Category Archives: California

Loopy Maps to Rationalize Random Shut-Offs?

The announcement in California of the arrival of random power shut-offs this fire season sent everyone scrambling to maps. In order to stop fires spread of fires, the impending public safety power shut-offs crashed websites as folks scrambled to get updates in real time, frustrated by the relative opacity of maps in a hub of high tech mapping and public data, as the impending possibility of power shut-offs wreaked neurological chaos on peoples’ bearings. From mapping fires, we transitioned to the uncertainty of mapping regions where consumers would lose power in an attempt to prevent fires from spreading due to strikes on live wires of broken limbs, branches, or failed transmission structures whose immanent collapse were feared to trigger apocalyptic fires of the scale of those witnessed last fires season, as the largest fire in California history raged for days, destroying property and flattening towns, burning victims who followed GPS lacking real-time information about fires’ spread.

In an eery mirroring of looking to maps to monitor the real-time spread of fires, which we sensed in much of California by smoke’s acrid air, the expectancies to which we had been habituated to consult real-time updates was transferred to the availability of electricity, in a sort of mirror image unsurprising as the outages were intended to stop fires’ spread. The decision to continue public power safety shut-offs as a part of the new landscape of controlling fires’ spread in future years–perhaps needs to be accepted for up to a decade, although this was walked back to but five years in recent years.

Expanded power shut-offs justified by needs for public safety suggest how much climate change has changed the expanded nature of fire risk. But in an era when the vast majority of televised segments that aired on network television– ABC, CBS, and NBC combined–despite an abundance of powerful image and video footage the 243 segments on destructive wildfires raging across northern and southern California, a type of public disinformation seems to have been practiced by most news outlets that served only to disorient viewers from gaining any purchase on the fires, colored by the shifting validity of climate change denial as a position among their viewing public: only eight of the news media mentions of the fires, or 3.3%, mentioned climate change as a factor in the fires’s spread, from October 21 to November 1, as the spread of fires in northern California grew that precipitated public power shut-offs. If new cycles shy away from citing climate change as a factor on the spread of fires, most of the mentions came from specific weather reporters, from NBC’s Al Roker to CBS’ Jeff Berardelli, extending the range of fire seasons and area of burn, the silo-ization of such explanations were rarely digested in mainline reporting. And if FOX ran 179 segments on the fires, more than other cable networks, climate change was mentioned in 1.7%, with most segments mocking the contribution of climate change.

If we are poorly served by the news media in reporting the fires and downplaying climate change–or indeed criticizing California for poorly maintaining its forests’ safety, as President Trump, the eery landscapes provided by PG&E raise questions about the messages they communicate.

But the electric green maps of a startlingly unnatural aquamarine, yellow, and orange suggested a strange distantiation of the landscape in the age of Climate Change. The electrified hues of the maps, which monitored the possibility of customers loosing electricity in many districts, reveals a level of poor management and lack of any coherent strategy for climate change as much as the huge area that is served by PG&E, and the man-made infrastructure of electricity and transmission towers, which courts have rightly decided the privately-owned power agency that serves state residents is responsible for.

While we follow the news, even among the most die-hard news addicts, the prospect of “public safety” power shut-offs seemed unannounced and irresponsible, and a premonition of a new landscape of risk. For the shut-offs that were announced as impending by PG&E reflect a deep insecurity of fires, climate change and perhaps what we feared was a collective unpreparedness to deal with a new set of implications of climate crisis we have not even been able to acknowledge or even fully recognize, but which seemed spinning out of control–even in the nature of maps that were made of it–and to betray a lack of imagination, creativity, and foresight, abandoning the long-term view.

The sense of emergency electrifies a landscape whose woodland-urban interface is electrified by aging power structures and transmission lines, carrying increased current to extra-urban areas. And there is a fear that the long-term view is lacking, as we continue to turn to maps, even months after the first shut-offs were announced to forestall fears of a raging fire season. As we map the expanding sense of risk to respond to both demand for currently updated real-time maps for fires, and the calamitous images of apocalyptic fires raging that dominate the news cycle and make us fear the near future, or have a sense of living with a deferred sense of emergency at our doorsteps. And so when we received a text message of impending loss of electricity, we turned en masse to maps to learn about outages at risk, alerted to the need to ready ourselves as best we could by our local government-

Extreme fire prevention funding, precarious in the Trump Era, stands to be abolished as the Dept. of Interior retreats from federal fire programs: the Wildland Fire Office, funded at $13 million in 2012, if slated to be abolished in the Trump era, in an agenda denying climate change, lacks funding, undermining close scientific examination of a new topography of fires, even as climate change has increased the costliness of fires and the ferocity of their spreads. If the costs of the Camp Fire of 2018 grow beyond $10 billion–or over six times as much as the Oakland Firestorm of 1991–those costs and the cost of insurance liabilities only stand to grow. As we confront poor planning of climate readiness, as we lack real images of extinguishing fires’ spread–and imagine the temporary shut offs can intervene as a deus ex machine to prevent fires’ spreads all we have to forestall the fears of spreading flames and intense firestorms or whirls.

In the Bay Area, where I live, the danger of the new firescape is so pressing, and so impossible to process, that we can only digest it as a danger that is ever-present, akin to living in an active seismic area, but we cannot process in a static or dynamic map.

But this is an area of risk that we are living cheek-by-jowl beside in ways that are truly unfathomable. As the power shut-off zones have been expanded in clearer detail by PG&E in response to the growing gustiness of winds that threaten to compromise the safety of residents as well as the aging electric infrastructure of the state, we are oddly haunted by past promises to maintain or upgrade our national infrastructure–the promise to rebuild national infrastructure was itself an energizing call of the Trump campaign–only to be demoted by being assigned, with improved veteran care, the opioid addiction, workforce retraining, and the Middle East peace to Jared Kushner, in ways tantamount to moving it to the way back burner, soon after being mentioned in the State of the Union as a non-partisan issue in January, 2018.

And yet, the spread of fires with increased rapidity, across landscapes that remain highly flammable, has created terrifying imagers of a highly combustible landscapes, where the recent growth of fires–in this case, the Kincade Fire that did began only long after the shut-off policies began–chart the spread of fires across terrain multiple times larger than cities, moving across the landscape rapidly, driven by unprecedentedly strong offshore winds: the passing overhead of satellites charts its expansion, making us fear the expansion of the next pass overhead as realtime images of the durations of fires only grows.

Burrito Justice/VIIRS/MODIS fire spread map/October 27, 2019

Sure, the current landscape had long seemed to be burning up at a rate we had not begun to adequately acknowledge–as Peter Aldhous promptly reminded any of us who needed reminding in Buzzfeed, providing a GIF of CalFire’s data of areas of California that had burned since the 1950s, decade by decade, in an animation of red bursts of flames atop a black map, that seemed to eerily illuminate the state by the 2000s, and hit much of the north by the 2010s, as they close,–illuminating fires as a state-localized crisis–

Peter Aldhous for Buzzfeed from Cal Fire and frap.fire.ca.gov

but the scope of human-caused fires that have consumed land, property, and habitat are a truly endemic crisis in California, he showed, in ways that he suggested reflect a parched landscape and the uptick of human-generated fires that are a direct consequence of climate change, especially in a region of increased residential construction. This sense of illumination places a huge onus on PG&E for its corporate responsibility, and the very notion of distributing electricity and power as we once did,–and illuminates the imperative to think about a new form of energy grid.

