In the developed world, we take it for granted that every home or place of work has access to basic infrastructure and services. This includes clean water, electricity, sanitation, and access for emergency vehicles in case of need. But this is far from being the rule in many developing cities. It’s a particularly stark challenge in informal settlements or slums, home to more than 1 billion people around the world.

This year, Stamen has been working with the Santa Fe Institute and UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design for Slum Dwellers International to create Open Reblock, a public interface for their innovative research to develop better planning and development tools for informal settlements. The result is a publicly available tool at It takes maps of existing buildings and roads or paths and uses a sophisticated algorithm to create a map showing how city infrastructure and services can be brought to informal settlements with the least disruption for existing communities and their residents.

Informal settlements are part of cities worldwide, and they’re growing rapidly. Some demographers estimate that virtually all of the population growth on the planet in this century will effectively be absorbed by informal settlements. A single city “block” in informal settlements can have hundreds of residences, most without direct street access. It’s difficult to provide services, roads, water, and sewage, in these situations. One reason often cited for either doing nothing or for the demolition and redevelopment of these settlements is their lack of easy access for infrastructure and services. Open Reblock provides an alternative — a way forward for integrating services in existing informal settlements, respecting these communities, while helping them gain access to essential services. It does this by generating maps to connect as many parcels as possible — up to all of the parcels — in a block to roads and utilities.

This project builds on our history of working with organizations to create accessible mapping tools. Stamen has a strong interest in enabling digital platforms for engaging cities and humanitarian mapping. FieldPapers is used worldwide by NGOS and community organizations to connect offline and analog mapping efforts to OpenStreetMap. Our work for organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Climate Central bring big environmental issues down to a human scale, to shape conversations around conservation, climate policy, and the needs of people in cities worldwide.

Our continued contributions to and involvement in the open-source community is a company ethos. We believe that open and transparent data and mapping systems are good for the world. And they’re also good for business. We can’t wait to see how communities use this new Open Reblock tool, and the results of having access to this innovative use of open, algorithmic planning strategies!


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