Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
An urban scholar is crowdsourcing city boundaries in this interactive world map to see what people include and exclude.
Where does the city end and its suburbs begin? You might think you know each nook and cranny of your hometown, but trying to actually draw a map of its outline from memory will rid you of that hubris.
In his new mapping project, Alasdair Rae, an urban scholar at the University of Sheffield, U.K. has asked people on the internet to draw what they consider as the boundary of their city. He explains why in an introduction to the map:
Sometimes official city boundaries extend far beyond the urban fabric, and sometimes they don't include very much of it at all. I want to see what people consider to be part of their city, or not. All the drawn boundaries on this site come from your contributions.
Rae’s map is an expansion of previous crowdsourced cartography projects. It lets users zoom into any place around the world and start outlining it from memory. It’s also also possible to view previous mapping attempts. Check out all the scrawled circles around London:
Clicking on the boundaries on the maps pulls up comments from individual mappers, which in the case of London, range from self-deprecating (“Crap attempt at London proper”) to dismissive (“Who cares about NW London”). One clear takeaway: For many, the paths they take to move around the city become its de-facto borders. M25, the highway that circles London’s core, for example, is a popular option. Here’s what one user writes:
Love London - much friendlier than people give it credit for if you have the right attitude. Always think of it as being everything within M25. Sorry to Kingston/Croydonites for that.
Another person, a biker, depicts London as a narrow sliver:
These are the bits I can bike in. There are other places I bike in, but I consider those the suburbs or the countryside.
Here are maps of nearby Birmingham and Glasgow:
Participants have also marked up other cities in Europe, as well as in America, the Middle East, and India. Here’s New York City:
Rae will be analyzing the results of his crowd-mapping experiment on his blog in a couple of weeks. But even at the outset, his map confirms what we’ve known for a while—that how our mind recalls the space around us depends heavily on the landmarks and routes that we know and take. Ultimately, our maps reflect who we are and how we experience the world.