Human-Generated Fires Peter Aldhous/Buzzfeed

Indeed, the parsing of “human-caused fires” as a bucket suggests the real need to expand the classification of wildfires. Whereas most earlier fires were caused by lightening strikes in the western states, the expansion of housing and electricity into areas suffering from massive drought–as if in an eery reflection of the spread of “slash fires” across the midwest during the expansion of railroads that caused a rage if firestorms coinciding with World War I–press against the category of fires as wild. The deeper question that these maps provoke–as do the data of Cal Fire–is whether the term wildfires is appropriate to discuss the hugely increased risk of fires that damage or destroy property and land.

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Filed under California, Climate Change, energy infrastructure, PG&E, urban interface

On the Proposed Balkanization of California

Timothy C. Draper fondly reminisced that “I grew up in the state that was number one in education, the number one place to do business and the best place to live.”  The venture capitalist who brought the nation hotmail, Skype, and Tesla was savoring the new mental landscape that he argues would be recaptured by remapping California as six separate states. That simple cartographic intervention, and the “autonomy” it would serve to return each region–or all of its six new states to be carved from it–would fulfill the ideals of a rapidly receding past, and allow each to independnetly confront the problems of a crumbling infrastructure, poorly performing public schools, and pension obligations for state workers, and taxation practices that he judges unfriendly to business.  The “start-up guy” sought to restart the project of California in 2014, spending $5.2 million to liberate each of the state’s six parts, which failed to make the ballot, if it gained the national spotlight thanks to Stephen Colbert. The self-defined “start-up guy” returned to the table to reparse the largest state in the union in 2018, when the notion of national division gained traction in the national news, with hopes to give a greater tax franchise to at least two of the regions–the rump “California” around Los Angeles and Orange County; “North California;” and “South California”–as if to allow citizens to self-sort themselves into their own “like-minded” communities and unique styles of governing, to reboot the largest state that had just become too populous into three.

The insistence of these aspirations to cartographic self-definition suggests, in other words, the fiction of independence that Silicon Valley has been selling the nation for some time. As Draper has argued American would be best by adopting Bitcoin as its national currency, cutting out the Federal Reserve as so much excess baggage, the big stakes questions as land maintenance, coastal commissions, and Fish & Wildlife would be deferred, as would many questions of ecological conservation and fire management that are currently on the front burners of most Californians. By persuading us to see the state as a set of discrete regions, however, bushy-eyebrowed Draper hopes to urge voters to realize his political strategy to divide California into six cantons of different hues.  And when he rolled out the project for dividing the state–and its resources and economy–once again into three states,  one named simply “California” on the coast below San Jose to Los Angeles, bounded by the “Northern” and “Southern” California, as if in an attempt to make the map look clearer, Draper seeks to persuade voters to overlook the complex web of natural resources (like water), but huge discrepancies in public education, pension plans, transportation needs, and water management that demand resolution in coming decades–and in effect heighten the levels of inequality already permeating the state, as well as diluting its political voice.

A six-color map of the state offered the rallying call to generate support for his map to renewed economic prosperity–a spectrum intent to underscore inherent differences between each region.  The cartographic division of the state became a logo for a movement, found a nice logo in six colors, designed to strike a key in reflect the parched nature of the more arid (purple; red; orange) and waterless or irrigated areas of the state, and to suggest they were best left to fend for themselves, especially, perhaps, the orange Southern California and the Imperial Valley and bright red Central California’s desert. The coastal communities would have their liberties, and the tax franchises that went with them.

New Map of California

Draper’s initiative to “divide” California into six California’s–six separate states–picks up the inventive cartographies of division that partition the United States into more “rational” or “reasonable” mega-regions, macro-states, or mini-countries, and betrays what little sense he has of the environmental or ecological status of the state.  His proposal stands at odds to how, back in 1837, the German-American jurist Franz Lieber famously doubted that merely altering hues of any map could affect its political economy. He doubted that “the face of our country would change” as a result, and saw little impact for changing a map’s color-scheme, and hoped that “if the engravers were able to sell their maps less boisterously painted and not as they are now, each county of each state in flaming red, bright yellow, or a flagrant orange dye arrayed, like the cover produced by the united efforts of a quilting match.”  Lieber had studied topographic mapping in Dresden before coming to America, and meant to contrast realities of political economy with the coloration of maps–probably contrasting the four-color maps of the United States to those of Prussia with his Berlin-trained mind’s eye; the flagrant color-scheme of a map, however, becomes a device for Draper to urge that we remake California into six “political entities” that most of those living in them wouldn’t actually recognize.

In treating California as a landmass whose extent is able to be parceled into six–or three–blocks, the iconic visualization presumes “California” is not a landscape bound by coastal rivers, streams, glacial ice-pack, or viaducts, but might be parsed as the graphic designer wishes, in what seems the utter alienation of map from place.  By converting California to six cantons, the hope is to remake the state as six more manageable mega-regions to bridge perceived distances between government and Californians.  Draper represents the remapping of the state as a means to reconnect its residents to a model of good government in something of an extension of the argument of states’ rights.  The graphical division of the Golden State into six entities, maxi-regions or mini-states, each emptied of local meaning and purged of cities, provides the rallying cry of the venture capitalist’s movement for the May 2016 ballot, having gained over 1.3 million signatories of in-state residents–at the time of its submission in mid-July–and of a charge that Draper hopes would open up the possibility that other states follow the lead of his movement to break into separate states as well.

The return to the map as an iconic form of taking self-consciousness as Draper urges is a bit odd, to be sure, for a libertarian. For the image of the map as an icon of national destiny–the pentagon of France; the “lebensraum” of Germany; the unity of China–has a distinctly nationalist heritage, as does the call for a Red-State America with disturbing similarities in its contours to the Confederate States of America. The map indeed conceals, by a nice slight of hand, how much of California is “open space” managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense, or Bureau of Land Management, in its attempt to carve up neat bundles of California in the hopes that these would align–or soon come to align–with independent interests. Fearing the administration of wilderness areas of the National Park Service or Forest Service during the Trump regime, Governor Jerry Brown had indeed not only filed a spate of twenty-four law suits against the Trump administration in 2017, the first year of the Trump Presidency, but questioned the validity of any attempt by the chief executive to sell or exchange land rights in the state, by pronouncing them void ab initio, without review by the State Land Commission, fearing the dismantling of hard-won environmental protections across the state.

