A Naïve Look at New York’s Subway Map

Screenshot (nytimes.com)

The New York Times does a deep dive into New York’s current subway map: its design choices, its history, its quirks. It’s more an animated slideshow than interactive map: each step takes us along a route, bouncing up and down (for example) where you’d expect to walk. It’s also completely devoid of any context, particularly the controversies around this very map’s design. People have been agitated about New York’s subway map, and have been reimagining and rethinking it, for decades.

That said, even a naïve look at the status quo isn’t without value, especially since the status quo is rarely looked at on its own terms, but rather in the context of tearing it up and coming up with something new and better.

The New York Subway Map Gets More Rethinking

John Tauranac is having second thoughts. Tauranac is the former MTA map designer whose committee replaced Massimo Vignelli’s diagrammatic subway map with a more geographical one in 1979; that map, with modifications and updates, is still in use today. He now thinks the map needs an overhaul, according to the New York Post, and at 80 he thinks he’s the one to do it. The Post article includes some of his suggestions; the MTA is, shall we say, not eager for his help.

(Tauranac has been active on this file for a while: he released his own subway map in 2008: it’s a folded map that is geographical on one side and diagrammatic on the other. It seems to be out of print, but I still have a copy in my files.)

And a perusal of my own archives will tell you that the project to reimagine and rethink the New York subway map has been going on a very long time. Last May Jun Seong Ahn posted a rethinking of the subway map—not as the usual poster, but as a wide horizontal map posted above the heads of commuters, as you commonly see in other cities:

Jun Seong Ahn

Debates about the New York subway map generally involve posters on trains and in stations—flat, paper, static maps. Meanwhile the MTA is moving to digital displays over the next few years, which may afford train and station maps the opportunity to be as dynamic and changing as the maps on riders’ phones. So far, though, the maps are low-resolution and static.

Previously: New York Subway Maps; Tauranac’s New York Subway Map; Mark Ovenden: The French (Re-)Connection; A Talk About Designing the New York Subway Map on Dec. 7; Debating the New York Subway Map; New York Subway Line Posters; Anthony Denaro’s Map of All of NYC’s Transit; New York Subway Track Map.

An Exhibition of Historic Maps of New York City: New Amsterdam to Metropolis

Untapped Cities has photos from an exhibition of historic and antique maps of New York City at the gallery of Manhattan rare book dealer Martayan Lan. New Amsterdam to Metropolis: Historic Maps of New York City features maps of the city dating back to the 16th century. It opened last November and runs until the end of May 2019. Some (but not all) of the maps, the New York Times notes, are for sale, which is what happens when it’s a rare book dealer rather than a museum or library doing the exhibition.

Navigating New York: An Exhibition at the New York Transit Museum

An exhibition at the New York Transit MuseumNavigating New York, got a writeup in Curbed New York. “The exhibit, which has been in the works for about a year, draws heavily on the NYTM’s extensive collection of objects related to the transit system—subway maps, yes, but also cartographic tools, renderings, and other ephemera. There are also items that might be familiar even to those who aren’t transit wonks, like the New Yorker’s 2001 ‘New Yorkistan’ cover by Rick Meyerowitz and Maira Kalman.” Vignelli’s famous 1972 subway map also makes an appearance. The exhibition runs through 9 September 2019; there’s no dedicated web page for it.

Copy of Ratzer’s Map of Colonial New York Auctioned for $150,000

Plan of the City of New York, in North America, 1776. Map, 123 × 89 cm. New York Public Library.

A 1776 map of New York City sold at auction in New York last April for $150,000, the Daily Mail reported at the time. The map is the second edition of the more famous, and rare, 1770 map showing the work of surveyor Bernard Ratzer. It was published in England, and was apparently put to use by British officers during the American Revolution. The New York Public Library’s copy has been digitized and is available online. [WMS]

Previously: Map of Colonial New Jersey Rediscovered.

Yorktown Campaign Map of New York City Being Auctioned

On 5 December Christie’s will auction, as part of a lot of printed books and manuscripts, a map described as “an important manuscript map of New York City prepared by cartographers attached to Rochambeau’s forces during the Yorktown Campaign.” The 63×40-cm ink-and-watercolour map dates from 1781-1782 and is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000. Christie’s item description is quite detailed.

You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City

You Are Here NYC: Mapping the Soul of the CityAn exhibition taking place now at the New York City Library, Picturing the City: Illustrated Maps of NYC, features 16 pictorial maps from the Library’s collection of illustrations. Running until 9 April 2018, it’s curated by Katharine Harmon, whose book, You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City, came out last November from Princeton Architectural Press. Here’s an interview with Harmon about the exhibition in Print magazine.

This seems as good an excuse as any to take a closer look at You Are Here: NYC. Past time, actually, since I’ve had a review copy in my hands for a year now.

You Are Here: NYC is the third of Katharine Harmon’s map books. The first, You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, came out in 2003, the second, The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography, in 2010. Harmon’s distinctive style in editing and curating these books, carries over to the present volume.

Continue reading “You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City”

Repairing and Cleaning Old New York Maps

In yesterday’s New York Times, a piece on efforts by the New York City Municipal Archives to preserve the city’s earliest maps and architectural drawings.

Inside the lab, conservators talk about the care of antique maps like a doctor discusses a patient’s condition and treatment in an intensive care unit.

