Perhaps a key feature of all maps is their ability to visually depict different realities by distilling and privileging some information over others. In this sense, maps are always political and should be read as such, including paying close attention to the conditions of their production. They are also always partial and perspectival, regardless of their claims to authority. What we choose to show in a map is therefore fundamental because it is a way of framing and codifying a particular view of a place. That this quality of maps is often hidden or left unacknowledged might be one important issue for a critical urban practice.
Embedded within the question of what to map is the question of how to map. The maps we use in everyday life, such as those available on Google, or the paper maps we relied on to navigate in the past, leave out much: scale, colour coding, longitude and latitude, do not account for temporality, touch, memory, relations, stories and narratives – in fact it is experience that is altogether removed. Rather than only mapping the physical qualities of space, we can also map the social relations embedded within a place, the way people use a space, or the overlapping claims made on a particular area by different groups of people.
Such mapping requires different techniques to those of conventional cartography. We may need to find ways of representing blurry boundaries, fuzzy edges and novel points of view. We might also think about what the purpose of the map is and who its audience is. A map that attempts to show the workings of a complex organisation to the general public would look very different from a map that shows a group of people their daily routes through the city.
Janet Abrams and Peter Hall (eds.), Else/Where: Mapping New Cartographies of Networks and Territories (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Design Institute, 2006).
Denis Cosgrove, “Cultural cartography: maps and mapping in cultural geography,” Annales de Géographie no. 660-661/2 (2008): 159–178. http://doi.org/10.3917/ ag.660.0159
Lize Mogel and Alexis Bhagat (eds.), An Atlas of Radical Cartography (Los Angeles: Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, 2008).
Doina Petrescu, “Relationscapes: Mapping agencies of relational practice in architecture”, City, Culture and Society vol. 3 no. 2 (2012): 135–140. http://doi. org/10.1016/j.ccs.2012.06.011
Denis Wood and Ira Glass, Everything sings: Maps for a narrative atlas (Los Angeles, CA: Siglio, 2010)