The defense of undeveloped land that Brown holds dear and near was a pre-emptive strike that provoked a quick legal response from Jeff Sessions’ DOJ: “California was admitted to the Union upon the express condition that it would never interfere with the disposal of federal land,” he cautioned, defending the “rightful prerogatives” of the Interior Department, U.S. Military, and Bureau of Land Management “to buy, sell, exchange or donate federal properties in a lawful manner in the national interest” that should rightly make Californians fear the actual intent of the U.S. Government. While the admission of California to the United States in 1850 indeed stipulated that “the people of the said State, through their legislature or otherwise, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the public lands within its limits,” the mandate for the state’s defense over those public lands may well be, in an era of accentuated climate change and fire danger, the rationale for rationale for administering public lands had so dramatically changed since the expropriation of public lands from indigenous tribes and mandates of public land management that the threat of their misadministration or maladministration by the rapacious Interior Dept. of the Trump era had grown pronounced–and fears of the placement of lands of the Bureau of Land Management and National Parks had been warranted, given the stunning removal of public lands protections in the first year of Trump’s administration, mostly directed to review the protections of federally owned lands from oil and gas drilling, groundwater mining, logging, and offshore drilling–all triggers for immediate protection–as well as removing responses to climate change from the administration of Park Service lands. The real fears of leasing lands for oil and gas extraction had led to the leasing of 223,200 acres of public lands to private individuals in FY 2014 alone, and the expansion of such leases would render the potential influx of cash as music to Draper’s libertarian ears.

While Draper’s initiative of the “Three Californias” was not openly framed by the tussle over land management over open spaces or wilderness areas, the fact of the federal management of 45% of California’s territory provoked fear of a slippage of protection of grazing rights, timber and forest management, and development of extractive industry that were cleverly concealed by the Three Californias, and which render California a fairly unique target of free market forces. The anger DOJ barely concealed in sniping at the “extreme state law attempting to frustrate federal policy” that Attorney General Sessions may have been born from venting about the state’s resistance to policies of border protection, and the incarceration of “illegal” migrants, with the pretense of drug enforcement, but created a unique opening for Draper’s initiative, an economic bottom-line of as limited ethical scope and compass one might associate with Don Draper, the fictional composite protagonist of “Mad Men,” but aligns closely with the brutal calculus of Tim Draper’s broad-strokes vision of governmental reform. Perhaps the true base-map, if often hidden, that lies beneath the busting up of California as a state are the network of environmental protections and protection of public lands and coasts, enforced by state regulations and commissions, that would be removed by the division of the state into cantons that would be open to the free market, pried from a vision of environmental stewardship.

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Filed under California, data visualizations, environmental stewardship, Six Californias, Timothy Draper

Savoir Your Terroir

How to spatialize the taste of wine is perhaps less important than the legal grounds of defining who has a right to produce wines of a given name.  But the wine map has become a genre in its own right to link the sensory experience of wine-tasting with the geography of place.  Especially in an increasingly homogenized spatial landscape, the preservation of place and locality–denominations or appelations–that guarantee the specificity of wine-quality by not only a legally defined and protected classification of geographical indication, but a preserve a sense of the landscape as defined for wine-growing. While the notion of a “terroir” is not exclusively dedicated to wine by any mens in France–one might speak as well of the “quality of the terroir” of cheeses, meats, or other local foods, assimilating them to the earthiness of the map–

–and indeed of any region, showing the produce as indigenous to the quality of the earth, tied to each region of France, as if the earth had produced the produce of the region without human help–a sense that was enouraged by the individually embodied depiction of each region as the Fons et Origo of its produce, people, and crest.

–the definition of “terroir” has been appropriated and adopted by California wind-growers to define their place within a geography of enological status in recent years. In an age of globalization and web-based maps, the artisanal notions of cartographic authorship are mined to the max in hand-styled maps of the regions of wines, foods, and and cheeses, or of traditional knives, that proliferate in the mapminded culture of France. Even the authoritative maps of the Loire Valley meld their scientificity with the sophistication of the appelations of burgundies, as the name of France is itself almost less legible, or on just too grand a scale, for the readers of the varietals of the Loire Valley, or Val de Loire, a region that assumes primacy as a center of visual attention, exploration, and savoring that seems designed to translate to the palate, as much as eye.

The recent imagery of the California’s wine productions using in barrels and clusters of grapes in an old tourist poster of the state for San Francisco’s Wine Advisory Board in ways that beckoned visitors to rural areas of the state, distanced in their symbology from AAA maps of the region’s roads and even from motor travel, but seemed to transport one to a land of barrel-rolling and wine-sipping that recast the state in predominantly rural terms where wine-growing occurred exclusively in a set bucolic regions removed from urban life. Indeed, the transformation of Napa region to a “wine country” that is removed from the city and industry–even if San Francisco is hardly a City of Industry–

–but rather one of relaxation, an alternative world to discover that lies close at hand, and indeed that beckons. The tacky directional orientations in such pictorial wine maps from regions as the Napa Valley suggest the arrival in a bucolic space, free from cares, where the presence of instrumentation is absent from the natural nature of tools of directional orientation, in a region of the world where the very surface of the map is besotted with grape juice or wine.

While selectively omitting any sense of urban settlement or indeed automotive conveyances, the Wine Advisory Board seems to have been designed to seduce visitors by the cartographical vignettes of relaxing workers and relaxed banjo-playing, in ways that naturalize the wine-growing as part of the landscape in order to boost local wines an era when California reds were often cast as the poorer cousin of fancier French wines.  To make the point that the state was so nourished by the year-round sun to be the land of wine-growing, oak barrels are plentiful from Santa Clara up past Mendocino, in an alternate tourist map that suggested how wines themselves transported one to the vineyards of the California countryside.  There was a time when the bounty of wine harvests in Northern California led the region to be cast as a site blessed by vineyards and grape harvest, where the light of the sun distinguished the Napa and Solano Valleys or the grapes of Sonoma as winemaking towns in a predominantly rural idiom.

WINES, Napa Valley to Fresno.png

But more than any other impression, one can sense by the map’s vintage that oenology is not, in the American West, at this time a refined science, so much as an almost rustic pursuit, destined for tourists and removed from the pressures of urban life:  much as the wines are themselves able to transport one to an idyllic rural setting, removed from race, class, work, and urban congestion, to a landscape in which one might leisurely repose.   Little sense of knowledge about wines seems important.

But the times have changed, as they often do, and the rise of the Napa regions are in the course of placing themselves on the map, as if to update the criteria for rustic travel and enological tourism, to respond to how California wines are appearing a global market for wines, and to place the region on the map in a way that it once never was. The precision of classifying terroir has migrated to northern California, and done so to secure California’s place on a global wine market, to authoritatively define its place in relation to the scientific standards of wine that are used world-wide to ensure in vino veritas, or at least identify with security the provenance of the wine as a basis for its quality. The objective authority that maps bestow on products is a novelty in northern California, but the scientificity of mapping, chemical analysis and secure ranking have become terms of economic validation.

