We think of earth, wind and fire as elements. Or we used to. For the possibility of separating them is called into question in the Bay Area, as wind sweeps the smoke of five to seven fires, or fire complexes, across the skies, we are increasingly likely to see them as layers, which interact in a puzzle we have trouble figuring out. Indeed, the weirdly haunting map of air quality to map the atmospheric presence of particulate matter by isochrones brought late summer blues to the Bay Area.
Fire season began by remapping the town in terrifying red that registered “unhealthful,” but almost verging on the “hazardous” level of brown, based on local sensors monitoring of ozone, but is also registering a deeper history defined by an absence of rain, the lack of groundwater, the hotter temperatures of the region and the dry air. The map is both existential, and ephemeral, but also the substrate of deep climate trends.
Is fire an element we had never before tracked so attentively in maps? We did not think it could travel, or had feet. But wildfire smoke had blanketed the region, in ways that were not nearly as visible as it would be, but that the real-time map registers at the sort of pace we have become accustomed in real-time fire maps that we consult with regularity to track the containment and perimeters of fires that are now spreading faster and faster than they ever have in previous years. And soon after we worried increasingly about risks of airborne transmission of COVID-19, this fire season the intensity of particulate pollutants in the atmosphere contributed intense panic to the tangibility of mapping the pyrocumulus plumes that made their way over the Bay Area in late August. As the danger of droplets four micrometers in diameter remaining airborne seemed a factor of large-scale clusters, the waves of black carbon mapped in the Bay Area became a second sort of airborne pathogen made acutely material in layers of real-time Air Quality charts.
The boundaries of fire risk charts and indeed fire perimeters seemed suddenly far more fluid than we had been accustomed. When we make our fire maps with clear edges, however, it is striking that almost we stop registering the built environment, or inhabited world. As if by the magic of cartographical selectivity, we bracket the city–the sprawling agglomeration of the Bay Area–from the maps tracking the destructiveness and progress we call advancing wildfires, and from the isochronal variations of air quality that we can watch reflecting wind patterns and air movements in accelerated animated maps, showing the bad air that migrates and pool over the area I life. The even more ephemeral nature of these maps–they record but one instant, but are outdated as they are produced, in ways that fit the ecoystem of the Internet if also the extremes of the new ecosystem of global warming–the isochrones seem somewhat fatalistic, as they are both removed from human agency–as we found out in the weeks after the Lightning Siege of 2020–if they are the result of the extra urban expansion that has pushed houses to the borders of forests we haven’t ever faced the problem of maintaining and clearing in weather this dry: as a result, we are now burning underbrush that has lain like kindling, on the boundaries of the raging fire complexes, hoping to create fire lines and new perimeters able to forestall the advance of major fires, even as the smoke escapes from them and travels across the nation, far beyond the Bay Area.
While watching the movement of fires that them in inhabited areas like shifting jigsaw pieces that destroy the landscape across which they move. These marked the start of megafires, that spread across state boundaries and counties, but tried to be parsed by state authorities and jurisdictions, even if, as Jay Inslee noted, this is a multi-state crisis of climate change that has rendered the forests as fuel by 2017–for combined drought and higher temperatures set “bombs, waiting to go off” in our forests, in ways unable to be measured by fire risk that continues to be assessed in pointillist terms by “fuel load” and past history of fires known as the “fire rotation frequency.” When these bombs go off, it is hard to say what state boundary lines mean.
If San Francisco famously lies close to natural beauty, the Bay Area, where I live, lies amidst of a high risk zone, where daily updates on fire risk is displayed prominent and with regularity in all regional parks. These maps made over a decade ago setfire standards for building construction in a time of massive extra-urban expansion. But risk has recently been something we struggled to calculate as we followed the real-time updates of the spread of fires, smoke, and ash on tenterhooks and with readiness and high sense of contingency, anxiety already elevated by rates of coronaviurs that depended on good numbers: fire risk was seen as an objective calculation fifteen years ago, but was now not easy to determine or two rank so crisply by three different shades.
When thunderstorms from mid-August brought the meteorological curiosity of nearly 12,000 dry lightening dry strikes from mid to late August 2020, they hit desiccated forests with a shock. The strikes became as siege as they set over three hundred and fifty-seven fires across the state, that rapidly were communicated into expansive “complexes” of brush fires.
