Opening today at the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center, Building Blocks: Boston Stories from Urban Atlases is an exhibition that explores street-level changes to Boston in the period between the Civil War and World War II. Media release.
Building Blocks: Boston Stories from Urban Atlases features rare materials from the BPL’s historic collection of maps and atlases alongside lithographs, photographs, and sketches of familiar local landscapes. Visitors will discover how the atlas collections opens up a world of fascinating stories, with vignettes including the city’s first African Meeting House in the heart of Beacon Hill, landmarks of leisure like the “Derby Racer” and “Giant Safety Thriller” amusement rides in Revere, public health infrastructure on Gallops Island in Boston Harbor, and many more.
The in-person exhibition at the BPL’s Central Library opens today; a digital version will follow online. Runs until 19 August 2023. A curatorial introduction will take place next Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a permanent exhibition, Becoming Boston: Eight Moments in the Geography of a Changing City, also opens today at the Leventhal: “In the eight cases of this exhibition, we follow the changing spatial forms of the place we now call Boston—from before the landscape carried that name all the way through the struggles, clashes, and dreams that continue to reshape the city today.”
The impressive and/or insane thing about the New York City Tree Map is that it maps individual trees: now about 860,000 of them, all managed by the city’s parks department on city streets and in parks, down to the species and trunk diameter, which also means you can filter for those parameters, plus get most recent inspection and tree care data on specific trees. You can even favourite individual trees. If trees had social media accounts, they’d be here. [Bloomberg CityLab]
Plenty of cities’ subway maps have been reimagined in the style of the London Underground map. Cameron Booth, for example, has redone New York’s subway map in that style. But a map posted by a graphic designer named Sean to Reddit does the exact opposite: it reimagines the London Underground map in the style of New York’s subway map. Bringing the design language of Michael Hertz to Harry Beck’s sovereign territory is probably blasphemous in some quarters, but as a pastiche of the New York style? Cameron says: “Sean has absolutely nailed the New York Subway map style, and perhaps even improved upon it in places—I note with pleasure that all of his station labels are set horizontally, instead of the many varied angles used on the official NYC map.” His bottom line? “One of the best style mash-ups I’ve seen: technically excellent, well-researched and actually really informative. Wonderful!”
Apple Maps’s detailed 3D city maps are now available for six cities: London, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco at iOS 15’s launch, San Diego and Washington D.C. last month, and now Philadelphia [AppleInsider, MacRumors]. Those cities also have augmented reality walking directions: AppleInsider has a tutorial.
Pierce’s map of nationalities, however, is a more memorable, if confounding, centerpiece. Aiming to convey diversity among immigrant communities in New York, the map depicts the proportion of major “nationalities” in each sanitary district of the city. The result is a dizzying array of zigzag stripes and scattered points. As Pierce writes in his explanatory notes accompanying the Harper’s Weekly publication, the original map was produced in color and adapted to black and white for publication, but the reproduction “is almost as effective and quite as illustrative as the original.” Despite Pierce’s confidence, perhaps the average reader could be forgiven if they find the map to be more difficult to parse. In fact, the map seems to resemble more closely the dazzle camouflage, a design aimed at confusing the observer, used on British and American warships in the first half of the twentieth century.
Geographer Christopher Winters maps car ownership—or rather the lack thereof—in The Geography of Carfree Households in the United States. In only a few census tract do more than 75 percent of the population go without owning a car. Not surprisingly, most of them are in New York, plus other densely populated cities: “New York has many more such households than any other urban area. It’s the one large place in the United States where only a minority of households have a vehicle available.”
Something I often do when reviewing a book is talk about it in terms of the expectations of its potential readers—particularly if readers might come to a book with expectations that the book does not meet, because the book is doing something different. If you’re expecting The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, written by the art historian Jessica Maier and published last November by the University of Chicago Press, to be basically A History of Rome in 100 Maps, it isn’t: the count is more like three dozen. This doesn’t mean that The Eternal City is a slight book—it most certainly is not, though at 199 pages it’s a bit shorter than, say, A History of America in 100 Maps (272 pages).
But counting maps would miss the difference in Maier’s approach. To invoke xkcd, this is depth-first rather than breadth-first: there are fewer maps here, but they’re discussed in much more depth than the two-page spreads of the hundred-map books, and provided with much more context. This is a history of Rome in maps in which history, Rome and maps all get their proper share of attention.
Fire insurance maps are an invaluable resource for historical researchers: they’re extremely detailed snapshots of the built environment of virtually every city and town, and there are usually several such snapshots (I’ve seen at least three for my little village, for example), so you can chart a town’s growth over time at a level of detail an OS, quad or topo map can’t match.
The New York Times maps the distribution of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles. “County officials recently estimated that one in three of Los Angeles County’s roughly 10 million people have been infected with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. But even amid an uncontrolled outbreak, some Angelenos have faced higher risk than others. County data shows that Pacoima, a predominantly Latino neighborhood that has one of the highest case rates in the nation, has roughly five times the rate of Covid-19 cases as much richer and whiter Santa Monica.”
Markus Moestue’s Critical Tourist Map of Oslo turns the unremitting positivity of tourist maps on its head, painting the Norwegian capital’s landmarks and history in a bracingly negative light.
In most countries, what we are taught about our own nation in school does not correspond much to reality. And Norway is no exception. We are made to believe in myths surrounding our own nation and are given a perfect mirage of excellence and good intentions in our history lessons. Stories of abuse, greed and war are often swept under the carpet, and it seems that, by some twist of faith, we are born into the best country in the world, and that all other nations are beneath us. Is Norway really the most happy place, the most environmentally conscious, the most peace loving or the most ethical? Hardly!
In this map I aim to correct a few myths, point to some problematic aspects of Norway and Oslo. And I wish for this map to be a contrast to the mindless commercially motivated map you’ll receive at the tourist information centre.
In a short video, Markus tries to stunt-distribute the map on the streets of Oslo:
Mark Ovenden has made a career of publishing books about transportation systems and their maps that are both comprehensive and copiously illustrated. These include books about transit maps, railway maps and airline maps, as well as books about specific transit systems like the London Underground and the Paris Metro.
His latest, Underground Cities (Frances Lincoln, 22 Sep), is in some ways a natural progression from his past work: in the introduction he muses on the link between transit geekery and wondering about “what else lies down there beyond the walls” (p. 6). But in other ways this is quite a different book.
You must be logged in to post a comment.