Denis Wood’s Rethinking the Power of Maps got me thinking about what a map could say that wasn’t directly plotted along an x or y axis. The idea that a map could be transformed into a protest map simply by renaming was especially powerful. By undertaking such a simple act, however, it is possible to reframe the discussion and cause people to look at the information in a completely different way, as the example of the Children’s Pedestrian Deaths/Commuters Run Over Black Children clearly shows. The data each map uses may be the same, but the difference in tone and substance is stark.
Living in a city as divided as New York, it is easy to see how the semantics of maps play out. What does it mean to say someone lives in “East Williamsburg” versus Bushwick? Are there perceived social implications for choosing one naming over the other?
I was also stuck by Wood’s emphasis on liberating mapmaking from the cartographic elite. Why does a map need a legend or a scale? Do these tools really help make the information conveyed in the map any clearer to the user? And just who is the user anyway?
Pedro Miguel Cruz’s “The Blood Vessels in the Traffic of Lisbon” is a great example of how a non-traditional map can express information in a clear and unmistakable way. Using the metaphor of a circulatory system, Cruz’s model transforms Lisbon’s streets into a beating heart struggling to keep up with the demands placed upon it. As traffic slows due to congestion, clots appear on the map to illustrate the problem areas. The bigger the clot, the slower the traffic.
The interesting thing about this map is how it lacks any sort of formal mapmaking structure, yet its message remains clear. You get it immediately, without the need for the traditional cartographer’s toolkit. It boils down complex data into the bare essentials, something many conventional maps fail to do.