John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Pretty much nothing exists outside Manhattan.
How might a person who’s never left New York City view the rest of the world? Perhaps with Manhattan taking up 80 percent of the U.S., the other four boroughs 10 percent, the Midwest completely nonexistent, and foreign countries reduced to vague presences somewhere across the water.
That’s the view of this wonderful 1970s map lampooning a New Yorker’s self-centered geography. The snarky cartographer remains anonymous, according to the David Rumsey Map Collection. Here’s a wide view:
Notice how the author erases most everything west of the Hudson and New Jersey until arriving at the Pacific outposts of San Francisco and L.A. The nation’s largest state, Alaska, is reduced to a little blob beyond the Great Lakes, and the entire South is boiled down to Texas (oil and cowboys!), Washington, D.C. (Capitol building!), and Miami (surfers and fishing!). A ship cruising below the Southwest, meanwhile, suggests the mapmaker believes land ends at the Mexican border.
Zooming in on the gigantic colony of Manhattan reveals a wealth of detail:
There’s the crusty McSorley's Old Ale House, which banned women until 1970, and the Felt Forum, not a crafting store but today’s Theater at Madison Square Garden. The Cherry Lane Theatre is still in Greenwich Village, continuing a long history of playhouse production that’s drawn in Barbra Streisand, James Earl Jones, Harvey Keitel, and Frank Langella. Wall Street’s ancient Chemical Bank—a producer of drugs and dyes in the early 1800s—has disappeared, having merged with the Chase Manhattan Corporation in the 1990s. And that “Snuffen Court” by the Chrysler Building is probably Sniffen Court, a strange, horse-decorated enclave that graced the cover of The Doors’ 1967 album “Strange Days.”
Reddit user Ambamja, who dug up the map this week, has sparked a lively discussion of geographic stereotypes. “Upstate NY doesn't even exist for New Yorkers? Map checks out,” says one person. Adds another: “I love how New Jersey is just as far away as San Francisco. That speaks volumes.” A third provides the supposed West Coast perspective: “I swear thats how coastal Californians see the US too. California is just the Bay area and Socal, then you get a vast emptiness till you hit Tahoe or Las Vegas. Then more void until you hit New York.”