1.  For in California, the notion of terroir is absent.  Indeed, the precision or authority of the claims of individual growing regions of viticulture that has become so important in recent years was long completely absent.  The division of such divides reflect–and have common origins with–the proliferation of descriptors that are usually blamed on Robert Parker, who enriched the descriptive language of wine-drinking with terms as acidity, astringency, jamminess, balance, and oakiness who also bequeathed the notion of “intellectually satisfying” wines to underscore the discriminating judgement involved in tasting good wines that so effectively remapped wine-drinking as a learned intellectual experience to bring it out of the rural land in which much California wine-growing was long symbolically enshrined.

Claiming his place at the avant-garde of bucking this trend in cartographical symbology,  northern California-based oenophile David Gijsen recently returned to the mapping of northern California vineyards and varietals in recent years.  Gissen followed the recent trends in mapping mass transit when he decided to remap his adventures in wine-tasting to distinguish his adventures in wine-tasting in the region, and cleverly adopted an image familiar from public transit to suggest how California wine-tasting has become a new mass-experience, tied to how we experience the wine-growing regions of the state.  Rather than employ the agrarian images of bountiful vineyards, his symbology shifted the metaphorical rooting of a wine’s terroir in a bucolic agrarian setting of the vineyard.  And in place of evoking (and romanticizing) bucolic fields of grapes, his map charted vineyards to reflect the dominant destination of wines’ identification for an urban audience who traveled to the nearby Napa Valley to experience its wines at first hand in ways that communicate the crowded weekend highways filled with pleasure-seeking wine-tasters, as much the countryside.

Indeed, the genre of viticulture maps that designate terroir serve to orient customers of wine–and have they long done so–to the basement cellars often located in urban restaurants or wine stores, as if to make them feel invited into the specific regions that they were grown.  As much as symbolic declarations of denominations, the maps of wines offer virtual imagined itineraries of tasting the fruits of specific regions.  And they offered a basis to distinguish an urban audience’s virtual wine tasting–and indeed to privilege the unique terroirs of an individual region’s viticulture.  Gissen’s iconographic punning on Harry Beck’s 1931 design of the London underground as a circuit registers–perhaps unintentionally?–a longstanding English taste for cross-channel eno-tourism and wine tastings in the Loire valley and Bordeaux regions–as well as registering the rich colors of French wines.)

MetroMap-460

The legend alone is worth the price of this map, available on-line from Amazon.com, links city, town, region and oenological appellation in a handy cheat sheet and endearing tourist guide:

MetroKeyDetail

Gisssen made good on his credentials as an architectural theorist in order to map the local California wines with a very welcome sense of humor–a sense of humor all the more welcome given the disproportionate weightiness and serious stakes that is often associated with the mapping terroir.  Terroir is, at base, an economic reality for wine producers.   But the tourism of wine tasters is increasingly part of the travels to vineyards and tasting houses, and their experience is increasingly reflected in maps of place–they are, indeed, among the most common audiences for these maps.  In shifting the demarcation of regions to boost trust in the origins of provenance of a given region’s wines, Gissen reflects an urbanization of most wines’ market and (without stating it too openly) reflects the re-marketing of the terroir map as something of a guide to local wines:  yet, as Gissen notes, “the urban sense of wine has yet to receive a visual language” outside of pastoral aesthetics of most terroir, and he seeks to offer one.

2. Maps have long served to perpetuate the mystification of terroir by tying  the identifying characteristics of wines to terms easily recognized by an audience of consumers.  Of course, the practice mapping regional terroir derives from the French system of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), now widely adopted in other wine-producing countries to precise the geographic location of grape production.  The currency as an index of quality (and fetish) that terroir has acquired–and how it has been mapped to other regions as a sort of patent or fair-use standard of appellation–suggests a sort of viticultural zoning and essentialization of provenance.

Charting terroir demands an intense attention of the interaction of vine and environment based on creating a public record of long-cultivated local expertise of agricultural ecosystems–even if this sounds like a contradiction of sorts:  the sense of where you can cultivate grapes, or whose land is used for viticulture, reflects a historical messiness that territorial bounding of a set of fields dignified with one wine-type can’t really reflect.  The reduction of wine-types to the production of a given region, while intended as a protection for the producer to combat fraud, is often essentialized, leading to the widespread display and currency of terroir maps in wine stores that reflect on the consumers’ interest in selective drinking as a sign of social distinction; in other terms, the concept of terroir, derived from “terre” (and territoriality) confers cultural status to a wine’s taste–and effectively elevates the price one is willing to pay.  The notion of appellation is less about contiguity or clear cultural divides, however, than the sorts of soils and climates that serve best to define a wine making practice and taste, even as these are cast in apparently objective terms in a culture that privileged a univocal authoritative cartography.

64-56821

To be sure, the notion of a transparent mapping of “one wine, one region” seems informed by the administrative mapping of a gastronomic landscape that mirrors the division of France into discrete administrative Départments, which it sub-divides and refines.

carte_bovins_france

One possible ancestor of the mapping of terroirs is the great prototype of statistical mapping of regions which provided Parisians with cuts of meats, which Charles Joseph Minnard charted among other dense representations of data on the spaces for national commerce that included statistical  maps measuring how railways created a network commerce and or rivers were used as basis for the fluvial transport of goods.  To describe the relations of the provinces to Parisian markets, the bureaucrat Minnard distinguished both the sizes of multiple pie charts and their slices in this 1858 map to parse the meats arriving from different livestock into discrete administrative regions, which similarly tried to reconcile the notion of meat production with the rationality of the départments:

Minard Parisian consumption of meats

There is a similar mapping of economic exchanges rooted in a combination of microeconomics and taste in terroir maps. But the maps aim to create a social compact for an economic transaction that has yet to occur:  the mapping of terroir was conceived in response to expanded consumption,  as a cartographically refined register to track the authenticity of production of goods by crafting a graphic compact against fraudulent wines that protected the local vintner, rather than a statistical record of economic exchange. To be sure, the diversity of France was long predominantly cast not in linguistic, but agricultural terms, adding a special significance to the appreciation of terroir as a cultivated taste, and an appreciation of localities, tastes, and privileged access to individual regions, as much as a sense of local boosterism. The agrarian diversity of France was often cast in terms of bounty–the area of the nation that was without farms seems smaller than the regions dominated by cereals, but the areas of deep pink where vineyards grow, are distributed through broad swaths of the nation, if the largest continuous cluster is, famously, in the south–site also of the dominant vegetables of tomatoes and carrots.

French Agricultural Diversity

–but the terroir of vineyards reflects a geographically specific denomination, leading to a discrimination of the discrete localities by which the most savored wines arrived on a national, and increasingly global, market. But the globalization of terroir antedates its legal formulation in the French nation, and the tenacious grip of what seems a sort of enological copyright on a broad market for champagnes, and the tenaciousness of local growers to brand an increasingly broadly marketed appellation that they felt the need an economic imperative to secure .