We map these fires by state jurisdictions, and have cast them as such in policy, by borders or the perimeters we hope to contain barely grasp the consequences of how three quarters of a million acres burned up suddenly, and smoke from the cluster of fires rose in columns that spread across state boundary lines as far as Nebraska, and how fire complexes that spread across three million acres that would soon create a layer of soot across the west, eerily materialized in layers of GIS ESRI maps of environmental pollutants, while toxic particulate mater released in plumes of black carbon by the fires cover the state, rendering the sun opaque where I live, in the Bay Area, now Pompeii by the Bay as smoke at toxic levels blanketed much of the state.
They even more serious map, to be sure, was of fire spread: but the maps of air quality set the entire western seaboard apart from the nation, as if threatening to have it fall into the ocean and split off from the United States,–even if the burning of its open lands was more of a portent of things to come, they were a historical anomaly, lying outside the record of fire burns or air quality, if the poor air quality traced the origin of black carbon columns of smoke that would rise into the nation’s atmosphere.
Maps have long been described or conceived as windows–analogous in ways to pictorial perspective–that invite viewers to look into a space in new ways. But both word maps as the above, made of the names of Oakland’s almost 150 different neighborhoods, or more statistically derived data visualizations of the city are mirrors that present a less homogeneous or continuous image of the city that we want to see: if the roughly type-set image above suggest a make-do approach of the somewhat scruffy post-industrial port city with big loading docks, but erase its dirt or drastically depressed areas with lively type.
Data visualizations offer mirrors of the city’s inhabitants and shifting neighborhoods that are both dependent on the source-data that they use, and how they obtained it, but also on the dynamic layers that digital mapping allows us to place as overlays on the base-map of the city’s mountains and shores. While these maps are only as good as the data that they use, they reflect back some of the divisions in the city that we might not otherwise notice or want to see.
And while not based in prose in the same manner as the Ozan Berke’s word-map that nicely knit together the city’s 146 vastly different neighborhoods, they offer ways of reading the city’s multiple divides. The increased data that is available from Open Oakland and other sources will doubtless offer further–and far more refined–images of the city’s deep differences and their bridging, and can serve as better and more detailed maps of its populations. But in the meantime, the sorts of mirrors these maps offer can also provide ways to imagine paths toward a future for Oakland, and better understand ways forward in its public policies. Many of them draw from the American Community Survey, created by the US Census and discussed in earlier posts, but all seek to focus attention on the city and to serve, as mirrors, to show differently refracted visions of its divides, in the hope that few distort Oakland’s diverse populations.
A famous image of the distinctly uneven distributions of Oakland’s inhabitants is clear in a recent mashup of maps of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s public transport map–or, more simply, BART map–with the very zip codes that the American Community Survey mapped, which offers a condensation of the remarkable disparities and differences between income, education, child health and life expectancy at separate stations on the same public transport lines:
While, to be sure, the system includes suburbs such as Walnut Creek or Fremont, its focus on the East Bay immediately indicates the deep divisions in a city where a BART stop can take one between areas of over ten years difference in life expectancy, and two more stops down either line sees life expectancy rise by seven or eight years once again. The huge rise in childhood hospitalizations because of asthma in the City Center–far greater than in Fruitvale–suggests the unique pollution habits of a city whose air quality is still shaped by its proximity to a port.
The image of the diverse city whose neighborhoods are bound together as one unit starts to reveal fissures when one examines its ethnic and voting distribution at a somewhat finer grain, adding to the historical variations in the picture of the city summarized and surveyed in an earlier post. The problem of mapping those populations adequately, both to reveal the ongoing inequalities and spatial injustice within the city, is not inherent in the city’s structure or divisions, but something that compels visualization in a myriad of ways, and in which we can look for different understandings of the shifting nature of the city’s socioeconomic (and sociocultural) divides. As well as mapping the lay of the land, mapping the habitation of space creates even more of a “mirror” on the organization of th eplace.
