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Mapping Informal Settlements with Google Plus Codes

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Finding addresses in South Africa’s extensive network of informal settlements has always been a challenge. This can be especially problematic for services that need to make deliveries to remote locations for goods and services purchased online. Emergency services like ambulances, fire brigades, and police also find it hard to access certain locations in very poorly laid out settlements.

To solve this problem for informal settlements in South Africa, PlanAct makes use of Google Plus Codes in order to help informal communities get their home or business’ locations on Google Maps. This will enable residents to more easily access goods and services purchased online, which can be delivered to their Plus Codes.

Social Initiative using Google Plus Codes

Google Plus Codes, also known as Open Location Code (OLC), is a type of addressing system that provides a way to represent a location on the Earth’s surface using a short code, which can easily be shared and understood. Plus Codes are designed to work in areas where traditional street addresses may not be available or accurate.

Mike Makwela, Senior Programme Coordinator of NGO, PlanAct says, ‘The organization was founded in 1985, to assist communities in advocating for alternative development plans during the apartheid era. Over the years, PlanAct expanded its mission to support and mobilize community processes that enhance good governance at a local level, ultimately improving the living conditions and reducing poverty in communities.’

The NGO initiated the project to address the issue of rapid urbanization in South Africa. There is currently a serious influx of youth seeking economic opportunities and at the rate of growth, there is a greater demand than there is a supply for essential services.

Informal Settlements Excluded from City-Planning

Another crucial problem is the issue of informal settlements being excluded from city-wide planning, which means that no physical addresses are being recorded in a way that makes them visible enough to be found. This called for the implementation of a comprehensive addressing system.

The initiative spearheaded by PlanAct, mobilizes community members to use Google Plus Codes to get their location onto Google Maps. Members are encouraged to participate by mapping their settlements, marking landmarks and communal spaces. Community volunteers are then trained to use the Address Maker application.

Making informal settlements safer

Makwela says, ‘The outcome of this project is nothing short of transformative. Informal settlements are being digitally integrated into the larger urban landscape, enabling residents to access goods and services online, which can be delivered to their Plus Codes.

In addition to emergency services, e-hailing and online deliveries can now take place, which include the delivery of textbooks and academic material for students studying remotely.

The project addresses pertinent issues that have held informal settlements back from effectively and safely participating in general services that they should have access to.

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