Friday, December 12, 2008

Eighth-grade sketch maps

I was talking with a group of eighth graders at Asheville Middle School. The week before they’d made lists of places they visited in Asheville, and then marked those places on individual Google maps. The maps formed constellations representing their engagements with the city. We talked about them this week. At the end of our conversation I asked them to sketch their own maps of Asheville – the Asheville that wasn’t captured by the digital maps. Here are a couple examples of what they did. The most remarkable feature that I’ve noticed about these (as well as other hand-drawn maps that people have given me of Asheville) is they always include the drawer’s home. It makes sense, I suppose. It’s obvious. The home is the base from which other places flow. But I’ve not asked them to include it. Some do not even indicate streets, not at least in any realistic way. But they always include an indication of where they live. It seems a small but nontrivial point, perhaps basic to people’s mental configuration of space and place.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Word map

This is not Arizona. There is shade wherever I look. My view in every direction is obstructed by green. Much of it is the smooth green of tree leaves: the pale yellowish greens of sycamores, the bolder greens of maples and oaks. And there are the rougher, darker greens – the greens applied in primary school art projects with wet paint and sponges – of hemlocks and firs. Cutting through the green scrim are shingled roof lines.

If the neighborhood is a stage, the scrim is leafy and dark, with light overhead and shadows on the edges.

Today I am cutting diagonally across the stage from my house to town.

Pine cones and tree litter lie on the sidewalk. The sidewalks are often uneven, roiled by tree roots. In places sidewalks are made of old bricks. Their unevenness is pixilated. Where sidewalks are concrete the roots have cast whole sections into uneven planes. Because of the unevenness I must mind my step, and I become aware that the neighborhood appears to me in flashes, like fast cuts in a video, as I cast my eyes from houses and lawns back to the sidewalk. My gaze is as broken as a sidewalk.

The street is smoother, easier for walking, and many streets are quiet so I needn’t worry about cars. The sides of the street where people park are oil-stained from leaking old cars. Old cars are as common as old houses. There is an assortment of makes and models: old paint-dulled Hondas and Saturns, new BMWs and Saabs, mud spattered Subaru’s and even a few clunky, tank-like Land Rovers, the sort you see everywhere in Africa. They all seem to dribble oil. I suspect if you compared the streets of my neighborhood with those in other, newer parts of town, you’d find our streets more dribbled. This may speak to poverty, or preference in old cars, or the fact that relatively few houses in this neighborhood have working garages. The few garages I am aware of are converted to studios or apartments.

Yards are invested with flowers. I cannot name them all, do not know them all. I recognize hydrangeas, geraniums, lilies, roses, lambs’ ears, lavenders, rosemaries – all flowering. So the sunny places between the shadows are splashed with color. And vegetables: cabbages, corn, tomatoes, eggplants, and stands of beans and peas and basil and dill. There is nothing sterile about the lawns in this neighborhood – it’s not like one of those trim communities with crew-cut lawns and nothing growing in them but grass.

If you look you can see cats lurking in the dark shade of bushes.

Streets and houses are rimmed with stone. Stone walls. Stone borders. Stone foundations. Stone edges. Isolated boulders, like desert islands in a green sea. Piles of stone like burial cairns. Rock gardens. Artificial brooks. Riprap embankments. Piles of rocks beside piles of sand waiting for a mason’s shovel.

The walls are old, and a great number are cracked and whole sections lean forward under years of pressure from the contained soil of lawns and gardens. Frothy mounds of white phlox dangle over the edges. One house has painted its retaining wall a bluish gray, and also painted with the same high gloss industrial paint a line of stones in the grass marking the boundary with the neighbor’s yard, as if to improve on the color of the stone itself.

A number of porches are festooned with patriotic bunting. Many have ceiling fans. Some have lamps beside chairs and couches, even carpets, as if to move the living room outdoors.

A man, mid-thirties, sits in a lounge chair on one shaded porch talking on a cell phone while his dog, in a picketed yard, gazes up at him, head cocked, listening.

It is not until I emerge from the neighborhood and pass the downtown civic center with its big stone foundation that it dawns on me how much of an attempt builders have made to bring the surrounding mountains into the city. For the stones here echo the stones of forest floors and craggy cliffs, and the hemlocks and firs are in a sense ghosts of the surrounding woods, and even the houses with their shingled roofs and lush gardens suggest vacation cabins.

I wonder whether the intrusion of forest into city suggests a certain ambivalence about city life – how many of us have half a mind to live elsewhere, outside.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bed maps

We leave maps behind in our wake. An unmade bed is a sort of map, a map of the night, where we spend about a third of our day. I'm not sure what it says, whether the bed is more territory than map, but a photograph of the bed is more map than territory: it is flat and rectilinear and it suggests topography, geography, movement. For all the stillness of sleep, sleep shakes up the landscape. A bed is a place, one of the more important (if judged by time spent in it) of our lives. We start our days here. We end them here. We call the luminous interval between "life," but events in life are far more fleeting and beyond our control. In bed is where we dream.

