The counter-intuitive answer is not only “yes,” but by over twice as much–Staten Island, that somewhat neglected borough of an otherwise racially diverse metropolis known as Gotham; its actual landmass–58.69 square miles to Manhattan’s mere 22–almost approaches the size of the prawling borough of Brooklyn, but remains the least inhabited by far, with fewer than 500,000 residents. Is the low density of its habitation part of the reason that it has for so long held a lesser role in the spatial imaginary of most New Yorkers, and indeed the spatial imaginary that is projected to the nation and to much of the world?
The growth of Staten Island’s current far more suburban character makes it the least populated–and the whitest–of all of New York City’s boroughs, as well as the last of the boroughs to be incorporated in the city–as the island was not only joined with Richmond County, but known as Richmond long after the city’s incorporation in 1898, and only changed its name in 1975.
Removed in politics from much of New York because of its distinct demography, the perceived image of Staten Island is reduced in the mental geography of most New Yorkers–as it is in the geography of mass transit that is perpetuated by New York City’s MTA, that common proxy arbiter of transit distance, despite its obvious distortions.
For this former refuge of French Huguenots, if joined to the city’s 1898 incorporation, was long mapped–shown here a decade prior to the incorporation of the boroughs, in 1889, as something belonging also vaguely to the offshore, containing far less congestion and less defined by a fixed north-south street grid in the manner of other boroughs, and indeed with small settlements on its shores, even if the map was titled “Staten Island,” the name was oddly all but absent from place-names on the map’s face, running along the interior of its southernmost shore.
As well as having the ring of a quiz show challenge, the question comparing the current borough’s geographical size seems such a surprise because the proportion of the clty’s residents, using data from the 2010 US Census, is so disproportionately distributed, as was revealed so cleverly in one of Benjamin D. Hennig’s cartogrammic warpings of the space of each borough of New York City, shrinking the borough in proportion to its population–which both illustrates and shows by re-rendering the borough’s size to correspond with its number of permanent residents.
But the counter-intuitive nature of question may also be based, to cite Streetsblog, that the quite pastoral area to which one often arrives by ferry on one of the few remaining free pleasure-rides, offering an easy opportunity for photo ops in the New York Harbor beside the statue of Liberty, is also among the “least walkable” of areas in the city, and despite its interestingly old architecture and churches, often finds passengers boarding the next ferry to return, rather than explore the less densely populated site of residence that they reach by taking the sole remaining remnant of the ferry system that once connected residents of boroughs in an era before such bridges as the Verrazano or Triborough were erected.
More surprisingly, hence, Staten Island’s population produces considerably more garbage and waste in comparison to other boroughs–at least to judge by the mapping of some 274,000 tons of trash that New Yorkers generated in five boroughs in September of 2011. The tally of collective trash, made before the dispersal of urban refuse to such far-flung sites in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina, found that some 99.4 lbs of trash and recycling combined were generated by its residents per person–over twice that generated in Harlem’s eleventh district, in what seems to illustrate a stark citywide difference in patterns of consumption. As well as being considerably larger, the scope of garbage generated in the city’s borough reveals a disproportionate increase in the amount of trash–recyclable and not–coming out of the less populated expanse of Staten Island.
And if the island is not the largest of the boroughs, by any means, if one includes the large if submerged sand bars that form part of its landmass–if they are rarely registered on most land maps—the extent of “sandy Staten Island,” whose sandy Raritan Bay was a site for oyster cultivation, rich with shellfish, is both of greater expanse than many other boroughs, but a considerably greater geomorphological presence in the region–as early nineteenth-century nautical maps of the arrival in New York Harbor reveal-at a time when the Island was sparsely settled on its shores.
Despite the size of the island, the cognitive dissonance of Staten Island’s considerable actual expanse seems echoed in its relatively diminished size in metro transit maps, those urban symbols of the spatial relations in the city that are encountered almost every day.