The census mosaic only shows part of the inhabitants’ picture. Indeed, perhaps a “racial dot” map can be rehabilitated, rendering one dot/twenty-five people, to create a rough distribution Bay Area-wide that respects the looser definition of “neighborhoods,” and does not impose strict racial segregation, as in this image by Eric Fischer, using red dots representing whites, blue representing blacks, green representing Asian and orange Latino populations, in trying to prevent overlapping and blending of color-points, and better to define neighborhoods as an ethnic or racial enclave:
Fischer seeks to respect Bill Rankin’s cautionary words that boundaries of neighborhoods are never so stark as on informational graphics, and that a cartographical index of one dot for twenty-five people is better able to allow “transitions also [to] take place [registered] through gradients and gaps” in the map’s surface, suggesting an urban geography without clear boundary lines, clear spatial differentials clearly emerge across the neighborhoods of Oakland, CA:
And while the city was once historically predominantly black, or African American, in its population, one still found clearly define enclaves of blacks that are, sadly, starkly isolated in census blocks, based on results of the 2005-9 U.S. Census:
One can map, in relation to the racial composition of the city, the relative percentages of kids in public schools, one index of its community, and the stark dividing lines created by some of its highways and major roads, which divide the regions of the hills from the flats, where few kids attend private schools.
This is given much further definition by the map of those who have completed high school, already used in in my earlier post in a slightly different version, which suggests a chasm between cultures of neighborhood far deeper than race alone.
Perhaps the starkest underpinnings of this cultural divide is a map using the 2010 Census to define an ESRI visualization, of the city’s divide in income levels in the city and outlying areas:
Which one can zoom into for the City of Oakland, revealing a clearer divide in incomes around Highway 24, still using Census Blocks, that again reveals some intermingling albeit with sharp divergences in Oakland that stand in sharp contrast to the larger Bay area:
To track a deep change in the population of the city that occurred in only recent years, Pietro Calogero tracked racial displacement from many neighborhoods that illuminate this divide in incomes, around the aftermath o California’s housing crisis. The map of foreclosed real estate in west and southeast Oakland, the former “industrial areas,” which stand in sharp contrast to wealthier areas in the hills, to illuminate an economic ravaging of the city that shows up in no other way in a simple map–and indeed masks innumerable individual stories of foreclosure and moving out:
Although perhaps the map of foreclosed houses is difficult to tie to race, Calogero comes closest to revealing stories with a map in choosing to map how African American families were in fact disproportionately effected by foreclosures, and how former African American neighborhoods were gutted from the inside out as residence became unsustainable:
The effective narrative of racial displacement that these dynamic maps isolate and present is not only compelling, but raises questions of social justice–and perhaps of social justice and urban mapping. Despite the broad interpretation of displacement, both when occupied by owner or purchased as an investment, the clear overlap between categories of race and foreclosure seems not only unjust, but a deep crisis, underscoring and mirroring the deep segregation that continues in so many American cities.
And the repercussions of this sort of segregation are evident in the apparent disenfranchisement of despair, revealed in this simple map of voter participation that Ofurhe Igbinedion so astutely thought to create from Alameda County electoral data, which shows a valley of voter absenteeism in an area where the 2010 voting held low potential or positive prospect:
(Igbinedion’s striking–and dismaying–map, reduced in size above, may be viewed in far greater detail here, and will be posted in full with a commentary at http://www.infoalamedacounty.org).
The huge fall-off in turnout among the same population of a territory of disclosure suggests a political disconnect scary in its dimensions, if sadly typical for most American inner cities. But the cavities of voter turnout in an election for which turnout was itself particularly high–or just short of 75% (74.52%)–suggests a sense of a politics of abandonment. What, indeed, did the election accomplish for a large percentage of the city? What resonance did the candidates even hold, or could they hold? The topography of disenfranchisement is arresting if not puncturing of a vision of a city united in its neighborhoods, and sort of undoes the unity of its own mapping of continuity.
