In the aftermath of the recent fire, a new landscape has been formed. The formerly isolated houses in Sunshine and Fourmile canyons, nestled in thick stands of pines and occasional aspens, have been opened up to wide-open vistas and uninterrupted panoramas due to the staggering loss of trees. From a single house site you can see across valleys and draws to distant hillsides and see houses, some standing, some not, that were never before visible. These views of other houses have become if not the dominant then at least very significant, new landscape feature. So, along with the sense of community that was forged in the tragedy of the fire, there is a new visible community apparent like never before.
Standing out in that denuded landscape, the immediate question occurs to everyone looking out at newly visible neighbor's properties - "are they rebuilding?" - "are they moving their house to a new location?" -"I didn't know that road existed."
To that question, there are a number of people that are proposing an online community mapping project. Using Google Earth as a platform, the idea is to build 3D computer models of new and existing houses as they progress in the rebuilding project. Along with the buildings will come the knowledge, publicly accessible, of what is being done, who is rebuilding and when. This is an attempt to fill in the gap of the unknown, of the uncertain prospect, of living again in that beautiful but scarred landscape.
Community mapping projects take many forms, from economic resources to educational opportunities. This map will attempt to record the past - in models of houses pre-fire, and the present and future - in models, geo-located within Google Earth, of houses proposed and under construction. The map's beginning will be simple. The first stage is to add some information like property boundaries and driveway access to layers on the existing Google Earth topography. The next step is outreach - to encourage homeowners, of houses existing and proposed, to include their building information on the map. This can take the form of a precise SketchUp model uploaded to Google Earth as created by their architect, or a simple marker indicating some intention of rebuilding or not. This basic information will allow any homeowner, along with the local fire department and sheriff's office, to identify what is being done in what location. A homeowner will be able to "stand" in the location of their new or proposed house and look out over the landscape and survey who else is rebuilding and where. Architect's will be able to use the model to craft designs that can respect the views and forms of other houses and possibly to pool resources during construction. The local emergency responders will be able to look at the entire model and know if there is any longer a building at the end of that driveway and the location of new access roads.
Potential layers are endless and can be added over time. GIS information indicating plant species, steep slopes, soils types, solar access and other layers can be included and will greatly help everyone in the rebuilding process.
Key to this process is the participation of as many homeowners, architects and builders as possible. Inevitably questions of privacy arise and I think a simple and frank discussion can ally those fears. Certainly the advantages of this information I think will surpass the possible negatives. I want to strongly encourage everyone's participation and I would be happy to sit down with any homeowner, architect or builder to explain the process and power that this map can convey.
The group putting together this effort includes the local architects as both project directors and participating architects:
Michelle Wheatley of Studio Arc-Hive
Juana Gomez of Lawrence and Gomez Architects
Mark Gerwing, M. Gerwing Architects
A map ties information to location. It is a tool for information and visualization. But most importantly this kind of map is a constituent of community. It will give everyone an idea of what has been and what is to come. By including information pre- and post-fire it links information to location to time, history and future.
Please feel free to contact any of us listed above if you have any questions or suggestions. We hope to have a website up and running soon and this will include the first of the models located on the landscape. We will need lots of help to build as much of the existing area as possible - all of the Gold Hill buildings, existing houses, etc. - and we will have a quick workshop about how to quickly build models and to solicit help and advice.
Many thanks to the good folks at Boulder's own Concept3D, the leader in the field of database rich 3D mapping technology and Google SketchUp for providing technical assistance and advice.
check out the website, 4milemap, and you will be able to see current projects as well as some posts on rebuilding advice and stages in the ongoing community mapping project.