Such maps perpetuate a deeply distorted view of Staten Island as limited to the Upper Bay, and excluding the regions nearest to New Jersey or the Jersey shore, may have been all too easily falsified by the spatially disproportionate coverage of the five boroughs in the MTA subway map, which marginalizes the sizable island–which lacks major lines of subway service–out of scale, by showing it at a reduced size in the lower corner of a map where a hypertrophied Manhattan occupies and expands across its center. For the talismanic transit map is a document of the spatial imaginaries transit-goers citywide, after all.
To be sure, the PATH map suggests a similar slighting of the borough’s expanse, in entirely omitting its very existence:
And the ferry map is not gracious to Staten Island outside of and apart from St. George:
But the disproportionate coverage of the inset view of the borough in the MTA transit map on the tiled wall of each and every subway stop in New York City which distorts Staten Island’s size most profoundly to confuse the spatial imaginaries of all subway riders.
However, this was not always the case: in fact, the lure of Staten Island was indeed rendered more pronounced in one of the early maps of the Statin Island Rapid Transit Railroad Co., of 1893, which adopted quite the reverse strategy in depicting the topography of the sizable island as a destination of pleasure and unparalleled scenery–at least, as the promotional pamphlet announced, “the Most Beautiful Scenery within a hundred miles of the Metropolis,” and the “Finest Bicycle Roads of any suburb of new York,” making it well worth the excursion to future borough that was suggestively promoted as “the Wage-Earner’s Paradise,” “The Family Man’s Refuge,” and “The Married Man’s Friend.”
Boasting the “Finest Marine View in the country [sic],” the map that these legends beckoned one to unfold portrayed an island of compellingly detailed topography, inviting readers to take the cruise to the “People’s Playground” and “Greatest of all Summer Resorts” offering “Exquisite Views,” if not the “Beautiful Cloud Effects” that could be witnessed from “Excellent Roads” suitable for “Easy Riding” of up to some twenty miles round-trip distance:
Whereas the boroughs of Manhattan, Jersey City, and Brooklyn are two-dimensional street plans, Staten Island unfolds for the viewer in full glorious shaded relief, using shading to suggest impressively dramatic changes in elevation of hilly terrain in oblique fashion: the mountainous topogrpahy of Staten Island is rendered in detail by shading their slopes by hachures to give presence to sloping hills of the borough showing them in a tactile elegant relief, complimented by the streams that run to its beaches, as if to conjure a clearer landscape for the map-reader’s eye. The detailed landscape appears almost rural, as if to compel city-dwellers to voyage to the island that is shown with such greater topographic concreteness than other boroughs.
While the one-time Staten Island Rapid Transit Company pushed a different sort of pleasure tour as an itinerary than most contemporary MTA maps, which boast continuous coverage of four boroughs, the separate transit system of the other island borough in the late nineteenth century suggested the unique terrain that it sought to offer for all New Yorkers, in a truly democratic medium of leisure. Since then, the marginalization of transit-systems to a rubric of spatial inter-connection has led Staten Island to be reduced to the position of an inset view in the MTA transit map–reducing the sense that it is both actually so close to Coney Island, and creating a false spatial imaginary for many New Yorkers until they take the Ferry ride. But the distinct demographic, lifestyle, and voting preferences of the borough force it to stand apart, perhaps distanced from the city as a whole, and maybe bearing less attentive observation within the city’s melting pot.
Indeed, this 538 mapping of Facebook likes of the Presidential primary of 2016–here, Clinton in Green and Trump in Tan–suggests the Democratic/Republican fault lines that seem to plague the calculation of a Staten Island v. Manhattan divide, and somehow spatially distort the relation yet once again–and, perhaps, another reason for distancing the proximity of such highly contrasting political preferences within the electorate. Indeed, in terms of its voting patterns, Staten Island–as many of the outer areas of the boroughs–stands apart and at a decisive remove from the more densely populated boroughs of New York City, and is perhaps all the more mentally distant from city politics.
