structure.

This is no linear process. Firstly, we need to define clearly what are we trying to map, tailoring the legend accordingly. Secondly, we need a series of reference maps, the palimpsest for our interpretation. Based on this material, complemented when necessary by additional sources (photos, views, books, interviews and surveys) our interpretative will bring to the fore some elements, ignoring and adding others so as to express facts and phenomena often hardly revealed by basic GIS layering.

Our point is that this approach to interpretative mapping may be particularly useful when moving from the analysis to the project. Undoubtedly, GIS holds a huge potential in showing key physical features, and combining them in a single picture. Nonetheless, can we equate mapping to tracing? How can we correlate, and express, the space-time dimension to the anthropologic significance of landscape transformations?

Our contribution will dwell on some examples of interpretative mapping developed over the last years and concerning fringe areas at various scales (i.e. the region of Behera in the Nile Delta where the boundary between the desert and the countryside has been constantly shifting over the last century; the Pontine Plain within the broader framework of the MODSCAPES project).

Finally, we shall advocate for the necessity to create an inclusive mapping for use from experts from different disciplines, asking ourselves – and the audience – how far this can be achieved pushing the present limits of GIS.

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Full-text available here: DOI: 10.1051/SHSCONF/20196306003