French Agricultural Diversity

The 1908 definition of the terroir of Champagne set a legally binding definition of how the bubbly could be marketed under that name.  The definition set something of a benchmark for truth in marketing to fix authenticity of regional wines widely adopted to affirm the usurpation of any name outside the appellation–and reflecting to widespread trust in the objective truth of maps.

terroirs in France from CHampagne

The hope for graphically affirming how appellation was wed  to territoriality, analogously to the frontier of a state, may reflect a trust in the civil service, as the  Minnard map does.  But the format of mapping terroirs created lasting and continuing problems in the essentialization of the qualities of a wine’s taste.  The mapping of terrors provided an affirmation of difference and distinction, even when such variations as weather, humidity, shifts in soil quality, sunlight and a panoply of ecological factors themselves resisted clear mapping:  legislation culminated in the establishment from 1927 of formal recognition of the limits of viticulture, grape-harvesting, and pruning of vines within fixed boundaries that recognized the limits of provenance linked to approximate understandings of atmospheric character, quality of soil, and, in the case of Champagne, chalkiness.  The region of Champagne was mapped to define the distinctive region of finer deposits finer and more porous limestone soils, by limiting Champagne vineyards to some 15,000 growers, or just 3.4% of France’s vineyards, and set a standard that is still with us inherited today as an index of champagne legitimacy, and define the monopoly of its “authentic” producers–as well as establish the authenticity of Burgundy, Beaujolais, Bordeaux or Cognac as well as Loire wines:  if it is on the map, it authenticated.  Yet the notion of such a DOC is distinguished form territorial sovereignty or from recognizable divisions of landscape or space.

To be sure, in France, the image of a “terroir” is so naturalized within the geographic imaginary, that it can easily depart from the products of the”land” to be a synecdoche of regions, that may extend as a mnemonic of the copiousness of the varied past, as a shorthand for regional differences that extend from local knives–

–to other elements of the past once inherent in the land, such as the old monastic orders–

–more than a mnemonic, the parsing of “terroir” has been scientized, in ways that suggest a purification of regional divisions on the basis of the minerality, air quality, relative moisture, solar exposure and wind patterns, as if the qualities of terroir could be parsed geographically to explain why the water of each region is distinct, and the viticulture the essence of inherent regional differences, whose specificity is to be fetishized on scientific grounds. The varietals of French wines were internalized and standardized on the international markets,

–and increasingly in web maps of wines that allowed customers to click on maps of regional wines to find their specific tastes, and even to read about the DNA links between wines of different regions, to create something like an evolutionary stemma of the relations between regional varietals–Syrah and Pinot Noir, for example, were tied, big surprise, to the same cuttings, and to Savignin Blanc from the Jura region, revealed a genetic database of contemporary grapevines, which also made its way int Central Europe under the name Traminer–suggesting how science may indeed somehow, slightly heretically, trump geography; the research into archeology of wine grapes suggest that the ancient grapes of the Savignin stock arose from domesticated berries, linking twenty eight grape seeds from the Iron Age and Roman era to seeds of wines that were, heresy of heresies, actually imported to the region by the Romans, suggesting the very sort of cross-border mobility and human presence that is often cleansed from the maps of wine varietals that we consult in most shops and wine stores.

But the wine map rooted in myths of regions’ mineralogy, water, sunlight, and climate have produced a parallel resurgence in the intensified regional localism–or localization–of wines, creating a sort of fragmentation of the wine map that absents humans, paradoxically, quite utterly, and privileges the “natural” differences of regions, rather than ties between grape stock, whatever kinship exists between ancient grape seeds that became prized by regions as their own–and as distinguished by the specificities of terroir to make them utterly unique from the wines of their competitors.

Domesticated Berries from Archeological Site in Jura

In an age when we must look for justification of the unique nature of branding, the demand for cartographical definition of distinction of regions’ wines–and the rights of distinct communities of wine-growers, may trump similarities among the stock of grapes that grow around the region of Reims, for example, from the Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, and Vallée de l”Ardre. The currant publications of amps may seem a not too bucolic over-abundance of cartographic promotion of localities of wine production and grape-growing regions dividing regions in France from one another to reflect the relative classiness of their profiles of wines, but also are an important way to secure a place in the market for wine producers, and affirm the continued value of the local in the face of globalization.

The objectivity of mapping techniques have come to the rescue to define a sense of territoriality among appellations. Recent advances in statistical mapping and geosciences of course created a far more complex definition of tracing of key qualities in the glasses, which greatly encouraged or facilitated a romance of attachment to local vineyards that was cultivated as much for urban tastes, taken as transparently or accurately translating local knowledge of viticulture to the marketplace in ways that intersected with cartographical practices and skills, even when upsetting usual notions of cartographical continuity.

CARTE DY VIGNOBLE DE CHAMPAGNE

There has been a huge demand, as a result, to adopt climatological and geomorphological criteria of mapmaking to defend the privileges of being able to use a given name, and invest them with greater objectivity and tangibility–or defend the rights to one’s DOC status, in an age when consumers usually balance limited access to information about vineyards with deep curiosity about identifying the intrinsic qualities of a given wine.  Each region has its own geological profile that determined the unique taste and quality of its grapes, full-bodied in the Montagne de Reims plateaux, influenced by limestone topsoil in the Vallée de Marne,  whose topsoil is distinguished by chalky layers of Belemnite and Micraster, or Kimmeridgian soil in the Côte des Bar. The definition of such distinctions are increasingly important in a global marketplace for wines, swamped by cheaper if less well-known wines, where the huge range of the scale of prices, often for status conscious audiences, finds many challengers in the growth of low-budget wines.

Clear regional variations of Champagne soils acknowledge the difficulty to essentialize or claim any clear and distinct correlation to minerality or land-type.  They balance these, however, with the need to mythologize the practice of restricting practices of viticulture in bounding a regional terroir, in ways that foreground the benefits of the diversity and range of authentic champagne on the basis of regional soils of different geological epochs:

Champagne soils

3..  Terroir is of course re-mapped in terms of the experience of of tasting a given wine.  A predominance of descriptors are linked to values of minerality in ways that romance the ties of wines to the qualities specific to the earth that nourishes wines.  As well as fruits or flora, think of the many descriptive notes that summon the physical characteristic of place that determine individual taste:  earthiness; minerality; grassiness; stoniness; crushed rock; chalkiness; crumbliness; gravelliness; paving stones; hints or flavors of slate, schist, or silex–that suggest an un-mediated expression of a region’s geology, as if the taste derived from a geomorphological profile, rather than being judged by the wine-drinker.  A simple cross-mapping of viticulture and soil qualities reveals the constructed nature of wine regions, and undermines the terroir map’s naturalization of uniform local geological profile or soil-characteristics:  this cross-mapping of viticulture and soil qualities reveals the constructed nature of wine regions, and the constructed nature of any attempt to naturalize regional provenance by a single geological profile.