It is a sort of inversion of density. Mapping the density of population in Oakland by census blocks reveals not only clear neighborhood divides but a uniquely geographic dispersal of demographics, most dense between the freeways and thinning out to the hills and the flats:
There may be real reasons for not living by the shore below the freeway: the area is not only late-industrial, but the ships spewing sulfur dioxide and pollutants exceeding standards for vehicles that are registered in the United States create a spew of particulate matter over the downtown area not confined to West Oakland, but reaching in to Chinatown, Emeryville and the Downtown area, areas downwind of the port, in this truly terrifying map, posted in 2013 by Sarah Brady and Alfred Twu, and charting the sulfur dioxide and particulate emissions of ships, using the Port of Oakland Emissions Inventory:
The map reveals regions with air pollution up to 10 times the national average a couple of miles from the port, but whose effects increase risks of cancer and asthma extending twenty miles inland, creating a poorly-known map of particulate matter as an argument to raise pollution standards in Oakland’s port. Notwithstanding the much-vaunted clean-up of the Port of Oakland, which were aimed primarily at legal safeguards at the level of diesel particulate emissions–emissions that have been largely blamed for sever respiratory problems among local residents–which have indeed decreased from 261 tons to some 77 tons in seven years. (If this was a reduction of 70%, the stated goal of the Port is to further reduce the emissions by 80% by 2020; since July 2009, ships have been required to use low-sulfur fuels within twenty-five miles of the coast, however, and the sulfur-dioxide emissions tied to asthma are not likely to decrease.). And a clearer drilling down of this data–for long, but one station for monitoring air quality even exiusted in Oakland, on Grand Avenue and Poplar, revealing how a stream of heavy trucks with diesel engines that power through the industrial region, and emit particulate matter to Chinatown and Fruitvale:
The data visualization of micrograms of particulate matter per cubic m suggests how much this “tale of two freeways” needs to be examined in detail, and how many questions of environmental justice that the unregulated emission of particulate matter deisel engines disseminates across urban streets: the citizen science group West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) is currently engaged in a more detailed study and analysis of West Oakland air quality which the Environmental Defense Fund has helped fund, and they will parrtner with UC Berkeley, to create a clearer distribution of particulate matter of different levels–including ultra fine particulate that can cross the blood/brain barrier–in different regions, with special attention to the possible impact of ultra fine in the exhaust entering West Oakland and other neighborhoods from the 880 freeway and McArthur Maze–emitting some 22 known carcinogens in the urban environment. Both traffic arteries move dangerously high levels of particulate matter through sensitive communities including schools, hospitals, clinics, and childcare centers, in what Emeryville City Council members have come to call a “Carpocalypse.”
Despite the suspiciously long silencing of interrogating the clear environmental quandaries of living near freeways, and silence about the impact of the heavy trucking tied to the Port of Oakland on the nearby poorer industrial neighborhood, would the release of such an array of carcinogenic matter be tolerated in other neighborhoods? The demand to use the rail lines to transport coal through Oakland’s Emeryville and West Oakland to the revitalized Port could be placed on the back burner of future city planners and cargo terminal directors in decisive fashion if levels of particulate matter to which residents are exposed is found to reveal: although the Oakland City Council barred proposed handling and storage of coal and petroleum coke at the Port for Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal LLC at a parcel the Army abandoned in 1999 that is new the harbor, a ban supported strongly by the Sierra Club and San Francisco Baykeeper. (Any port workers with prolonged exposure would be exposed to even greater health risks.)
The ban is argued to constrain foreign and interstate commerce on which the Port depends, and the city cannot regulate or restrict; coal transit was only banned after the land parcel was purchased and local jurisdiction over rail-borne coal shipments are unclear, despite its potentially aggravating environmental effects: the city has only lost the suit, indeed, as the effects of coal trains have not been studied as a vector of air pollution, despite fears that coal dust could blow off the open-topped cars able to lose up to one ton of dust between mines and port, and release 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter, on top of the diesel fumes emitted by their locomotives.
Can maps prove that the open-air transport of coal, designed for export, indeed pose a significant public health danger for Oakland residents? Although adding further diesel fumes and coal dust to Bay Area air–especially the dust of bitumenous coal mined in Utah, which has been encouraged by the Trump administration, lifting restrictions on strip mining and extraction of coal that would travel through Oakland, for which the Utah Transportation Commission has been instrumental in negotiating export rights at Oakland’s terminal, without any consultation or contributions of Oakland city council or residents–in April 2015, or before the first hearings in Oakland to study the health effects of the transport of coal and coke, and a broad–over three quarters of Oaklanders–opposition to the transport of coal on railway lines increasingly close to city residences cheek by jowl and often running along I-880–adding significantly to already dangerous levels of particulate matter by diesel engines and open-air cars bearing coal to the Port of Oakland that is in many ways emblematic of the city’s old industrial zone. After a downturn in Utah coal production in 2009, and hopes located the expansion of opening new areas of mining and new mines in 2011, opening the former Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was long on the front burner of the coal industry–long before Trump told supporters in Salt Lake that “very distant bureaucrats . . . don’t know your land, truly, and don’t care for your land like you do,” and technically oened the regions to coal extraction–even if few corporations have undertaken to negotiate with the BLM for exploring old mines to operate in coalfields that the state had mapped, as if to entice speculation back in 2008.
