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, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
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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.
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.
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.
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)
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