Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
Welcome to the latest edition of MapLab. Sign up to receive this newsletter in your inbox here.
The best thing about writing MapLab is the wonderful community of subscribers. Not only do you regularly read, but you also engage: I’m constantly receiving notes about a map you fell in love with, new and old cartography projects, and reactions to new developments in the world of location technology. Your loyal readership is a testament to how compelling maps can be.
It’s also part of what inspired a new project that CityLab launched last week. “The Maps That Make Us” is a series of personal essays about the power of maps to shape our private and public lives.
In the first installment, I wrote about the Thomas Guide, the exhaustive pre-Google street atlas that Angelenos like my dad once used to navigate their sprawling city by car. In contrast to the “egocentric” view of today’s Google Maps and Waze, in which the driver is centered on the screen, the Thomas Guide taught the importance of learning one’s surroundings. It’s not clear that we’re better off today. The essay got shout-outs from the New York Times and L.A. Times this week. Read it here.
As a preview, this week we’ll be publishing a timely contribution by Nicole Antebi, an artist whose films and installations often draw from old maps. She writes about crafting an animation of the historic traces of the Rio Grande, the river that forms the border between El Paso, Texas (her hometown), Juárez, Mexico, and Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Inspired by Harold Fisk’s famous “meander maps” of the Mississippi, Antebi’s creations are a reminder that, as she writes, “a ‘frozen’ map cannot do justice to the will of a river, and nor can a border hold back the will of people who need to cross.” Check out a clip of Antebi’s moving map below, and watch for the story later this week on CityLab.
But wait, there’s more! We’re still looking for contributors for this series. If you have a longer personal essay to share about how a map has affected your private or public life, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, we’re inviting MapLab readers to share mini-essays that talk about a map that means a lot to you. Maybe you’ve got a tale about an old road map folded in your glove compartment, Google Street View screengrab, a geography textbook or travel guide, or a historic map that led you on an adventure. You can submit those stories here. In a few weeks, we’ll publish a selection of these reader-submitted stories. (Thank you to those of you who’ve already written in!)
If writing an essay isn’t your thing, we’d still love to hear from you. Share links or photos of maps that made an impression on you by tagging @citylab and using the hashtag #MapsThatMakeUs on Twitter and Instagram. You can follow along in this series by bookmarking this series landing page, or signing up for this newsletter if you aren’t already subscribed. As they say, mappy reading.
A tragicomic font for America’s electoral districts
Gerrymandering, the practice of carving electoral districts into shapes that contain key swathes of voters, is an age-old practice in the U.S. The origins of the word come from 19th century Massachusetts, when the peculiar shape of one voting district created under Governor Elbridge Gerry reminded a local magazine of a salamander.
The practice is also a huge problem in any country that claims to be a representational democracy, especially in the age of big data. Parties in power can manipulate voting boundaries in order to suppress their opponents and secure themselves in office, even if that doesn’t actually reflect voters’ desires in a particular region.
Now there’s a way to express your thoughts about gerrymandering in an extremely appropriate typeface. Two Chicago-based advertising creatives have created “Gerry,” a font that is fashioned from the shapes of real electoral districts in the U.S. Follow this link to download the 26-character set, or write directly into a text generator that tweets at your congressional representative.
Hours of fun: Nexar, a traffic safety app, has unleashed a near-real-time live map of New York City streets. (CityLab) ♦ Dazzling: Works of silverpoint inspired by early female astronomers, now on display in south Florida. (Boca Raton Museum of Art) ♦ Safety first: Major mapping apps are ignoring requests to add warning notifications at railroad crossings. (The Verge) ♦ The original view: Indigenous mapmakers depicted how they saw 16th century Mexico. (Hyperallergic) ♦ Parched lands: Mapping dwindling water supplies in the U.S. (Washington Post)
Thanks for reading as always. If you got this email forwarded to you, subscribe to MapLab here.