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Blogathon 2009 – Seeing Cities in Maps

Blogathon 2009 Vancouver for Vancouver Public Space NetworkThis blog post is part of Blogathon 2009, in which I am blogging for 24 hours straight in order to raise money for the Vancouver Public Space Network, an entirely volunteer-run organization who do advocacy and education on the public realm in my home of Vancouver, British Columbia. Please consider supporting by sponsoring me with a pledge, leaving a comment or contacting me to contribute a guest post.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a quote in a book (which I’ll be reviewing later today) that referred to how space, in planning schools, is typically dealt with in a very “sterile” fashion – presumably, in a two-dimension, cartesian sense.

I like the idea that so many different visualizations of our cities are starting to come to the fore. For instance, this New York subway map from ZEROPERZERO is on my wall as my calendar, but I also used it to find my way when I was in New York last month:

New York City Subway map re-imagined

I love the idea of re-imagining the city as the ground on which human goals are made and (at the best of times) achieved. Lindsay posted a comment a few days back with a link to this story about a map produced at the University of Regina as a “City of Regina Survival Guide and Map” for homeless people and low-income earners. We can imagine this as being just another layer on a Google Map, but what if the map were able to encode other details, such as:

  • opening times and days?
  • ID or eligibility requirements?
  • real-time capacity assessments (esp. for shelters)?

If this is the sort of thing that could prevent a wasted trip or hours spent in line, hopefully it would be considered valuable.

That said, I come back to the substitution question. Would such a map displace or substitute other methods of knowledge-gathering that may have peripheral social value? I know that asking questions leaves me vulnerable to predation by those who wish to take advantage of me, but it also gives others the opportunity to be generous with their experience and information, which establishes different kinds of bonds and debts. As Aardvark has demonstrated to me, the act of asking a question and finding its answer is often a very social process, and the back-and-forth conversation around it may have value in and of itself. It allows you to get to know the breadth of the network, as well as the strengths and natures of the ties that make it up.

Don’t misread me by assuming I’m against efficiency like that provided by a map. I’m pretty convinced I’m a better person for the presence of Wikipedia, perhaps one of the largest replacements for the asking of questions. I just think it’s good to know all of what changes, aside from the utility value we gain, when we stop using something in favor of something else.


  1. 1) This is an awesome post. You’re obviously not just slogging away, putting words on the interwebs for their own sake – your posts are quite substantial.

    2) Kudos for taking part in this.

    3) Kudos for choosing a local charity that will make the most of donated money. Being a student, charity is something I rarely think of (beyond my political leanings). When I tried to think of what group I would support if I did this, the only thing I came up with was Fair Vote Canada. I don’t think my mind strays much from politics :D

    Posted July 25, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  2. Denis,

    Thank you so much for your kind words, I really appreciate the support and it means coming a lot from you, seeing as you’ve done some substantial & awesome thinking about planning yourself. I figure, if I can get through this Blogathon and still be saying something meaningful and coherent I should be all ready to go for the all-nighters to come! :)

    Posted July 25, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  3. I love that map! I saw it a few weeks ago and thought it was the neatest thing. Have you seen the map that someone did of the Earth that looks like a transit map?


    Posted July 25, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

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