Posted February 11th 2010 at 10:00 pm by
in Art and Culture Mapping on the LA River, Los Angeles

Mental Mapping Arts and Culture Along the L.A. River

Maps are critical tools for understanding and communicating everything from cultural landmarks to transportation corridors. Nowadays, many maps come from powerful software and data repositories such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  However, despite being a standard skill in urban planning and geography, contemporary technical mapping technology tools rarely leave space for local knowledge, perspective, and the less-visible memories of our physical and social spheres.

How can urban planners use their mapping skills and knowledge in a way that is accessible, relevant, and valued by the very communities they strive to improve?

Carol, a River enthusiast, mapped historic communities and cultural centers along the LA River. Her map shows sculpture parks, multi-use community spaces, and the cultural heritage in adjacent communities.


My friend Janet helped me create an 11 x 17 self-addressed map of the LA Rivers’s Eastside Waterfront.  We included a legend box, for anyone who wished to employ this in their map, and a section for notes.  The only instructions I listed were the following:

“Please use this map as a way share your thoughts about the future of the Los Angeles River’s Eastside. You may draw pictures, write words, or use any combination of these to show your personal and cultural vision for the River.”

I left blank maps at the Friends of the Los Angeles River Center, and also with each person I interviewed during the research I conducted back in Los Angeles in January 2010. My interview pool was diverse.  Activists, advocates, performers, policy makers, and engineers, and encaustic tile format public artists.

The maps were well received. Now that I’m back at MIT, it’s nice to check my mailbox and find a maps every few days. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to share their re-imagined and artistic vision for the LA River.

If you would like to submit a map, please do.  I would love to see your vision.  Please indicate whether you would like your map to be exclusively for my research, anonymous, or publishable in this forum.

Download a blank 11×17 map here.

Download a blank 8×10 map here.

Please send your completed maps to:

John Arroyo
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 7-307
Cambridge, MA 02139

One response to “Mental Mapping Arts and Culture Along the L.A. River”

  1. Stefanie says:

    John, this is really rad. It is such a cool way to use a simple visual tool to collect people’s creative thoughts. I’ll definitely forward it on.