As an experiment of sorts I'm taking photographs of our bed before it's made in the morning. Above and below are samples.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Neil Thomas's handmade maps

This one represents "parcel density, spatial composure, sprawl, networks."

Neil Thomas of Resource Data Inc. has been helping me understand maps of all sorts, from Google Maps to GIS. Now he's helping me by setting aside some of his professional sensibilities and yielding to my request to scribble maps of Asheville and surrounding areas, given some of his geographic and environmental interests.

This one represents "connectivity, positive-negative spaces."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Handmade maps

Gene's map of Asheville:
Gene, 32, lives in Morningside Park, West Asheville, and moved here from Lexington, Kentucky

What gets on a map?
At some basic level, maps are information. Gregory Bateson once asked, “What gets on a map?” And then he answered himself: “Difference gets on a map.” He meant that a landscape with virtually no variation would be represented by a blank map. Think of it: no roads, no change of elevation, no river, no property lines, no demarcation between field and forest or city and county. The things that get on maps are differences.

Bateson was making a larger point about the nature of information: that information really amounts to a lot of differences. As any computer geek knows, information is a series of of 0’s and 1’s.

Notice also how different maps of the same place convey different differences, different information, because mapmakers have different interests. You could say that’s another thing that gets on maps: interests. Most of us look at maps because we’re interested in roads and paths. But a water department employee is interested in a map of water lines. The power company guy wants a map of power lines.

Given that I’m interested in what interests people (their culture), I’ve begun to ask them to draw maps of Asheville. As I go, I’ll probably narrow things down a bit. But I’m interested in “where people go” with the open-ended request: Draw me a map of Asheville. Here’s what I got. First try!

The maps above and below were drawn, with one exception, by professional GIS mapmakers who more customarily use computers to model places. They were generous enough to humor my request that they sketch these maps by hand. They had all, with one exception, been drinking a little beer when they drew these maps.

Pete's map of Asheville:
Pete, 37, lives in West Asheville, moved here two years ago, but has lived on and off in Asheville a long time

Greg's map of Asheville:
Greg, 30, now lives in Avery's Creek, was born in Alabama, and grew up in upstate South Carolina

Emily's map of her Dad's apartment:
Emily, 12, spends summers with her Dad in Haw Creek and the rest of the year in Ohio

Emily's Dad's map of Asheville:Emily's Dad, Frank, 38, lives in Haw Creek, has been in the Asheville area five years, and is originally from Barnesville, Ohio

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Asheville race demographics

In this map, the darker the green the higher percentage of African-American residents; the whiter, the higher percentage of white residents. Map is from 2000 US Census,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Buncombe County GIS Maps

Asheville zoning:

Asheville streets and streams:

Asheville in broad outline:

County rivers and streams:

I started to think the county GIS site framed maps in terms of roads, but I found, when I went back to it, that I could remove roads from the maps and layer in only streams and rivers.
The maps above and more can be found at the county's GIS web page:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shades of Montford

View Larger Map
I've seen the original plan for the subdivision of Montford. That plan put Montford between the river on the west and what is now Broadway on the east, extending north from what is now I-240 to a point where River Road and Broadway meet -- essentially the shaded area above.

What is interesting is that "historic" Montford, what is designated as historic and gets special tax breaks and works under special use and building restrictions, is not the historic (read: original) Montford but the part of Montford with the oldest and biggest houses.

This could be because these are the oldest, thus historic, houses. It could also be that these are where the property owners with the keenest interests in the designation lived. Whatever the reasons, the historic district managed to include the part of Montford with the densest white population and exclude the parts of Montford with the densest black population.

Was that an accident?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Montford sketch map

Like the Asheville map (below), I spent only about a minute on this, and if I'd had color I could have indicated degrees of familiarity, zones in which I spend more time than others, etc. I could also indicate routes -- where I walk the dog, the path to work, the path downtown. By clicking on the image one can see the sketch in greater detail. I'm thinking this is a great way to archive, study, interpret, and discuss the maps, such as this one, that people draw.

For instance, I notice that I have not placed my home at the center of the map. Could it be, I ask myself, that I do not think that my house lies at the center but on the periphery? A conversation around that question would be useful in trying to understand my understanding of Montford and my place in Montford.

Asheville sketch map

This image didn't take me long at all, perhaps less than a minute. If I added color I could include more information: shadings of green, for instance, for green space, yellow for welcome, red for no-go.

Saturday, May 10, 2008