Conservators will lay a given map on a table for an exam and diagnose the issue: Is it brittle or burned? Damaged by water or tape? Crumbly, delaminated or peeling? Then they record the treatment in a chart of sorts so that years later, the next caretaker will know what remedy was given.

The repair process of a map—like that for a more than 200-year-old, torn illustration of Williamsburg, Brooklyn—typically takes several hours, though sometimes the conservators will spend days working on just one.

[WMS]

Project Subway NYC’s X-Ray Area Maps

As part of her Project Subway NYC, architect Candy Chan has created a series of X-Ray Area Maps of various New York subway stations. These maps show the subway stations—their platforms, their passages, their staircases—relative to the surrounding streets and buildings. Absolutely engrossing. Chan explains her methodology in this blog post. She’s also selling posters. [Kottke]

New York Subway Track Map

Last year I told you about Andrew Lynch’s posters of individual New York subway lines. Now Lynch has created something that will be of interest to anyone who likes the London Underground’s track network map or Franklin Jarrier’s detailed rail maps: a geographically accurate subway track map for New York City, which can be downloaded as a PDF here. He describes how he went about making it (with apologia that sound like standard mapmaking compromises):

Collecting every historical map I could find, using GIS data, satellite imagery (both current and historic), YouTube videos of fan trips, my own observations looking out the window of trains through tunnels, and talking to retired track workers I was able to draw what I believe to be the most accurate track map of the NYC Subway ever. Features I’ve added to the map are all provisions for future expansion and abandoned sections with a notes section explaining each one as well as an exploded view for the more complex stations and areas obscured by overlapping tracks. I’ve elected to remove all streets as not to clutter the map and also not to imply that specific sections (such as crossovers) are perfectly aligned to the street grid. While the map is geographically accurate at this scale tracks had to be spaced far enough apart to read correctly so lines are not perfect aligned with the widths of the streets. Also some train yards have been truncated to fit within the geographical boundaries of the map.

Previously: New York Subway Line Posters; A Map of the London Underground Track Network.

Recent Book Reviews

Atlas ObscuraAt The Skiffy and Fanty Show, Paul Weimer reviews Atlas Obscura. “So is there a point to the book? Is there any good reason to read the book and not just go trolling and traversing through the website, which has many more entries? Yes. Even in an interconnected world such as ours, there is a tactile experience to flipping through this book, coffee table style […] While wandering through links on the website is a time-honored tradition, the book has a presentation that the website can’t quite match.” I reviewed Atlas Obscura last September.

You Are Here NYC: Mapping the Soul of the CityForbes contributor Tanya Mohn reviews Katherine Harmon’s latest map art book, You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City (previously). If all goes well (it doesn’t always, mind), I should have my own review of this book up later this week. [WMS]

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City AtlasAs for the other new map book about New York City, Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s Non-Stop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, there’s a review up on Hyperallergic by Allison Meier, replete with photos of the book. “Every map is an intense act of creative collaboration, with essays and illustrations in Nonstop Metropolis from over 30 artists and writers. […] And the maps emphasize that this city’s character is often missing from our more official cartography.” [WMS]

You Are Here: NYC

you-are-here-nycToday is the publication date for Katharine Harmon’s latest book of map art: You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City (Princeton Architectural Press). This is Harmon’s third map art book and features some two hundred maps of New York City, “charting every inch and facet of the five boroughs, depicting New Yorks of past and present, and a city that never was.” Fast Company Co.Design’s Meg Miller has a piece on the book. [via]

Previously: A Forthcoming Map Art Book About New York City.

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas

nonstop-metropolisAnother book coming out this month: Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Shapiro (University of California Press, 19 October). It’s the third and apparently final book in a series of city atlases authored or co-authored by Solnit — you may remember Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (2010) or Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas (2013). If you do, you’ll have some idea of what Nonstop Metropolis is likely to be about. Curbed New York’s Nathan Kensinger has a piece on it, in case you don’t. [MAPS-L]

Mapping Gentrification Risk in New York City

nyc-housing-displacement

The Displacement Alert Project Map is a tool built by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development that maps, building by building, the risk of gentrification in New York City—i.e., where the rent is about to get too damn high. Intended for use by housing advocates, tenant organizers, community groups and others, the map calculates the risk of displacement—being pushed out of affordable housing—based on several factors. “Access to this data equips communities with information necessary to fight back against the displacement of residents who are being priced out and pushed out of their neighborhoods, to stop the harassment of tenants by bad landlords, and to prevent the expiration and loss and affordable housing units.” [Gothamist/Maps Mania]

Anthony Denaro’s Map of All of NYC’s Transit

denaro-nyc-transit

Never mind research that suggests that a single map adding bus lines to an already complicated subway map is cognitively overwhelming. Anthony Denaro has created a map of the New York City transit system that shows bus as well as subway routes—basically, a map of every means of transportation accessible by Unlimited MetroCard. Complex? You bet. Difficult to produce? Unquestionably: Anthony takes us through all the design choices he had to make. Difficult to use? Impossible for me to say (I haven’t even visited New York), but as Anthony points out, this map isn’t for tourists; it’s for frequent users. And no doubt it’ll be yet another engagement in the ongoing New York Subway Map War. [CityLab]