Geological:Wine Regions

–and the absence of uniformity in the boundaries drawn in maps defining practices of viticulture in such evocative and recognized regions of wine-growing on the banks of the Loire and Rhone:

Central France-Loire and Rhone
LOIRE WINES

As in the case of any map, nature is recast as a varieties of expertise.  Other factors including wine preparation, grape cultivation, relative humidity, exposure to sun and weather are more determining of taste and quality of the wine than terroir–and those not sold on the identification of wine by terroir alone find cool opportunities in the marketplace for French wines.  Terroir is something of an artificial construction on grape-growing on a cluster of fields, that is able to be all too quickly essentialized as an index. Territory is essentialized as an authoritative measure and standard of oenological quality:

Marsannay Terroir

Is there a more recent deconstruction or fragmenting of the wine map to the degree to which appears the case, as terroir is affirmed by subdivisions to situate taste in a specific location?

The parsing of terroirs to best express the complex relations of vine and ecological environment has led to a refinement of the simple bounding of a region to a detailed examination of the relationships between soil quality, geomorphology, and the inclination of the slopes of vineyards in the Douro region to better discriminate and region’s DOC criteria, employing a full range of color samples worthy of Kelly-Moore, using a palette of innumerable varietals to distinguish wines’ tastes:

geology, geomorphology, slope inclination of DOC Douro

Or of the DO in the Cigalle, the soil map throws into three dimensions an almost plastic record of local geomorphology, here represented at a scale of 1:50,000.

D.O. CIgales, 1-50,000

To preserve the complexity of taste-variations within a single terroir, this map discriminates five sub-divisions in a single region’s vineyards:

terroir classification- 5 subcategories

It is difficult, if not impossible, to effectively rationalize the contributions of different climactic and ecological variants within a region that can be mapped in such transparent ways.  And yet the placement of the bottle on the terroir map is a sign of quality, and a reassurance of protection in the marketplace of a substance whose varietals are difficult to substantiate as natural, and whose qualities are impossible to naturalize by provenance; and so we use the map to denote  distinction and draw clear differentiation among oenophilic competitors, to draw sharply distinctive origins around riverbanks, across a varied mosaic of geological differences.  The mosaic of regional wine differences masks the minimal differences drawn by aromatic descriptors, but surely masks the indeterminate nature of actual data by presenting them as inherent in the region’s micro-climates or micro-ecologies of increasing geographical refinement.

Mosaic of Minimal Differences

The notion of such protection of local farmers and monopoles on terms are far less rigorously defined, it seems, among the less homogeneous or centrally administered cultures of Italian cities in Tuscany, who have competed against one another to define the propriety of assuming the title of Chianti, albeit by accommodating chianti classico, chianti colli senesi, and chianti from Felsina

DOC map chianti, Felsina, Chianti Classico, chianti colli senesi.png

The less official cartographic representation–although this map with an apparent provenance from a wine label seems remarkably detailed.

4.  So habitual is the mapping of terroir that the mapping of California wines became a means to invest the grape with a level of distinction and proof that it can hold its own; status is effectively conferred by a recognized coloration of recognized regions of viticulture.

Napa Valley was the first recognized “American Viticultural Area,” in a polemic response to French assertion of terroir by 1981, after years of its popularity and promotion, as if in final response to the denunciation of lack of recognized terroir among California wines.   Robert Parker had indeed felt so lambasted by terroirists who “latched onto terroir in the 1970s,” to critique California vintners and wine-promoters for imposing a “bland style” of wines on the world of buttery Chardonnay and bold Cabernet–whose powerful fruits were cast as deracinated without Old World structure.  As California wines were cast as the yuppie of global beverages,  lacking distinct provenance, the mapping of the state’s wines provided a platform from which to assert their legitimacy.  The maps of regions of wine-growing in the Napa Valley had been so widely absorbed an aesthetic of the pastoral by the 1990s as to create a conceptual mapping of the rural vineyard with clear social implications that migrated from tourist maps to popular ephemera.

Napa Valley-Wine Country
California Terroir

But the arrival of wine-maps that designate regional appellation afforded an index of taste and a visual charting of tasting that was almost a necessity of marketing in the land of micro-climates.  Mapping California terroir spawned a complex variety of mapping a region that, while first confined to Napa and the coasts, rapidly spread over time both into the central valley and far further south than would have been thought possible.   Steve and Mark De Long’s “California Wine Map,”  sold in its first edition of 2009 as a work of “essential reference” has come to catalogue all the 108 American Viticultural Areas that have been recognized since 1981:

Such maps offer concise arguments for oenological legitimacy–foregrounded above by the inset map of Napa.  As aesthetic statements of a wine’s origin, they map nicely onto the recent explosion of taste descriptors–rather  than map the local geography in ways that a future vintner would consult–although it is an index to a vineyard’s price:  although soil-character is an index for conditions of good viticulture, the vineyard after all precedes the map that places it in a value-system.

The recent explosion of northern California vineyards necessitated re-classification by terroirs–if only to combat the idea that Californian terroir is difficult to establish rigorously, and California wine not equal in authenticity to French, and contain the perfect ecological balance into which to transplant, say, Pinot.  In Mendocino, Castle Rock Winery assures us, the wine’s nose is distinguished by “headwaters of the Russian River carve a fertile and rugged landscape” in which the cool springs, crisp falls, and wet winters” for Pinot Noir, made apparent in analogies to the Burgundy region of France where the grapes were first grown.  Although multiple factors inflect the taste of the wine as it ages, from the cleaning out of barrels to the quality of the oak or wood, to the spraying of grapes or amount of residue on their skins’ surface, Castle Rock proclaims the source “handcrafted wines from some of the finest appellations on the West Coast: California (Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Carneros, Mendocino County, Monterey County, Paso Robles), Oregon (Willamette Valley) and Washington (Columbia Valley),” linking the wine to the terroir to comply with a code of compact for the consumers benefit by the promise to focus their attention to the selection of regional terroir.

Are the maps of terroir ever of interest to the vintner, or are they as indispensable–and as inevitable–artifacts of the market to the same degree as the combination of 120 florid decriptors in the tasting notes, often designed to manufacture the nose as much as generalize the individual palette?

wine-descriptions-chart-infographicx

To be sure, the currency of descriptors of tastes on the market is so confusing that tube-like infographics have gained currency on the market to clarify and open access to the recognized oenological lexicon of aroma descriptors that has been standardized in the food sciences, as if to orient readers to the secret terminology by which to discuss their tastes:

When David Gessen imaginitively transposed tasting routes from a rural setting to an urban iconography for visitors to northern California, he wanted to remind us that he was on his own home turf.  He is sure-footed in his visual transposition of wine-tasting routes that attract regional tourism in Northern California and counties around San Francisco to a metro map–the transformation of terroir in California was at first mostly for export, but also increasingly addressed California oenophiles far beyond the francophilic community–and Gissen is on target when he re-charts the major grape varietals of the region in a oenological version of what now appears to be a state-wide BART map, as if to suggest the access to wines Northern California’s many viticultural regions allows.  To be sure, the map expanding the service of Bay Area Rapid Transit System to the surrounding region that the actual transit system fails to adequately serve, but blends rural and urban in a range of blends that are designed to be savored:

MetroMapCA

This is not a wish-fulfillment vision of the expansion of BART tracks to vineyards, however, but a recreation of terroir and a translation into Northern Californian terms.  But the map reminds us of the degree to which such maps are about capturing the trust of the consumer, and providing grounds for the common tasting of new wines.  The most refreshing aspect of the map is its open-access invocation of public transportation, transposing  BART paths to the far more mystifying obscure combinations of regional terroir and aroma descriptors pronounced by the sommelier schooled in such classifications.  The map’s detail, exemplified by this section of the Santa Clara Valley, differentiates the proportional percentages of varietals of each region with impressive precision, and casts a progressive wine-tasting on an imaginary sequence of BART stops:

Santa Clara Valley

For the map is literally asking us to come along for the ride, inviting us to explore the terroir by well-known paths, lest we lose ourselves in the Napa vineyards along with the busloads of tourists who travel there for wine-tasting every year.  The map both mediates and preserves criteria for the elite experience of wine-tasting, and the imagined sacred communion with a select and privileged region that is re-enacted with each glass of wine.

