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.


When I think of the U.S. Midwest, I think of its cities. There’s Chicago, the architecture lover’s metropolis; Minneapolis, where the cold seems to filter out mean people; Cleveland, a town striving to move beyond its Rust Belt roots.

But if you asked me to draw on a map where the Midwest is, that would be more challenging. The vast interior region, with many more miles of fields than urban land, has no standardized boundaries or borders. In contrast with the West Coast, the Northeast Corridor, or the Sunbelt, the Midwest’s lack of definition makes it easy for politicians to romanticize, including some of the Democratic candidates stumping for president right now. The term “heartland,CityLab’s David Montgomery wrote earlier this month, “is often invoked to suggest a simpler, more agrarian, and often more virtuous place than whatever else the Midwest is being compared to at any given moment.”

Fortunately, Montgomery is here to help nail down where the Midwest begins and ends. For CityLab, he collected more than 12,000 responses to an online survey that asked respondents whether they considered their ZIP codes to belong in the Midwest. Then, he mapped the results.

“There is a core area that most everyone agrees is Midwestern,” he wrote, “including cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, St. Louis, and Kansas City.”

But it’s still complicated—and contentious. When CityLab posted some of the early results on Twitter, a number of readers were alarmed that cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Louisville would ever be considered Midwestern. Others held their torch high, defending concepts such as a “cultural Midwest.” And some scholars argue that the idea of a universal mantle to define the region is ridiculous in the first place. While Montgomery’s data isn’t likely to put the fighting to rest, at least it offers a snapshot of how Midwesterners understand themselves.

Read the story on CityLab, and don’t forget to fill out our What’s the Midwest? survey, which is still ongoing.


A love story in three maps

Don’t sleep on the latest installment of the Maps That Make Us, CityLab’s series of personal essays about the power of maps to shape our lives. Thomas Dai, whose essays have also appeared in the Literary Hub, The Southern Review, and The Rumpus, writes about how his love story blossomed across three international cities.

(Madison Johnson/CityLab)

Now, as his boyfriend moves to a new continent without him, maps have become a touchstone for how they’ll chart the future. Here’s an excerpt:

For Liam’s last birthday, I got him three maps—one for each of the three cities where we’ve lived as a couple. I bought the templates for these maps on Etsy, printing them off at Walgreens and mounting them on our kitchen wall in flimsy, black frames. Read left to right like a geographic sentence, the maps show better than any photo album or stack of correspondence how our relationship has developed across time and space.

Now, ever since Liam told me he was leaving, I catch myself staring at the maps at least once a day, as if these representations of where we have been can help me navigate to wherever it is we are going.

Read Dai’s full essay.


Mappy links

A foliage prediction map, from September to November. (Smoky Mountains)

Make like a tree: A hard-to-look-away-from map shows when your nearby leaves will change. (CityLab) ♦ The Lyft app is becoming more like Google Maps. (CityLab) ♦ The world’s cash-stash: Researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of Copenhagen mapped global tax havens. (Fiscal Times) ♦ City of women: a beloved map of New York subway stations named for prominent female leaders gets an update. (6sqft) ♦ The one mention of the I-word in this newsletter: An advocacy group is mapping which members of Congress have announced their support for the process to impeach President Trump. (Politico)


Happy fall, friends. Sign up your loved ones for MapLab here.

Take care,

Laura Bliss

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a commuter looks at a small map of the London Tube in 2009
    Maps

    As London’s Tube Expands, So Does the Fight Over Its Map

    It’s never been easy to design a map of the city’s underground transit network. But soon, critics say, legibility concerns will demand a new look.

  2. A photo-illustration of a child looking at a garbage truck
    Life

    Why Are Kids Obsessed With Garbage Trucks? An Investigation

    For some kids, the weekly trash pickup is a must-see spectacle. Parents, children, waste-management professionals, and experts on childhood all offer theories as to why.

  3. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  4. photo: A vacant home in Oakland that is about to demolished for an apartment complex.
    Equity

    Fix California’s Housing Crisis, Activists Say. But Which One?

    As a controversy over vacancy in the Bay Area and Los Angeles reveals, advocates disagree about what kind of housing should be built, and where.

  5. A heavy layer of smog over Paris
    Environment

    How Much Are You 'Smoking' by Breathing Urban Air?

    A new app can tell you (and it’s not pretty).  

×