Although local jurisdictions are with limited authority over the goods shipped by rail companies like BNSF, but do have authority over marine export. However, most existing studies on coal transport examine different grades of coal through rural areas and populations,–not large cities already possessing dangerously high levels of particulate matter that are densely inhabited. (Oakland has in response terminated construction on the old Army base, but is currently faces suit again.). The question of rail lines that would carry coal-bearing freight in close proximity to schools, churches, parks, and residences in downtown Oakland–a site of commercial revitalization–may raise attention to environmental hazards that West Oakland would even face far more.
The data visualization of micrograms of particulate matter per cubic m suggests how much this “tale of two freeways” needs to be examined in detail, and how many questions of environmental justice that the unregulated emission of particulate matter deisel engines disseminates across urban streets: the citizen science group Woing its own study of West Oakland air quality in partnership with UC Berkeley, with funding from EDF, to create a better visualization of how environmental toxins are released in high-traffic corridors, and create new demand for remediation and social justice.
It’s not uncommon to value (and inhabit) property away from the shoreline. Examining relations between elevation and population density in the wake of the shifting consciousness of the relation between water-elevation and land-use after Hurricane Sandy, Stephen von Worley offered the following interesting alternative visualization mapping elevation and population density on a spectrum moving from white to yellow to orange to blue, to show the sharp divide between hills and flats in the East Bay:
A nice register of how this space is actually used or perceived, and, equally important, moved through, based on a collation of the adjustments to Open Street Maps of the city, suggests the well-travelled nature of Oakland’s major arteries and downtown roads. How might this be registered in the surface of the map? is a question that is nicely resolved in this map of Oakland’s self-mapping of its major roadways.
Alan McConchie–Stamen design
The Open Street Map view of Oakland, rendered so distinctively by Alan McConchie, tells a perfect story of the inhabitation of Oakland’s space by its routes of mobility, recalling the sort of GPS-derived maps increasingly common from artists like Jeremy Wood, who practiced “drawing with GPS” as a line of work: it would be interesting to be able to map street-use at different times of the day, if possible, though deriving data of the abandonment of downtown Oakland when dark is undoubtedly difficult.
The divergence of nighttime and daytime is evoked, if not measured, in Michal Migurski’s brilliant layering of a “heat map” of crime–based on police visits per unit of time–over an OSM template, both layered with a semitransparent streets that interact smoothly with the underlaid data; the combination of layers effectively allowed Migurski to adapt a heat-map of crime to downtown Oakland, using police visits per unit of time as a metric as part of his active and for its time particularly innovative Oakland Crimespotting, in the hope that the HeatMap APIs won’t obscure either context or specifics, and provide a legible text.
One could argue that this mapping of hot-spots excessively illuminates those areas of BART stops, where more police calls would tend to occur–and, in the case of 12th street and downtown, more street folks congregate. But the increased number of calls provides a basis to register local attention to crime and property protection, or how the city sees itself.
And how Oakland maps its own crime, or tends to monitor its own possessions, is foregrounded in this striking map of the downtown density of security cameras, often placed in response to fears as much as evidence. This final map of the installation of security cameras downtown points up the increased anxieties of its safety, almost in response to and the perceived need to monitor public life, and registers the odd dynamic of a downtown business zone that has few residents, and whose topography of suspicion vastly changes as one moves from daytime into night–when downtown is increasingly abandoned by workers or street populations.
We’re clearly fascinated by the different images of the city’s different composition and divides, and in understanding how best to work within them, or to heal them as best we can. The mapping of security cameras–if focussed in the downtown area–reveals a sense of deep divides, and a perceived in security, no doubt partly voiced as inadequate police coverage among businesses, as much as the city’s residents. This map, also a mirror, in part doubtlessly contributes to the image Oakland projects, an image that is underscored by deep divide Eric Fischer revealed in his remarkable ‘Bay Area’ map of photographs uploaded by “tourists” v. “locals,” red v. blue, in a database that charts a tale of the visual interest of two cities:
There are many other, more positive maps of the city’s populations, no doubt, and other mirrors that reveal great changes in the city’s diverse communities. But only by understanding the lay of the land, as it were, and situation of these communities, can we hope to understand the unique challenges that the city faces.