With Manhattan long ago out pricing many who might have lived there in the past, even as New York City’s Mass Transit Authority does good duty as a serviceable means to secure transportation across the isle, the five boroughs are simply not fully linked to the surrounding extra-urban area residents are pressed to move. We needed Aaron Reiss to give voice to the less-mapped history of “paratransit-systems” fashioned from a web of dollar vans linking the city’s residents and constitute a central part of its perpetual mobility. If New York City’s MTA map was a modernist icon of the city that initiated one to a labyrinthine pathways as a right of passage–the long-gone tokens are often worn as necklace, fetish, and a totem of conquering the web of transit–the map showed a preponderance of lines running north and south in Manhattan shortchanged commuters to Queens, and barely served Long Island.
The 1972 modernist remapping lent coherence to the historical layering of a system of subways, organizing its individual lines of the BMT, IRT and IND in a system of streamlined colors so its order seemed intuitively clear. Designed by the late honorary New Yorker Massimo Vignelli, whose graphical craft would rebrand much of New York City in the early 1970s, so indelible has the iconography become that its subsequent iterations continue to respect the constellation’s symbolic form. Reiss appropriated the same iconography and symbolic form to move beyond the service in five boroughs and suggest a system which operates where busses and subways just don’t reach, providing a guide to the routes on which large numbers of Manhattanites daily travel to destinations the city’s “public” transit system doesn’t extend or recognize.
With the apparatus of MTA subway lines left in a ghostly grey that might indicate their supersession, Reiss provides the other map that is perhaps more present to a range of New York’s residents, collating commuter routes across low-income (and often immigrant) neighborhoods that supplement the system of subways run by private companies which offer far more than service to JFK. Working at lower cost than the system of public transit itself, these lines/shuttles, more often known about through employees and networks rather than from printed or paper maps, to render what Reiss calls “New York’s shadow transportation system,” and which he dignifies with an iconography imitating the elegant minimalism of Vignelli’s classic map.
Vignelli’s spider-like tracery of pastel lines improbably festooned a grim New York with candy-colored stripes spreads out from the dense knot of Midtown (Central Park is an improbable squat grey, alerting viewers to the map’s distortion and representational remove), a bow of ribbons from which it serves the outer boroughs.
The real story behind the map is the extent to which this vision of the transit system no longer serves the needs of a wide range of commuters, who have attached themselves to a system of public transit hubs to more easily move among the now-geographically-disparate pockets of ethnic communities by lines of dollar-vans, minibuses or limousines, often to reach places on routes of transit the MTA doesn’t offer–from which it has even, Reiss found, withdrawn as service has contracted. Providing culturally familiar settings of transit for work, links among ethic enclaves, beyond making trips to airports, cash-only van lines permitted by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission continue to serve the working-class underserved, offering an ethnography of immigrant populations in the five boroughs and New Jersey coast and malls in an unofficially improvised response to local needs. If needs are met in ways that arose from informal networks of drivers and dollar vans, Reiss was, of course, not imagining providing these to their users, but rather tracing a visual ethnography of the improvised economy of urban transit, and a voyeuristic way to look at the emergent economy of dollar vans as if it were an autonomous system of transport of its own, in ways one imagines would not be so happily welcomed or accepted by the majority of its drivers paying customers.
Reiss’s map more to the point shows the degree to which the aging public transit systems of Manhattan and New York City at large has found itself outstripped by the pressing needs of a larger populace. In ways that reveal the relocation of many immigrants to regions out of the purview or coverage of the existing public transit webs, the improvised sub-economies reflect the city’s shifting social geography, and offers, more than an actual guide to transit, something like a guide to the dispersion of formerly contiguous communities, and indeed often more recognizable (and less costly) modes of travel than the city’s underground subway lines. With the rise of fares for the subway, and inflexible nature of much of the physical plant of subway lines to keep up with the city’s expansion to outer boroughs, the lines provide quick lines of transit able to keep up with the geographical displacement of communities, as well as more culturally familiar modes of travel.
When you read the maps themselves, think less of an interlocking system, than a mode to link the removed, reflecting the subaltern cultures of transit from Jamaica Center to Long Island and Far Rockaway,
across to work in Eastern New Jersey from the Port Authority,
or among New York’s recent dispersed Chinatowns.
