A call for Citizen Geographers!

In my previous post, I discussed how walking the road to nowhere can lead to enlightenment and actually end up leading us to a somewhere. Walking the Road to Nowhere…. to Get Somewhere My lamentations about the decline of Geography awareness in our society was where that post left off. This post is a call to you, dear readers, to become citizen Geographers.

“But what does that term ‘Citizen Geographer’ mean?”, you ask yourselves. It is similar to the term “Citizen Scientist” only with an emphasis on spatial awareness. Citizen Science is the voluntary involvement of the public in gathering data for scientific research, and helps professionals solve real-world problems.

The picture below is of a Citizen Scientist paddling the estuaries around the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. While enjoying a day exploring a coastal paddle trail, this person is making observations and gathering data on the flora and fauna of the area to share with the scientific community. More data to analyze = better science.


The website citizenscience.org has a list of many projects that communities can get involved in. One suggests community members take snow depth measurements as they recreate in the winter. That data is analyzed and the results are shared back to the community.

You may also ask yourself, “Is it in my power to become a Citizen Geographer?” “What training would I need to become one?” Let’s first discuss the meaning of each term and how they might fit together.

A citizen is a person who, by place of birth, nationality of one or both parents, or naturalization is granted full rights and responsibilities as a member of a nation or political community. Many people who are citizens are concerned mostly with their rights of citizenry. But, remember that the definition of a citizen refers to responsibilities as well as rights.

A geographer is “an expert in the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere, and of human activity as it affects and is affected by these”. The expert part comes slowly, but grows with the amount of study that you put in. By study, I mean just being aware of, and documenting your surroundings.

Geographers study the earth at many different scales: local, regional, and global. You might be a citizen of a country, state, city, or local community. Or, you might consider yourself to be a citizen of planet earth. All data is collected at the local level, but may be analyzed at any scale. You, dear reader, do not have to have a degree in Geography to make observations about the places that you live in or travel to. You just have to observe and document what you are experiencing through your five senses.

Another example of Citizen Science that would also be the work of a Citizen Geographer is the annual Christmas Bird Count by the Audubon Society. Each year, people count the location, number and species of birds observed. The count takes place between December 14 and January 5 annually.


Volunteers communicate their observations to the national organization. Geographers at the national organization then draw maps. Data is collected for each one of the circles in the map below. This information is used to protect birds and the places that they need to survive. Imagine if you were a neotropical migrant who nested in the Arctic in the summer and flew to Central America to winter over. Every location along your route is important to your survival. Using the citizen science and geography together can help in identifying where to allocate limited resources to meet challenges to habitat. We’ve noticed an inordinate number of Robins in Central Oregon this December, partly due to the warm weather. Loss of habitat from fires in other parts of the state this summer is also a factor.

A Citizen Geographer will do much more than participate in an annual event though. We need to better understand the communities that we live in, if we are to make improvements in them. And rather than just driving through, we need to walk and bike through our neighborhoods with our eyes and ears open. Take pictures. Make notes. Be sure to write down the date and time of your observations. By doing so, you will have a snapshot of what your community was like at a given time. The world around us is changing so rapidly. Many of us fall victim to the malady of “Landscape Amnesia”, which is forgetting what a place USED to look like. Comparing change over time in a location is a fundamental concept of the discipline of Geography. Geographers conceptualize space as the product of interrelations of humans with each other and the environments where they live. It is dynamic in nature and not static.

Migrating Deer in Suburbia: How has this neighborhood changed over time?

My own hometown of Bend, Oregon could be the “Poster Child” of cities going through rapid change. If we had an army of Citizen Geographers documenting this change over time, with better understanding of the issue we might be better able to deal with the impacts of rapid change in our community: increasing crime, homelessness, rising housing costs, overburdened infrastructure. And, we might have a reason to adequately fund our Geography departments so that we could have those folks to analyze and map the data.

Once you start documenting things in your neck of the woods, your skills as a geographer will grow and you will be able to “read” the landscape better. The last post in this series will be about “the Language of the LAND”. In it we will provide you with a few tips to understand more about what the landscape has to say to you.

Besides that last post in the series, we will resume posts on specific places in the coming year, including Arctic Canada, Mongolia, Estonia, and Namibia, among others….We hope to have you join us on one or more of those adventures.

Have a wonderful holiday season….whether that be Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or Festivus.

2 thoughts on “A call for Citizen Geographers!

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