How it all works.

I'm trolling New York City collecting maps from flyers, government reports, informational brochures and such with the notion that all these maps will all somehow join together to create a complete map of NYC. The maps have to exist in real life- no downloads and cannot be rescaled or cut to fit.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beautiful Chinese maps

I don't want to turn this into a blog of other people's maps but I have to show you this. I was going through my old bookmarks just now and a website that was full of porn the last time I checked (years ago) *ahem*is now dedicated to maps. Beautiful Chinese maps. Look at these. Gorgeous.

This is just from one page. There are hundreds of pages.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Bronx.

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about local history or do any research at all before I went to a neighborhood to troll for maps and that I was only going to comment on current conditions and first impressions but I realise now that this approach is silly and ignorant and does a disservice both to myself and the neighborhood I’m attempting to describe. A neighborhood today is the product of its history; its fabric, culture and demographic the result of decisions made by its residents and its elected officials as well as events in the wider world. I was taught this humbling lesson through my trolling of the fascinating and confounding borough of the Bronx and meeting the crazy, resilient and normal people who live there. I mean I could have spent the next few months pointing out the little quirks and oddities I found around me but without historical context, they mean nothing at all. The little yellow house I took a picture of? The chickens? The masses of community gardens? Nothing.

Why are there so many community gardens in a city where land values are so high? Why is there so little original, 19th Century housing in the Bronx whereas Brooklyn still has vast swathes of the original housing stock? Why is the Bronx so poor here, mere miles from Wall St and Midtown?

To answer these questions I first trolled through the unreliable minefield that is Wikipedia and feasted upon the myths and legends there. I discovered that the Bronx was once a much different place than it is now.

Before the map thing, I’d only been to the Bronx twice. Once to buy a record player and another time to go to the zoo. I had heard something of its reputation as a rough place and no place at all to live or to visit after dark. I had heard the words ‘South Bronx’ uttered as a sneer, an oath, a warning but had no clear idea of what actually they meant. I then read some real books that were actually published, written by people who either lived in the Bronx or studied in a college of some repute and what I learned blew my mind. I’ve been terrorising friends and strangers alike with tales of the Bronx and now I set down in pixels this incredible story of birth, destruction and rebirth.

Now I grew up in North Liverpool during the 1980’s so I have some experience with declining populations, high unemployment, half abandoned housing estates stalked by drug addicts and bored youths looking for a fight and whilst it wasn’t exactly ‘white flight’ that happened to Liverpool, there was ‘middle class flight’ - they fled the inner city (and probably Liverpool entirely) as unruly elements and lethargy threatened to overwhelm the weakening social order, the increasingly ineffective and under funded police force and all presided over by a government that was seen by many of the residents who were left behind to have, if not actually precipitated and encouraged the decline in Liverpool’s fortunes, then had at least done nothing to try to halt it. North Liverpool hardly seemed like a viable community at all, or at least the part of it that I lived in didn’t. 25% unemployment, vandalism everywhere and only two people on our street owned a car. We played a game called man-hunt in the beautiful old abandoned grammar school across the road until a smack head burnt it down trying to cover his tracks. Our little gang would set fire to anything we could get away with; there was so much fuel about- they filled the inner walls on the Radcliff estate with straw, by Christ! We weren’t even the bad kids.I remember as a time of piss, puddles and fires.

What happened to Liverpool during the 70’s and 80 and 90’s mirrored what was happening in many Western urban centers but the decay and destruction in the Bronx was so rapid, systematic and total that it threatened to engulf the Bronx completely. The devastation was so total that some local politicians and industry leaders thought that it would be better to withdraw the remaining residents and, ‘blacktop the whole area and make it an industrial park.’ You have to watch the otherwise feeble film Wolfen to see some great footage of how it was. Visitors to the Bronx likened it to post war German towns and this in a place that was mainly farmland less than a century before. Like every good urban tale, it begins in the 1840s and it is, of course, a history of real estate and it is very difficult to tell this tale without telling you a history of Bronx real estate patterns. I’ll begin next time. For now I leave you with the progress I've made on the Bronx so far. This is the South Bronx and I've nearly finished it except for a bit over to the left and I've been over there 3 times and there just are no maps there. Poo.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Riverdale etc.


There are so many nice things in the world and I own so few of them- like this Porsche, for example. And a beautiful two storey house nestled on the leafy banks of the Hudson River, steps away from the Spuyten Duyvil Metro-North, a short ride, maybe in a nice Porsche from a ‘shopping-street-with-a-small-town-feel’ where one can enjoy tolerable pizza and beer with one’s local friends and buy pastries and mail a letter. One’s fine, fine children will be privately educated in one of the Great Private Schools scattered about hillsides and one’s wife will play bridge and attend functions. Or whatever good Upper Middle Class Jewish Families do when they live in gorgeous neighborhoods. I would like to have seen it decades ago before they built the huge blocks of flats. Is a nice neighborhood still nice even after you’ve built the behemoth in front of the sun and the river and covered half the hills with parking. In all fairness, the bit I really liked covered only about a block of prettiness down the hill towards the station, up the hill is 30 blocks of pettiness. Nowhere outside of the heavy artillery firing range at Fort Carson, Colorado have I seen so many signs warning trespassers to stay out, no soliciting, no photographs, parking for residents only and if it happens that you are lucky enough to be invited to visit a guest in their apartment, detailed instructions on how to approach the residence, and that’s only in Spuyten Duyvil, the less tony of the upper Bronx neighbourhoods, fuck Fieldston.


Fuck Fieldston


If you felt like trespassing all over Fieldston, braving their private police security, soliciting, taking pictures and parking your car where you’re not supposed to, you will see that the nice house in a leafy glade without the sun blocking behemoth can exist in New York City because that’s what happens when you live in a private community, pay dues to the Fieldston Property Owners' Association who take over responsibilities of the city and no doubt have a covenant prohibiting you to do anything within Fieldston other than drive your nice black Porsche in and out of your driveway to go to work.

This is not the case with The Riverdales, known as South Riverdale, Riverdale and North Riverdale where the cottages and other single family homes are interspersed with big apartment buildings blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, what am I, a fucking realtor? I’m not going back up there because there’s nothing to do, of course there’s a park but there’s a park down the road from ours. Damn it, I have to go back because I didn’t find enough maps. I can’t talk about this place because I was only there for a couple of hours. I liked the Irish workmen walking their tiny dogs; I always wondered where those fellas lived. I liked the homeless shelter on the seedy end of the neighborhood and the loonies standing outside it. It always gets seedy near the border. I liked the border and I stepped over it to experience the wonders of Yonkers briefly. I liked the Bx 7 bus that took me swiftly from Riverdale to Manhattan and although it wasn’t quite as nice as the black Porsche of my other life, at least I could finish my book.