The ambitious investment by a generous benefactor of a whopping $34 million in Oakland’s job-training and education efforts in the summer of 2015 may be the start of a broader investment in what the city has to offer. The distribution of needed resources by the San Francisco Foundation seems both brave and smartly apportioned: the decision to focus on specific neighborhoods, and improve the access of those regions to both in-school training and potentially productive housing to public health and from public instruction to community arts groups seems a good one, and breaks down along lines that the city could use, with East Oakland getting an important and much-needed injection:
If many public services are lacking in Oakland–and the poor fit between local economy and job-training has been endemic to much of the city–this seems at least to be a fortunate and very well-intentioned start.
The huge impact on introducing training and resources for early childhood education, trauma and health specialities, and, in part, conflict resolution, provides an important start to break from the deep divisions that have long been present in public education, and the lack of needed resources for many public schools not located in neighborhoods that are able to subsidize or assist needed programs.
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.
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.)
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
–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 .
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
–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:
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:
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:
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.
To preserve the complexity of taste-variations within a single terroir, this map discriminates five sub-divisions in a single region’s vineyards:
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.
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—
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.
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?
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:
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:
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.
The range of ‘open’ online data that is available for a city such as San Francisco showcases the city’s clear definition of a public space. Although there are plenty of spaces of local meaning and importance in Oakland, from the site of Occupy near the mayor’s office to nearby Chinatown and Lake Merritt, or from Fruitvale Station to west Oakland urban farms and on to Alameda, the fragmented nature of public space is difficult to map coherently.
When it comes to public space, the East Bay and Oakland–despite a rich variety of parks, an estuary, and increasing vitality of Jack London Square–is a polycentric sprawl, its former downtown interrupted by freeways, and open boulevards dotted with closed commercial centers, beauty supply zones, or dense interchanges. This is in part due to how little the diverse areas and neighborhoods of the city know themselves. How to map the inhabitants of Oakland, CA, given the considerable diversity across neighborhoods? Does it exist as a unified social space, or what image of the city emerges? By looking at some of the census maps of the city, and mining the range of information compiled in them by displaying their data in mapped form, we can process and digest the complexly variegated nature to view its population’s profile. (Indeed, the problems of politically representing the complex composition of a somewhat divided city were revealed in the most recent mayoral election of 2014.)
The sprawling city challenges the abilities of the social cartographer as much as the post-modern space of Los Angeles, even in this real-estate view. Maps of any scale organize social space by relevance, preparing a selective record of its inhabitation and revealing networks for ready consultation. Maps of any scale create a simulacrum or construct of social reality, as much as simply orient their readers: the city’s salient features highlighted and network of organization explained, omitting other spaces and residents. We might start by acknowledging how the below bird’s-eye view of Oakland from c. 1900, of unknown origin, celebrating the city’s settlement and early Bay Area Real Estate: the engraving showcases an open urban grid as an area becoming future realtors to its shores: if mostly green and largely uninhabited, presents a prospective view of the city-port as a commercial center, showcasing notable houses of prosperous residents that distinguished Oakland’s built environment, and beckoning viewers to its estuary and the man-made shores of its new Lake as if to shift our attention from the city of San Francisco.
Elevated or “bird’s eye” views praising urban identity and architecture such as this anonymous print had a long tradition. Such imagined constructions that gained currency as encomiastic forms, often complemented by poetic paens to their social harmony. If the artist who engraved and designed the elevated map is not known, the presentation of the city’s growing physical plant and street structure echoed the architectural elegance of earlier urban views, as the visual encomia to the elegance of architectonic form of Venice in the virtuosic perspective designed by Jacopo de’ Barbari circa 1500 of his own creation. De’ Barbari exploited skills of perspective to craft a graphic and pictorial encomia to his native city’s architecture and burgeoning wealth to trumpet its social distinction; an earlier elevated view of Florence, sold by the cartographer and engraver Francesco Rosselli similarly celebrated and displayed the architecture of his native city. De Barbari famously employed to evoke the harmonious order of his city, also lying in close proximity to surrounding wetlands, by displaying its distinctive harmony–vaunting its delicate socio-political balance figuratively by deploying his mastery of creating a previously unimaginable perspective to considerable effect, showing the density of its architecture in the watery surroundings.
