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Mapping the Organized Chaos of All of the World's Subways

From a design standpoint, the map connecting the world via one mega subway system is a mess. But it says something about human mobility.

Gerardo Cid

What if Beijing was only a subway ride and a few station transfers away from New York City? And if the metrorail lines of Paris, Tokyo, and Sao Paulo met at a single intersection?

Those are the kinds of scenarios that the World Metro Map, a whimsical graphic from the New York-based collective called ArtCodeData and the nonprofit Open Access Initiative, imagines. The map combines the metro rail lines of 214 cities into one mega subway system, totaling almost 12,000 lines and nearly 800 stations.

“This is a project that's been sitting on my computer for a while,” says the map’s designer, Gerardo Cid. It started out as a final project for college roughly five years ago. Cid found as many subway maps as he could online, then took them apart and reorganized the lines so that they were all interconnected in some way.

(Gerardo Cid)
This portion of the map shows the intersection between Paris, New York and Sao Paulo. (Gerardo Cid)

The result can perhaps be best described as organized chaos. Colorful lines crisscross one another in a tangled web and veer off in all different directions. Cid admits that it’s neither a functional nor effective design. In fact, from a design standpoint, he says, “it’s a mess.”

But that’s not the point. Rather, the map is meant to outline the concepts of connectivity and human mobility. “The idea behind it is that you can create imaginary paths between cities,” he tells CityLab. “It just shows the kind of planet that we live in, that there are so many corners that need to be explored, and that we don’t live on a square or a grid.”

The project, which surpassed its funding goal of $6,000 on Kickstarter after only two days, serves a larger purpose. Cid is selling his maps as part of a fundraising campaign for the Open Access Initiative, a nonprofit that aims to create a large database of “accessible environments in frequently [traveled] cities” for people with disabilities.

Zoom in on the map, and it becomes somewhat of a game. Just start at a station, and use your fingers to trace the route that leads you to your dream destination. Or, Cid suggests, you can follow the path that takes you around the imaginative world and right back to where you started.

(Gerardo Cid)
Poster, from $29 pre-order on Kickstarter.

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