If Vignelli’s modernist map celebrated the antiquated system of transit was, in turn, widely celebrated for its untangling of the layers of public transit–adding a contemporary sheen to an outdated outfit and enlivening an apparently creaky enterprise–Reiss’s map untangles how communities have spun off the accepted grid.
His map recalls Pakistani-American artist Asma Ahmed Shikoh’s elegant 2006 appropriation of Vignelli’s subway lines to her neighborhood in Brooklyn as a cultural microcosm of the city’s expanse as a whole, converting the iconic map to an Urdu manuscript, the maps create a poetics of presence and reuse of urban space–albeit in ways that stretch beyond the circumscribed range of transit the system provided itself.
But if Shikoh deftly showed “Vanwyk Blvd” in a new iconography of her own community, returning the map to the tones of an illuminated manuscript to give it a scriptural status, Reiss uses Vignelli’s symbolic form to give graphic form to the process of dramatic disaggregation of the new New York City that a newly improvised system of dollar vans arose to meet.
The meaning of place seems especially difficult to retain in an age of increased mobility, when information flows are increasingly removed from any site, and offer multiplying perspectives. The work of cultural critic Marshall Berman (1940-2013) provides a clear eyed way to recuperate modernism through the inhabitation of place. Berman, a long-time New York City resident and echt urbanite, created rich qualitative maps of literary modernism that rhapsodized cities as places–as privileged and vital sites of generating meanings that were rooted in place. Even after his recent death, it’s hard not to be struck by the vitality that he mapped as rooted in cities, and whose existence he never stopped reminding us about and celebrating. A native New Yorker, Berman wrote from committed engagement in New York’s space and shifting fluidity, and in his works mapped the sense of fluidity or perpetual permutability of urban life. He showed us, in so doing, that maps are not only imposition from above, or Olympian views, but can map daily encounters best registered on city streets. Even when I best knew Marshall in the 1970s and 1980s, he was one of the inveterate street-walker of the Upper West Side and Broadway who exulted in most everything he noticed on the street. Marshall maybe increasingly became an inveterate street-walker who took pleasure in public space, and enjoyed claiming for himself a spot on the street, finding a sort of release and liberation on the night-time sidewalks, in Times Square, or at the diners where he so loved to sit.
In retrospect, I imagine his championing of the street’s energy came from the magnum opus he was then completing, All That is Solid Melts into Air (1982)–but that his love of street-life also shaped his voracious exploration of the space of literary modernism through the act of being in public. For Berman quickly recognized that the depersonalization of urban life was not only the trauma and drama of modernity, but, transfigured by literary expression, also a privileged site for individuality. In ways that are still resonant, his generous mapping of the modernity among cities extended from the city that he loved to the modern urbanism. R.I.P., Marshall.
Berman’s sudden and unexpected death in a booth at the Metro Diner, at the heart of the Manhattan Upper West Side, can’t but provoke a reflection on his relation to the concept of urban space, from the sense of public space he lived and explored relentlessly as an observer and city-dweller to that which he read so very widely to excavate and explore with a canny sense of the personalized human geography. For Marshall loved the lived urban environments and continued a life-long fascination he had with the living nature of a streetscape illuminated by electric lights, as if an ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, whose deeply modern possibilities he always felt beckoned and invited and which he was eager to explore. Marshall’s recent death has prompted several emotional reflections that note the inescapably autobiographical aspects of his work, some of which he would himself, surely, be the first not to hesitate to note. Marshall’s work was, first and foremost, that of a public intellectual who bridged personal criticism with urbanism. For Berman often described his engaged writing on modernism and modernist projects of urban space as part of the creative projects of his life.
When the poet Gary Snyder described his arrival in New York City, he evoked an ecosystem blending nature and culture that began form its trees and moved settle throughout the island’s sidewalks, streets and skyscrapers, even as it clung to the edges of its shores. Even if the landscape was built on granite and was defined by concrete and brick, the trees defined its space, however paradoxically, in ways that capture the serendipitous presence of the arboreal variety in the city “Maple, oak, poplar, gingko,” the poet Gary Snyder began incanting the varieties of urban trees he encountered in “Walking the New York Bedrock in the Sea of Information” (1987).