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Filed under California, California wines, Northern California, tourism, wines

Mapping Commute Routes across California in Pneumatic Tubes

Before Captain James T. Kirk ordered Agent Sulu to place the engines of the USS Enterprise on warp speed  to go boldly to regions of the universe no man had gone before, in 1951 Isaac Asimov described Gaal Dornick waiting nervously for a Jump through hyper-space to visit Hari Seldon on Trantor.  Dornick waited for his first ride on “the only practical method of traveling between the stars” through “hyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something or nothing, [by which] one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time,” in ways that seem to prefigure Kirk ordering Scotty to place engines on “warp speed ahead” from his comfortable console on the Enterprise.  Elton Musk once was–not surprisingly–a big fan of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy of 1951, and he’s offered Californians the prospect of something of a hyperspace-trip along California’s Central Valley in the futuristic Hyperloop.  And now the tubes of Elon Musk seem a viable route for futuristic transit, some forty-five years after the unveiling of the pioneering long-planned 3.8 mile Trans-bay Tube and 3 mile bore vehicular tunnels of BART–the Bay Area Rapid Transit system–in September, 1972, that were among the longest in the nation.

 

BART_OriginalMapOriginal BART Map (1972)

 

The Hyperloop Musk has recently proposed recalls Asimov’s classic description of a trip to Hari Seldon, as much as to LA, as well as a byproduct of artifacts and ideas generated at Tesla motors, to recast the commute from San Francisco to Los Angeles along airtight aluminum tubes.  Musk first mapped his new mode of travel along hermetically sealed pressurized tubes in ways that reflect the idealized esthetic Google Maps afford of the Golden State:  indeed, the simple overlay of a yellow path of travel helps Musk spin the fantasy of real high-speed travel out on Google Maps template, removed from the risk of earthquakes on the Hayward fault or rainy seasons that would dim its solar-powered engines.  The map projects an image that obscures questions about how the cars would manage those turns at such high speeds, even as it seeks to conjure the promise of such high-speed travel.  A recently tweeted prototype of the Hyperloop makes the prospect of traveling in a vacuum actually all far more concrete.  Planned to run through Quay Valley, a town to be built along Highway 5, midway between LA and San Francisco, to be built with Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum, who helped craft the large hadron collider at CERN in Geneva, capsules flying through vacuum tubes across the state were promised last year, and the cross between a Concorde and air hockey table may have arrived in an actual prototype tested in California over a shorter geographical stretch.

 

Musk tube take off!

Hyperoop SF-LA

The pioneering tube of high-speed transit would suggest one of the “greenest” travel options in the state. Rather than make the drive down that expanse, or the airplane trip on which Musk may have doodled a map of the idea on a napkin, one commutes in the Hyperloop driven by a fan on its nose that sucks in pressurized air in the aluminum tube in which it is suspended, pushing air beneath and behind it like a hydrofoil, as one speeds in a vessel through the Central Valley past the many cars that travel on I-5:  indeed, the proposed placement of the track of the Hyperloop beside the interstate allows its very structure to offer something of a standing advertisement for speedy velo-commuting.

Although Musk has yet to attract the investors or engineers to build the project along Highway 5 without disturbance to surrounding croplands on aluminum-encased rails on pylons, he promises that its economical construction would soon be able to shuttle seated passengers along on a cushion of air, in cars powered exclusively by fan that runs on batteries powered by solar energy that would rest on the roofs of its reinforced tubes.  To be sure, the Hyperloop offers a radical updating of the sort of proposed transit solutions to link the two metropoles, including the “Sleepbus” equipped with oddly analogous pods, but promising to do the same distance overnight in old-style automotive style fueled by gasoline:

 

sleepbus-1

 

In the face of such an outdated (if funky) alternative of overnight transit in an old Volvo bus for $48, Musk advocated his speculative plan as a radical re-imagining of public transit corridors.

It offers evidence of his interest in thinking ahead of the curve for the benefit of the state in which he works.  Musk proposed this vision primarily as an alternative to plans for implementing high-speed rail in California proposed by Governor Jerry Brown.   He couched the proposal as an illustration of an illustration of his public-spirited commitments:  rather than spending the 68 billion dollar price tag on rail to be completed in 2029, Musk promises a commute time from San Francisco to LA in under half an hour, if you’ll just buy his batteries and plan and follow him in the scrapping of all existing public rail systems in the US.  Although the pragmatics of the proposal have all to be mapped out in further detail, his 57-page spec sheet PDF Musk manages, with the help of Google Maps, to flesh out the practicalities with an urgency that makes one wonder why no one every thought of this model for moving through space before–that seems designed primarily to hold skeptics temporarily at bay, and meet the building anticipation for Musk’s plans for a “fifth mode” of transport.  It is amazing that his proposal manages to resolve so many issues, and present itself as a significantly lower-cost alternative to high-speed rail, and even makes one question how “high-speed” the quite expensive rail system would actually be.

In providing commuters with a cabin that is “specifically designed with passenger safety and comfort in mind,” Musk’s plans caters to the jet-set who probably wouldn’t even want to drive.  It’s rather something of an alternative to the airplane.  Musk envisions Hyperloop as the travel of the future, whose construction would be far less costly than a rail system, and directly linked to renewable solar energy.  Since the Hyperloop also evidences of Musk’s commitment to the public good, it is odd that it also undermines recent attempts to create a useful means of public transit that would reduce both air pollution, gas use, and highway-crowding in California.  Musk’s antagonistic presentation of the “bullet train [as] both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world” seeks to use engines created by Tesla to offer a “fifth mode” of public transit able to reach supersonic speeds driven by an electric compressor fan, charged by photovoltaic cells perched on above its path.  Its DeLorean-like doors, like the “Falcon Wings” of the Tesla XTesla X, seductively open to invite passengers to hop on in for the ride . . .

0812_Hyperloop_605

The map for the route is not that different from Highway 5 itself, whose path it follows, but the conceptual mapping of travel through space is decidedly futuristic in tone, boasting traveling speed not beyond light but above 700 miles per hour, allowing something of a Jump between the two not so neighboring cities in California akin to an air hockey table on skiis, which he promised “would generate  far in excess of the energy needed to operate” and whose energy could be stored in the form of compressed air itself.  Told with the urgency that one might associate with the inventor Nikola Tesla himself, the basic diagram of the Hyperloop is devoid of any actual spatial placement–which seems to be waiting for its engineer to actually map.

