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

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