The list of trees offer a sense of Snyder as a naturalist, but introduces the surprising application of an arboreal register of variety in an urban environment, seamlessly blending of nature and culture in New York City in ways that never stops to surprise. “New leaves, “new green” on a rock ledge/ of steep uplift,” lead to”Glass, aluminum, aggregate gravel,/ Iron. Stainless steel,” in a metaphorical map blurring canyons of skyscrapers, plate glass, and electric lights buzzing in an ecosystem driven by big finance that might be submarine. Amidst streams of subways, cars, taxis, rolling carts, people and birds, trees peak out–as “white birch leaves shiver in the breeze” and gingko trees. Snyder returns to trees that resiliently populate its artificial built environment, as an environment partly forest, but hybrid, neither natural or artificial, open to the observer, in ways that Edward Sibley Barnard and his accomplice in crime Ken Chaya offer in Central Park Entire (2011), in provide something like a total tabulation of tree varieties within the city’s Central Park, which seems to celebrate the variety of trees that this special spot in the city preserves, counting the 19, 630 trees within Central Park that will stand as a monument for years, until someone tries to undertake the counting all over again.
The detailed catalogue of trees and plants in New York’s Central Park displays virtuosity in evoking the variety, range, and density of trees in the city’s largest greenspace, rendering in detail an ecosystem often vaguely mapped, often suggested as a green space amidst built environment. In the heart of the city lies the park. Its odd combination of nature and culture is central to most city maps. When you look at most public maps of New York City that grace public transit, tourist kiosks, or other venues of spatial orientation, the area of Central Park is a monolithic green, less rooted in a survey or in a source of public data, but a light green box, set apart form the city’s streets–a block of greenspace located framed by the overbuilt grey of residences that crowd Manhattan island since the mid-nineteenth century, and landscaped from 1858.
A recent survey of individual trees lovingly unpacks the park’s canopy. The map serves as a guide to the arboreal population, naturalizing the blurring of nature and culture in the planted trees and volunteers that fill the landscapes of Central Park to catalogue its biodiversity, from the great American elms that line the Mall, planted in 1870, to the tuliptrees or elms. Bound by walls, the map of all the trees in Central Park recently published in Central Park Entire (2011) seems to provide something like a time capsule of the arboreal density of the over 115,000 trees in the greenspace of 843 square meters, as if discovering a camera of curiosity in the dense vegetative habitat of a hyper urbanized city. The emblem of the Parks & Recreation Department in New York, while a leaf, is not strictly representation, but if wrongly seen as a version of the flag of Canada–but is emblematic not of the maple, but the most common sycamore of New York:
The Parks Leaf/New York Dept. Parks & Recreation
The image offers a native design of the very trees that were chosen to distinguish New York’s urban space from the Robert Moses era. The emblematic leaf seems modeled after a London Plane tree leaf or Sycamore in the Moses era–most likely because the tree was viewed as the most resistant to pollution!–after Moses selected the tree as most suitable to the city and to widespread planting. But it the image that became a symbol of greenspace in the city, its new bright green shade recalling the break in built space, is not clearly modeled after any specific species, in somewhat felicitous ways, and has being alternatively if incorrectly identified as being either a sycamore or Norse maple. The hybrid nature of the somewhat stylized leaf was the creation of a graphic artist, rather than a naturalist, and its smoothed edges bears the traces of graphic arts fit for a city where a range of leaves almost interchangeably appear to interrupt built space.
The recognizable Parks leaf logo was suggested to be a Platonic ideal of urban tree suited to marking some 1700 parks, playgrounds, and areas of outdoor recreation, but it poses the question of how to map the many urban trees that fill urban space, posing the problem in its streamlining or meshing of arboreal imagery about the actual distribution of trees only recently resolved. As if the conundrum of Snyder’s own list of city trees were synthesized in one image, the map offers an admirable poring over of the park landscape that remains the most varied in the city as a whole, making the visual variety of trees able to be studied at close hand, in order to illustrate the variety of the abundance of trees that constitute something like an ideal microcosm of the melting pot of New York, if in a largely unbuilt range of greenspace.