Even if much of present Oakland seems a bit of a blank slate, whose territory expands from its port and the man-made lake built to beautify its urban estuary, the print of c. 1900 divides plots and settled acreage, as the surrounding images of buildings that testify. This is not only a pictorial space, but an attempt–as the Rosselli and de’ Barbari maps–to show the social space as harmoniously mapped to a pictorial space of representation, and distinguish the city as a microcosm of the world. Both maps offer sophisticated visual glosses on the ancient notion of a “chorography” or qualitative view of a community, elegantly overlaying and equating their imaginary perspectival space with he social spaces of each city.
Can we create a modern chorography of Oakland that both displays and comprehends its dynamic heterogeneity, or would the city split into social divides? Google Maps clearly fails to do so, but what would a comparable mapping of Oakland’s populations look like, perhaps mapped from the ground up–in the manner that Jacopo labored to achieve?
There was clear redlining of much of the East Bay’s residential areas in real estate maps for the East Bay cities dating from the Depression, in which Home Owners Loan Corporation rated neighborhoods for the refinancing of mortgages that amounts to a reflection of the value of property in the East Bay, and reveal an odd mosaic of the city that privileged some regions, but also include a clear redlining of those regions by the Bay and the main arteries of transportation that continue to define Oakland’s port. The red-lining of the city’s residential areas in the New Deal structured the city’s social geography in imaginary construction ofways that reflect the continued exclusion of African Americans and blacks from the market of legitimate home mortgage in much of America through the 1960s, described so compellingly by Ta- Nehisi Coates, and in Oakland not only reflect the deep divides in residential ownership but created social disparities but record scars that make the city’s future harmony particularly difficult to re-imagine. The zones of imbalanced opportunities for home ownership that long existed in the city created perpetuated deep social divides among its residents, often left without the chances of refinancing that were available to many other residents from the 1930s in the United States, as its port and low-lying areas became victims to a classic image of “blight” with roots in its deep abandonment by the public good in ways not yet overcome.
From the first settling after the San Francisco earthquake of the Oakland hills, the demographic divides Oakland’s settlement seem to have been reflected in the value of residential ownership in its neighborhoods in ways revealed in the fractures lines of the map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, and which have continued to divide its neighborhoods even after a period of urban growth. The absence of clear neighborhoods or community organizations around the major traffic arteries that Oakland has long been defined by at its port and older shipping canals created something like a social divide not only in this early HOLC map, but that has been perpetuated within the socioeconomic divisions that were so starkly reflected in the “red-lining” of urban real estate.
Even if Oakland has been billed a “livable city,” the “split personality” is revealed in the divides starkly illuminated by a map of social lifestyles generated by an ESRI tapestry charting dominant lifestyles–purple noting High Society; blue “upscale avenues;” teal “Metropolis;” light bright blue “metro trendsetters;” green “seniors;” and tan and brown “inner city,” “highrise,” or “up and coming.”
The map shows the city’s split personality:
In a year that boasted crowd-sourced mapping of the San Francisco Bay, organizing the demographic divides that continue to shape Oakland deserves our sustained attention–and the varieties of viewing the divisions and distributions in the settlement of Oakland’s space. Unlike San Francisco, dominated by some 359 skyscrapers in its downtown and other regions, Oakland is far more geographically disperse and diffuse, with only a small number of buildings over fifty meters all clustered by Lake Merritt–including those noted in blue, under consideration or construction.
The recent ambitious and brave investment intended to equalize these clear socioeconomic divisions and to prevent them from being perpetuated by public services from schooling to economic opportunity is a step in the right direction and, based on a back-of-the-envelop calculation, seems to have its priorities and direction of resources fairly straight in how it has decided to invest in Oakland’s neighborhoods’ futures.
But how to frame and orient the viewer of a map of the city’s demographic divisions is fraught, given the difficulty of uniting Oakland as a whole, or even in abstracting an analogously unified image that connects its disparate inhabitants. The network that bounds the city was advanced rather optimistically in a map that elegantly promoted the lost or abandoned system of Key Cars whose web linked downtown Oakland to the Temescal and Alameda–the infrastructure for the local economy that it did up until its complete dismantling by 1959.
The serviced networks that any map foregrounds, even one of transit routes, engage their readers by networks of inter-relationships. The above map affirms a network of transportation for their rider, suggesting the ways that the infrastructure by which the Key-Car systems united downtown Oakland and the vicinity–much in the manner current BART maps promise to link everywhere in the East Bay in a radius to Point Richmond, Brentwood, and San Jose. The current BART network may link the Bay Area, indeed, as Oakland seems to be forsaken as being the economic it was by transit authorities and Bay Area residents.
