Tag Archives: Manhattan

Mapping Each and Every Tree

The greenspace of Central Park has long been glorified as an almost normative sense of urban nature.  We map the space of the park, whose green provides a respite from the grey concrete facades of buildings, so much as to be colored a flat lime-green in the public maps of the city park, ringed by a tan frame of muted buildings–as if a place to experience wilderness, rendered almost life-like in the rain–even if the muted green seems to suggest a “greenspace” to be valued, as a distinct interruption of the built environment.

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–even though the park seems 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.  If the “park” is a shared greenspace in the city–and a space where city-dwellers retreat, at times, to smoke some green stuff in a meadow or on a hill, the definition of the park as a set of individual trees has rarely been mapped in detail, examining the arboreal space that inheres within this interruption of the built environment–if only to excavate and explore its complex past.

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 rhapsodically and rhythmically incanting the varieties of urban trees he encountered in “Walking the New York Bedrock in the Sea of Information” (1987).   The discrete trees of Central Park are rarely counted, but the attention that is suggested in the list of trees offer a sense of Snyder’s skill as a naturalist, and  the surprising application of an arboreal register of variety in an urban environment.  For Snyder explores the city by seamlessly blending of nature and culture in New York City in ways that never stops to entertain the reader.  “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.  

As ever the good nagturalist, 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–and presenting it to the visual delectation of viewers in a map.

 

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.

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Filed under Google Earth, greenspace, New York City, open space, urban parks

Self Made Maps

Many online responses to the arto-carto project of Mapping Manhattan remind us of how the biggest challenge of any cartographic totalistic idealized view is to record local details with fine grain: it’s no coincidence the chorus of posted responses to the maps in today’s New York Times often complain about the loss or absence of specific individual neighborhoods, or the absence of economic diversity (and ethnic diversity) in the beautiful colored maps.  As an exercise of collective map-making, the project that Becky Cooper ideated and planned, “Map Your Memories,” provoked each cartographer to record their own view of that island, rendering it as inscribed with memories of their own.  This open call perhaps provoked the deep-seated nature of responses it has met, evident in the energetic nature of good-hearted responses Mapping Manhattan has elicited from online readers over the past few days.

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The call to “Map your Memories” asked a range of writers, artists and other would-be cartographers to record individual memories in the outlines of a map of Manhattan island of vague north-south orientation.  The book stands on its head maps’ implied claims of objectivity, by treating media as a screen to project memories, whose individual design reveals their topography to be imprinted with haphazard collections of personal associations or reminiscences.  The white upper-class basis for these mapped perspectives  is implicit in their subjects– lost gloves, volumes of Proust, chick-lit, cups of non-Starbucks-brand coffee, lovely one bedroom apartments, or stages of urban fear; the maps are something like open invitations to play Proust.

They are rightly, and also wrongly, criticized as upper-class white bourgeois artifacts, since that is what they openly are–no one would presume to credit them or mistake them from objectivity.  (That might not be the audience that the New York Times wants to address, but is after all the audience of Abrams, the art-book publisher.)  The playfulness of some of the maps clearly perpetuate these myths playfully transform Manhattan to echo something like a medieval zone-map, where torrid zones of uninhabitability, and in fact are divided by zones where the mapmaker would never set foot or know:

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In quite a few, boundaries of class are visually thematized and reified with a certainty familiar from  the medieval “here lie monsters,” or Odyssean sea-monsters, or an edge of the earth from which one might easily be able to fall . . .

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These maps celebrate the artifice of cartographical fiction-making, reading more like the maps of Jules Feiffer and Norton Juster, or of the sensibility of that great medievalist JRR Tolkein.

I prefer to read other maps as a range of responses of common DIY creative reactions to the plague or deluge in most of our big media of weather maps, visualizations of databases via GIS creations or simulations, where detail provided by surveying is lost or filtered out for a schematic view of the whole, reactions that are apparent in their sheer cartographical abundance or ecstasy of naming with which each cartographer is offering a map of their own.   I see a sort of reaction to the dramatic diminution of the art of the cartographer in Google Earth or the Weather Channel, where big color-drenched screens, sometimes over-saturated with details or more often just clotted by hues to signify climactic variations or cloud-cover, replaced the selective criteria of mediating topography or settlement via cartographical art. Such a diminution of the act of creative cartography is, after all, an imaginative failure, as much as a shift in cartographical media.  Contrast the abstraction characteristic of many GIS-generated maps to the abundance of local meanings that distinguish the series of maps that Cooper has assembled.  There is a joy of celebrating the individual that has led so many of the online comments to beg for their own memories to be inscribed in the maps, as well as those of the authors.

This is evident in the visual celebration of the mapmaker’s art in the lovely watercolor map submitted by Markley Boyer, one of the few historical imaginations, of the imagined bucolic past of Manhattan as a field of green, surrounded by a sea of blue.  This map most reminds me of the impact of the tools that our cartographers use, as much as their level of artifice.

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In this material remapping Manhattan as a lost Eden, the author of Manahatta: A Natural History of New York City, has reclaimed the artifice of map making in richly saturated colors and applied sponge.  This Manhattan of the mind is mapped at several degrees removed from the actual inhabited island–as are all the maps in this volume–but the degree of artifice by which it stands at a remove from the island reminds us how much all mapping records the relative richness of a vision of self.

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Filed under Becky Cooper, Feiffer Map, Manahatta, Mapping Manhattan, mapping memories, Markley Boyer, Proust