Snyder describes New York as something of a perpetuum mobile moved by wind that “shakes the limbs on the planted/ trees growing new green” beside the “gridlock of structures” of soaring buildings and socially stratified condominiums, unfolding “New York like a sea anemone/ wide and waving in the Sea of Economy,” where trees are attached to its living mobile surface. To drill down into the range of trees that cluster on the bedrock of Central Park, Ed Barnard and Ken Chaya focus a snapshot of the Park’s arboreal population in Central Park Entire (2011). The result is an elegant cataloguing of individual trees by isolating each and every tree that settled in this region–whose variety is so often obscured as a matte sea of green. Indeed, in the maps that orient visitors to New York City often mask the complex ecosystem that developed in the park hemmed in by skyscrapers, as if it were a drive-through space–
rather than emphasize the porous nature of its boundaries of buildings and rushing traffic that courses noisily beneath traffic lights along storied city blocks, the new map reveals an intense attention to arboreal detail and variety never compiled.
The attention to its arboreal detail is supported and in a sense animated by the Central Park Conservancy, dedicated to preserving the park’s landscape, cares for the vestiges of the natural that are carefully curated in the park, which it treats as something close to the cultural patrimony of the city, on a level parallel to the works of art in the museums that flank its greenspace from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Guggenheim to the Museum of Natural History. By embracing the combination of old planted trees and more recent arrivals, or volunteers, the map charts the rich contents of a greenspace that attracts some 3.5 million visitors annually, focussing attention on each of its plants, even as most maps of the city treat it as a block of green that the underground rivers of transportation of subway routes coast beside.
The wealth of the trees in the Park accreted over time, as the park provides something of a fragment of the green that once covered Manhattan island–although, as Barnard and Chaya show, a hybrid space whose trees come now from a wide range of nearby regions and unexpected vectors. The green of the island is however lost, and the concentration of green space in the park is definitely the prime reason for each tree’s increased value. In a 1865 topographical map detailing the entire island–created just years before the park was completed, as it was planned–whose generous expansive shades of rich green–arboreal density reaches across the island from its shores, stretching along the meander of creeks, if concentrated on its coastal perimeter–
–the density of trees are almost obsessively catalogued as rare treasures of nature in the map of the historical aggregation of tree cover that defines today’s Central Park.
The expansion of the park, and its values, reflects in some sense the degreening of Manhattan over the centuries. For the confining of the arboreal in current maps of Manhattan that is the result of a new economy of greenspace after a century and a half of real estate development, asphalt, and concrete and the density of the expansion of urban real estate along its streets: the current map is a space which blends nature and culture, but where nature is rare and green space diminished, each and every tree commands valuation as a scarce resource. The isolaged open green space in the midst of a hyper-urbanized island documents the radical recession of where green once lay in mid-seventeenth Dutch maps of the region, which colors green the island beside the Noort (Hudson) River and gives surprising primacy of place to Staten Eylant (Staten Island) in “Manatus,” coloring the region of present-day Manhattan as a somewhat surprisingly mountainous terrain–
When the German graphic artist Herrman Bollmann blended the German tradition of bird’s eye city views in a 1964 3-D picture map of midtown Manhattan, he seems to celebrate the built environment of New York for the World’s Fair, showing towering skyscrapers rising from the blocks of midtown Manhattan that are juxtaposed against trees clustered in Central Park, a manicured oasis in a built environment that jumps out from the page, each labeled, as if disembodied against a grid of white streets, crowded with generic if almost identical trees. Bollmann’s project is generic–the trees are shown as a mass, and the buildings are focussed on as distinct–
–but the object of mapping is inverted in the elegant The complete absence of greenery outside the park in Barnard and Chaya’s Central Park Entire, which takes stock of the entire content of the park.
Bollmann’s image of each and every building of Manhattan renders the park as a counterpart to the built landscape–a set of distinct trees, as if to remind viewers of the care of its construction.
