© Caroline Seidel/Picture alliance/dpa

Basic Maps

Basic Maps

A key task at the early stages of preparing for post-conflict reconstruction is to produce appropriate basic maps. These should be topographic maps showing natural and man-made features. Where corresponding information is available from pre-conflict documentation, basic maps can also show the specific features of the urban heritage and morphological structure of an historic city.

Standard topographic maps for urban planning usually have a scale of 1:5,000 or 1:10,000. A scalable digital format that can be used in a geographic information system (GIS) is especially useful.

The mapping information needed for urban reconstruction is similar to that required for planning urban development.

Basic maps should provide the following information

  • The geographic reference grid (distance 250-500 m)
  • Main natural topographic features: contour lines in 10-20 m steps (depending on the terrain), wadis and rivers, green areas, etc.
  • Primary, secondary and tertiary regional roads, and urban street network
  • Cadastral plot boundaries (where available)
  • Outlines/perimeters of buildings and their location on building plots
  • Important buildings and landmarks, in particular for public functions (main mosques, historical monuments, government and/or administrative centres, etc.)
  • Other important topographic features, such as retaining walls, major infrastructure utilities, etc.

In view of the challenges of dealing with a post-conflict situation, basic maps should provide sufficiently accurate information on the situation on the ground, both before and after the conflict.

For many historic city centres, cartographic information on the pre-conflict situation may be available from previous planning or rehabilitation projects, or from the archives of survey authorities.

On the other hand, accurately mapping a post-conflict situation, in particular in the event of major war damage, can be a challenging task, consume significant resources and time, and entail a comprehensive damage assessment with substantial surveys and work on the ground.

Pragmatic approaches may therefore be needed, focusing first on those parts of an historic city centre that have been identified as priority reconstruction areas, and on the type of topographic information urgently needed for planning.

At later stages in the reconstruction process, such partial mapping information could be aggregated to produce complete topographic maps.

Why are basic maps needed and how can they be used?

Basic maps can be used for a number of tasks and functions that are relevant when preparing, planning and implementing recovery and restoration:

  • With good documentation of the pre-conflict urban fabric and morphological structure, especially when linked to digital archives, basic maps can serve as a reference and basis for formulating a vision and objectives for urban recovery and restoration.
  • Combining or overlaying a post-conflict damage assessment with basic maps showing the pre-conflict status can help to define and delineate reconstruction priorities and areas where important heritage buildings or ensembles are concentrated.
  • Basic maps showing pre-conflict cadastral information can be used when investigating claims for housing, land and property rights of absent or displaced owners and residents.
  • From a longer-term perspective, basic maps provide a starting point for planning the reconstruction an entire historic city centre, for the detailed planning of reconstruction and restoration projects at neighbourhood or individual plot level, and for monitoring and supervising the reconstruction works performed by both public and private sector stakeholders and actors.

Users and target audience

The main users of basic maps are the professionals involved in planning and implementing reconstruction measures, including urban planners, architects, and civil engineers.

When used as a reference for deliberations and discourse on the vision and objectives of recovery and restoration, and for lobbying for culturally sensitive reconstruction, basic maps showing the pre-conflict status can be an important tool when addressing the general public locally, nationally and even internationally.

Technical Tools and Instruments

Satellite imagery

© Atrium/Digital Globe/Handout/picture alliance /dpa

Satellite images, such as those provided by Google Earth and others, can provide a good starting point for producing basic maps. Particularly for larger cities, high-resolution and regularly updated data are available. Since they can be combined and overlaid with basic online maps, as provided by OpenStreetMap, these images can provide sufficiently accurate information for documenting conditions on the ground, and for most basic planning tasks. Where necessary, they can be supplemented with information from other sources, such as UNOSAT or private commercial service providers.

When documenting the pre-conflict status, however, the available historical satellite images may not offer the necessary resolution and quality.

Cadastral maps

Existing cadastral maps showing the boundaries and ownership of land parcels and plots are the most accurate sources for preparing basic maps. For some historic city centres in the Middle East, such cadastral maps are available from previous cadastral surveys and registers. On the other hand, such maps have been regularly updated only in a few cases. They therefore provide historical snapshots rather than up-to-date information on actual ownership and plot structures.

In addition, useful cadastral maps and records may have been lost or destroyed during the armed conflict.

Building surveys on the ground

Building surveys need to be performed in order to obtain exact measurements in cases where cadastral maps are outdated, missing or destroyed, and satellite imagery with appropriate quality and resolution is not available.

Such surveys can be especially relevant in the case of important buildings or ensembles if they are not marked on pre-conflict plans or if their original plans and documents have been destroyed. For the purpose of producing basic maps, floor plans are sufficient. More comprehensive building surveys are generally needed only for documentation and archiving purposes, and when planning actual reconstruction or restoration works (see also damage assessment of historical buildings).

Geographical Information Systems

© BTU Cottbus

Ideally, all cartographic information should be integrated into a comprehensive geographical information system.

In cities where urban regeneration projects have already been implemented in the wake of a conflict, as in the Old City of Aleppo, cadastral maps may be available in digitised form or even as fully-fledged GIS.

Where such information is accessible, it can provide a good basis for producing accurate and up-to-date basic maps.

Morphological Map of the Old City of Aleppo

© BTU Cottbus

Scholars at Brandenburg University of Technology (BTU Cottbus) in Germany have produced a detailed digital map of the Old City of Aleppo, which shows the urban structure and built status as of 2011 with a printable scale of 1:1,000 (working scale of 1:500).

The work of the team entailed the systematisation of 20 gigabytes of data. Most of the information and data originated from the pre-conflict regeneration project for the Old City of Aleppo, which was implemented with German support in the period from 1994 to 2011. The researchers digitally merged roadways, footpaths and public squares with fountains, statues, green spaces and the floor plans of former buildings, thus laying the groundwork for the city’s reconstruction.

The map is based on the cadastral plans of Aleppo and includes 16,000 parcels of the Old City, around 400 floor plans of significant buildings, including in the souk area, the citadel and buildings to its south, and others in the quarters of Bandarat Al-Islam, Al-Jidayda, Al-Bayade and Jibqarman. It also traces the most significant urban transformations of the 20th century by way of layers showing the urban and parcel structures from both the 1937 and the pre-war cadastral plans.

In future it should be possible to tap on the digital map of the Old City on a computer, tablet or mobile phone, and look at the building plans, photos and descriptions of a specific location. The map is bringing back to life buildings and structures that are currently hidden by rubble and debris. Where today only rubble is visible, it shows the foundation walls, paths, alleys and parcels that exist underneath.

These structures and the unique urban fabric were instrumental in the Old City being registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1986. By raising awareness, the project is expected to contribute to preserving the urban fabric through sensitive reconstruction measures, and to prevent undesirable developments that ignore key existing structures. The goal is to create a sound planning basis for rehabilitation. Future individual building projects can be viewed and assessed for compatibility against the background of the digital map. In consequence, the project is advocating an approach that avoids the large-scale redevelopment of the Old City and seeks instead to foster culturally sensitive reconstruction that gives consideration to the inhabitants’ interests as well.

Date: 24. August 2018 | Last modified: 24. May 2019

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