Hyperloop Diagram

The ‘conceptual diagram’ is wonderfully futuristic vision that has been beautifully sketched as a sleek object of a consumer’s fantasy for an aerodynamic car running on skis, more than clearly mapped as a means of transit, whose propulsion system allows it to accelerate quickly to 300 miles per hour before reaching 760 mph by a linear induction motor, making the trip last but 35 minutes:

Musk Engines

Needless to say, the linear induction motor has already been built by Tesla motors, and the solar generators on the roof of the tube use cels from Musk’s own SolarCity company; but mapped on Google Maps to follow I-5, the route becomes a reality, and that huge stretch of Highway 5 that no one really likes to drive on is reduced to a route   the Hyperloop passenger barely registerd as s/he was sucked past:

Hyperloop on I-5

The pneumatic tube isolates commuters from the travel experience, shuttling them from LA into San Francisco in ways that seem perfectly synchronized with the excitement over the new Bay Bridge, whose own futuristic and streamlined design it seems to leave in the dust.

Hyperloop in Bay Area

Granted, we do need to update the systems of public transit that are woefully underfunded and often outdated in the United States.  The existing options are mapped in the below illustration, brought to us by radical cartography‘s own Bill Rankin, comparing the layouts and expanse served by systems of urban mass transit:  the great majority of these mass transit systems follow a simple hub-and-spoke design of regional commutes seem diminished insects once placed beside  the grandiose vision of futuristic streamlined jetting between metropoles of the sort that Musk envisions, raising some questions about the efficiency of Musk’s futuristic system.

URBAN MASS TRANSIT SYSTEMS NORTH AMERICA Rankin

The ways of viewing the city as a self-contained unit is not necessarily a canvass broad enough for spatial travel to accommodate urban growth.  The limited efficiency of our rail corridors, which aside from the Northeast get low scores–and are in need of massive structural updates–moreover seem retrograde when compared to the system Musk sketched.

rail map scored corridors

Musk, to be fair, advocates an eventual state-wide expansion that would be a virtual state-wide redesigning of the rail system into a range of spin-off Hyperloop stations:  “give me a map,” Tamburlaine said, weary of further battle, “[and] then let me see/ how much is left for me to conquer all the world”–or, in the case of Musk, all the state of California.

larger rout Hyperloop

But Musk doesn’t offer a system of mass transit, but something more like a transit for the haves, and elite type of shuttle that can be experienced by those whose time is worth the public investment on a project that would best serve them.  While he of course isn’t explicit about the audience he is addressing, it is pretty much the same as those to whom he is selling a Tesla S for a $70,000 cash payment–some of which can be recouped through electric vehicle tax incentives, and a monthly saving in energy costs–not the prospective audience, in short, as Amtrak.

And maybe–just maybe–Musk’s futuristic Hyperloop isn’t really so future-oriented after all, but more of a projection of Musk’s own fantasy, designed while scribbled on a napkin while flying from Los Angeles to Menlo Park.  It is striking that the notion of a phasing in of plans for high-speed rail is a plan mapped that has been mapped by the Regional Plan Association America 2050, was premised upon the belief that rail can sustain and facilitate regional economies’ growth in crucial ways, and should be built around them in order to foster their growth.

Phase 2 America 2050

Eventually, the Regional Plan Association envisions a Trans-National Network to connect “megaregions” sharing natural resources and ecosystems–as well as interests–by new corridors to foster their inter-related economic systems:

Trans-America Network 2050

Musk’s plotting of a travel corridor by Google Maps software seems a quick reality, even if one that has come in for some ridicule on late-night TV, that might be mostly for folks who jet-set between two cities on the California coast.  The “reality” of his Google Maps reconstruction of a state-wide system, positioned itself to replace the very cars that his company produces, but is also a pretty darn exclusive ride.  To be sure, Musk invites open feedback and contributions to his design from anyone at hyperlink@telamotors.com.  But the devil seems to lie in its details:  plans call for “Building the energy storage element out of the same lithium ion cells available in the Tesla Model S is economical,” he assures us on page 38 of the spec sheet for the Hyperloop, using the very supercharger batteries which, he promises, “directly connected to the HVDC bus, eliminating the need for an additional DC/DC converter to connect it to the propulsion system,” provide the linear accelerator with sufficient propulsive energy to accelerate to supersonic speeds, allowing one effectively to ski from Los Angeles to Norcal, or ski back to Bakersfield.  While cool as hell, the axial model of this coastal shuttle suggests few possibilities for expansion to the hinterland, or obstacles form the environment–like earthquakes.   (Musk likes comparing the Hyperloop by comparing it to a cross between the Concorde and an air hockey game, a colorful simile, probably to give the concept a populist appeal; but this is an air hockey game on fixed and tracks.)

But the deeper question behind the funding of the system of Hyperloop may be the degree to which San Francisco and Los Angeles will ever come to constitute a single economy:  the forecasting of a map of national megaregions suggests it may in fact not be one, and provides a picture of the megaregions it wants to link.

Emerging Megaregions

The scheme that Musk floated is not attentive to the clusters of economics, but incarnates the very aesthetic of the Google Map.  Indeed, as a scheme of travel, it perpetuates a means by which one can move through a landscape without registering its existence, and removing space from travel, much as Google Maps isolate place from environment, in a new form of transit whose focus adopts the passenger’s perspective of space, rather than the expanse through which s/he travels, or the impact of building these rails on surrounding farmlands or their potential impact.  In removing the schematic map of rail destinations from any external or material constraints by the dream of frictionless travel in an air-bearing suspension system, Musk maps an argument to channel public monies to a system which awaits its designers and engineers–or at least to plan on doing so to bolster shares of Tesla (NASDAQ:  TSLA) to robustness on Wall Street.

Some concern about Musk’s eagerness about the project encountered has been directed to the far greater price tag it would probably involve, as well as its earthquake-safety, and skepticism about the entire question of whether “the thing would actually work.”  Perhaps the deeper question is whether the state of California–and indeed the coast of that state–provides the sort of economic hub that needs to be connected.  The fantasy that it does seems to grow out of the maps that so prominently convince readers’ of the reality in Musk’s elegant spec sheet.  These maps suggest yet another way maps generate ways of thinking of and considering space without reflecting on its occupation:  how hard would it be, after all, to travel down the Interstate to not be confined to cars, without having the distractions of the farmland that lies between, and the smell of all those cows?

 

Hyperloop-Elon-Musk-Train-e1432304356542-980x580.jpgHyperloop concept art from HTT

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Filed under Bill Rankin, California, earthquake risk, Elton Musk, Google Maps, Google Maps ovelay, Hari Seldon, Hyperloop, Isaac Asimov, low-cost transit, Mass Transit Maps, megaregions, rail corridors, Star Trek, Tesla X, transit corridords, USS Enterprise