The growing depletion of green space in an age of rapid real estate turnover has led few to detect the variations the green, or not just compartmentalize it in a blur.
Rather than chart the dispersal of a generic tree-by-tree census as that which MapZen created of San Francisco ‘s range of street-trees show their clustering as a sort of virtual green space along streets–and by which one can detect the matrix of streets, even once they are subtracted–as a dispersed greenspace, including acacia, martens, gingko biloba, cherry trees, red maples, ficus, olive trees, magnolia, loquats, stately Victorian box, and evergreen shrubs in its microclimates–all noted by individual green dots. The export from a street trees dataset from SF OpenData, helps allow the range of 116,000 trees across the city better pop out to its viewer.
In contrast, the static drawn map by Barnard and Chaya was intentionally created to value each and every tree in the rare block of green space of Manhattan. The map’s very subject may call for a denser sort of tree-by-tree mapping, and not only better reflects deep observation of local variety by the cartographers, but the distinct value of the relative rarity of trees in New York City’s urban space–and the unique sense of open space that the park still offers visitors. For in New York, the park trees are a precious resource–as well as a microcosm whose arboreal treasures one is able to unpack. Barnard and Chaya’s Central Park Entirelocates some 19,630 trees in the park’s stone gated boundaries byspecies, health, and relation to other plant life to unpack the greatest compression of green space in the city in full detail. The dense microcosm of the park’s trees unpacks the hidden settlement of settlers, native plants, non-natives, and avian-born seeds that create a mosaic of green in the park that viewers can unpack with far more care, focussing on the species and provenance of each in a mirror of the social and cultural mosaic of the more inhabited regions of the city itself.
The project of mapping each tree, stone, lake, and bush in Central Park is a concrete exercise in the pastoral that animated the project of designing the park undertaken long ago by Olmstead and Vaux, bringing up to date the cornucopia of the ecosystem that evolved around the park and within its walls. Indeed, the one-to-one map of each tree in the park creates the same bucolic preserve as a pastoral lists the presence of each plant, tree, river and lake for the reader. If every map is an argument, even an imaginary map, Barnard and Chaya’s “Central Park Entire” (2011) is an argument about the preserve that the park perfectly constitutes from the city that surrounds, or, in a weird turn around, the nature that the city surrounds. The ancient Virgil evoked a landscape where “Spring adorns the woods and groves with leaves,” when “birdsong is heard in every secluded thicket,” and Barnard and Chaya mapped the park as a truly green world, outside and beyond the city, and frozen in a permanent Spring in glorious color. As much as Snyder saw a technological ecosystem of built, they offer a Virgilian catalogue of trees, flowers, and plants verged on a primer of ancient botany. Chaya and Barnard link their observational passion with graphic design, in a self-funded project of mapping that is a testament to preserving arboreal variety, and a sort of time capsule of urban greenspace.
Indeed, the map provides a sort of analytic attention to detail that few existing maps made today approximate. In registering floral variety in encyclopedic comprehensiveness, the map stakes a different sort of truth claim, indeed, than any of its predecessors, allowing one to view not only range of trees that exist but to depart from its icons to explore the variety of trees within the park itself, returning cartography to an age of exploration by tempting anyone to undertake their own self-designed survey. “Entire” is a sort of cartographical response of painstaking draftsmanship to the new horizon of expectations generated by a computerized GIS, or the promise of the totalistic and comprehensive coverage of Google Earth:
It may be that Virgilian topoi of variety and abundance that seem to shine through the maps’s loving detail. Building on the tree censuses of the Central Park Conservancy, but taking them to the next degree by actual foot-by-foot comparison of the park, they have mapped almost 20,000 of the 23,000 that the park has itself identified. As a recent article on its composition from the New York Times cited Chaya as saying, “This is an example of a map that’s never finished” and a snapshot of the evolving project of Central Park: the map captures the microcosm of plant variety that unfolded over time of pin oaks, European Beech trees and Camperdown elms to London Plane Trees with the wonder of an avid birder; both Chaya and Sibley Barnard are self-described birders of urban space.
