Posted March 2nd 2010 at 10:19 am by
in Art and Culture Mapping on the LA River, Los Angeles

Map Love, Part I

“Living in cities, we need a new way to think about how we move and what we notice…” – Susan Salter Reynold, Los Angeles Times

I’ve always had a soft spot for maps, from the topographical maps of the U.S. my mom would buy for her fourth grade classroom to maps people drew on napkins showing me directions to their neighborhoods.  Maps were the foundation of my keen interest in cities.

Now, as I prepare to graduate from urban planning school, I’ve returned to thinking about the importance of the traditions that led me to MIT.  As part of my research, I looked at mapping projects, past and present, at the university.  These are a few of the things I found:

1. It all started with Kevin Lynch’s legacy of using cognitive mapping to inspire his city planning contemporaries to seek new ways to see city form and urban design in Los Angeles, Boston, and Jersey City as documented in Image of the City.

2. It continued with Dolores Hayden’s groundbreaking Los Angeles-based project and publication, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History, which proposed new ways for including community-based perspectives on gender, race, and ethnicity in public art and historic preservation.

3. Today similar thoughts, processes, and activities on allowing communities to document and re-imagine their communities lives strong in a variety of mediums. In Los Angeles, they include the work of MIT/DUSP alum James Rojas’ model-building workshops all across the world. Check out Re-Imaging Chinatown, a model-building James did to re-imagine LA’s Chinatown.

4. Across campus at The MIT Media Lab Jeffrey Warren, a graduate student in the Design Ecology Group and a fellow at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media, runs Cartagen, “a set of tools for mapping, enabling users to view and configure live streams of geographic data in a dynamic, personally relevant way that allows for mapping real-time air pollution, citizen reporting, and disaster response.” Sounds cool?  It is!  Jeffrey’s has done previous work in Israel and is currently working in Peru.

5. Ryan O’Toole’s No Park adapts Google Map’s KML language to link to publicly accessible wikis, video sharing, collaborative mapping, and mobile interface for smart-phone integration to map the hidden politics of urban downtown Los Angeles through public art, hidden green space, and “weird architecture”.

6. MIT’s Mobile Experience Lab is developing and testing new mapping techniques through Locast. Locast combines the technology of the web and mobile applications to create “hyperlocal and highly-connected experiences by superimposing layers of collectively generated information within the physical space.” Crazy awesome.  Everything is user generated and allows for an interactive forum by real-time uses at a physical space and for online users. Locast’s Open Source platform allows for it to be used in a variety of contexts including civic media, tourism, civic engagement, on-site learning, and urban games. The MIT Mobile Experience Lab is already seeing success in the use of Locast technology through work done in Porto Alegre, Brazil and Venice, Italy.

7. Perhaps I found the strongest example of innovative, decentralized, and collaborative mapping during the recent winter break, when I followed an email thread on the international Crisis Mappers listserv, which connected mappers in Haiti with universities like MIT to distribute important data in visual analytics and infrastructure after the earthquake.

Of course, I am using mapping as part of my own thesis project on the LA River.  Stay tuned for a parallel round-up of cool mapping projects in Los Angeles.

3 responses to “Map Love, Part I”

  1. I heart maps too! Especially when you put some juicy qualitative love on them like homemade audio, photos, and video. I’m constantly bookmarking examples of projects like Murmur, Mapping Main Streets, and others – see

    I also can’t wait to see the maps they’ve been compiling as part of the Cartegena practicum, because they’re using Google Earth in a really cool way.

    Can you also tell me the books you referenced in your presentation to the Mel King fellow media training a few weeks ago, particularly the one that comes with maps?

  2. John says:

    Hey Danielle,

    Cool deal! I love Mapping Main Street, but I don’t know Murmur. I’ll check it out!

    The books I referenced during the MK Fellow media training were:

    An Atlas for Radical Cartography – Lizzie Mogel

    * Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism

    The later also has a traveling exhibition up right now in Maine! It’s organized by the Institute for Curators International:

    Good stuff!

  3. John says:

    Oh, and I’m totally going to check out your mapping bookmarks!