The utopic preserve of the park is recreated for readers in glorious detail in this stunningly detailed map. For this post, an entry on Chaya’s map of the trees, landscape, and built structures of Central Park in New York, is an Arbor Day special–for in a sort of preserve of nature in the city, Chaya’s map offers an arboreal museum of wandering and a habitat for birds. This two-year-old map includes short of 20,000 trees of some 170 species–several of which are unique examples in the park and city as a whole–the map charts with new detail every path, rock, built structure, lake, waterway, and pond with a comprehensive updating of the space that was planned designed by Olmsted and Vaux as a preserve from metropolitan life. The scale of this folding map allows inclusion each and every tree in the park, with an implicit promise of future updates. While only some 150 trees from the “original” plantings in the park of the 1860’s, it presents the story of the expansion of vegetal life throughout the park’s confines over almost fifty years, mapping some 85% of its total vegetation with loving detail.
More a living document than schematic guide, the fruit in ways of the expansion of the Central Park Conservancy, which offers it on its website, and at http://www.centralparknature.com, reveals each and every tree as Chaya saw and drew it over the two years he studied its terrain–a composite of drawings, photographs, and repeated consultations and revisions of existing cartographical records with the actual terrain, as if to present in detail every aspect of the park whose more regular visitors know its monuments and vegetation so well.
The project of mapping the known–the park’s walks and its pathways and each building–raises the stakes of the content of maps, because the bar is set considerably high: it reveals what one might not notice, despite the huge collective knowledge of so many city-dwellers and park-walkers, of providing and compiling account of observations that extends beyond the notion of mapping the unknown, and indeed presents the sort of detailed accounting of vegetation and landmarks that perpetuate a complete cartographical fantasy.
To put this in some cartographic context, contrast it to the image of the Central Park Conservancy, in black-and-white, which is confined to the paths that traverse areas of the park which highlighted the dispersion of emergency call boxes:
Or the range of information designed for park users in this far more detailed colored, and more iconographically dense, image of the sort that probably provided one of the basic templates for Chaya’s “Central Park Entire,” but notes restrooms most clearly and elides arboreal variety in a uniform kelly green:
The above map, that similarly bound a green rectangle of nature by blocks of anonymous urban grey, provided a somewhat more detailed and text-rich colored surface, but without the detail Chaya’s comprehensive map boasts of every square foot of the park’s terrain. For the park-goer, this is a sort of mythical return to the Borgesian fable of a map of one-to-one size, in ways that encourages readers to navigate its copious vegetative variety:
The map tells a story–and presents an argument–about the extent of the graphic techniques and representational conventions that Chaya adapted, drawing from pencils and sightings to software, to design the map from a set of basically abstract conventions and a standard palate to refine the image on which he worked during visits to the site he so intensely mapped. Indeed, the visits that he made over two years to the park allowed him to document some 85% of its entire vegetation over the 843 acres of the park with a patience that reveals a cultivated reverence for its land.
The careful iconography of the map goes far beyond a simple road map, in other words, to focus on the ‘true inhabitants’ that are growing in the park, the site of some of the sole representatives of entire plant species. Speaking of Arbor Day, an excerpt from its legend reveals the fine distinctions by which the map orients readers to the park’s arboreal life:
An abbreviated story of the map and the two-year period of its planning and making is nicely told below by the mapmakers themselves:
Rather than allow the greenspace of the Park to recede into the unclear interface of transit diagrams–a light green space that stands apart form the destinations of travelers–the map is a condensation designed for park wandering, and virtual travel among its trees.
We read more maps than ever before, and rely on maps to process and embody information that seems increasingly intangible by nature. But we define coherence in maps all too readily, without the skepticism that might be offered by an ethics of reading maps that we all to readily consult and devour. Paradoxically, the map, which long established a centering means to understand geographical information, has become regarded uncritically. As we rely on maps to organize our changing relation to space, do we need to be more conscious of how they preset information? While it is meant to be entertaining, this blog examines the construction of map as an argument, and proposition, to explore what the ethics of mapping might be. It's a labor of love; any support readers can offer is appreciated!