But Oakland is also a city whose social space was long both divided and eviscerated, as the network of streetcar transit was dismantled, the railroad stations that centered the town from the 1880s declined or closed, preparing for the razing of the West Oakland residences of many porters for the MacArthur maze, long before the collapse of the I-880 Cypress Freeway in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake–and the subsequent massive shifts in home-ownership as a large number of houses went underwater after 2007 led to a wave of foreclosures that was almost distributed across the city, and which redefined its social space once again.
The divides and diversity in Oakland make the mapping of the city of particular interest as tools to understand its social reality. In a society where we are regularly mapped and surrounded by maps, the critical of reading maps is recognized as an important tool to negotiate and mediate lived social space. What sorts of divides and continuities emerge in a city like Oakland, historically defined by considerable racial diversity and income disparity? How to map so many variations in one place?
When Denis Wood and John Fels described the map as an ideological construction of space or territory, they took time to examine the surrounding ‘paratext’ to maps as keys or markers that revealed the ideological construction of the space within the “nature” of the map, created by interpretive legends and iconography, as well as the semiotic conventions of the map itself: yet interactive urban maps provide much more of a creative cartographical conventions and treat the map as something like an open text.
In their critical examination of the authority inherent in the medium of the map, The Nature of Maps, Wood and Fels argue that the relation between a map and territory exists through how cartography–as much as cartographers–“constructs the natural world” in relation to other sign systems, construing the relation of a ‘map’ to ‘territory’ by how maps inescapably make their subject ideological. Taking as their case in point maps of nature, they argue the order of maps demand assent from readers through what they call the ‘postings’ and the relays that the map creates to the world it ostensibly depicts, and the new understandings of space it creates. Wood and Fels argue “relays” in maps, tied to the texts inherent in them or positioning in books or paratexts, which uniquely promote the construction of meaning, effectively organizing complex mental spaces to understand nature in maps, whose structure demands assent to create truth-claims about nature, and transform the space of the natural world into a structure by which nature is spatialized as known. The Barbari and Rosselli views assert an ideology of the local, spatializing the city as it is best viewed and encomiastically celebrated as a microcosm, even though the “paratexts” by which one reads a map are left tacit for their viewers.
Yet the map does not begin from an empty space, so much as it is rooted in a space that is inhabited: it indeed tracks multiple networks of inhabitation.
Tempting as it is to argue that social space fills in the empty space of a geographic region, the maps of Oakland’s inhabitants suggest a remaking of the city’s social space–and present an image of the remaking of that space viewed from the ground up. For rather than providing a fixed or authoritative transcription of space that promotes “a standard scientific model” that creates a “mirror of nature . . . through geometry and measurement,” as Harley wrote was endemic to the discipline of cartography, or invest authority in a single map, the variety of Google Maps templates to plot data from the US Census for the years 2005-9 create a set of multiple maps in themselves each provisional, which they invite viewers to act by ordering their content. It is perhaps no surprise that, in an age when maps proliferate, and we are both regularly mapped and surrounded by maps, the appeal of the website is that it provides tools to select variables and determine geographic parameters about the city that we can know: indeed, their interactive nature provide a shifting notion of a map as a graphic fixity. Wood and Fells primarily examined the organization of space within the printed map, critically reading map’s insertion in printed texts and their relation to the semiotics of written legends.
The compilations of maps based on census data offer, at a far greater granularity than other maps, to divide space by variable criteria of income, race, or level of education to offer what might be treated as elements of a composite picture of the city’s inhabitants–from the ground up–rather than demanding assent to a given cartographical record. In a sense, the interactive maps below start a discussion about the nature of mapped space from which one can begin to examine the city’s social space. The interactive map creates an open text whose variables and criteria users can create.
They provide a basis to question, critique and re-evaluate question the dominance of stereotypical categories of local violence or gangs as relevant descriptors of the city, but provide a bit more complex picture of its social composition. For the interest of these maps lie in how viewers map them as simulacra against their mental maps, rather than in their mimetic claims: ‘simulacra’ since all maps are both filters of information that parse the relevance of social space and embody a coherent order of space, providing deeply social tools for reading. Rather assigning integrity to the map as a unique document, we can understand its ‘social life’ through how each creates and constitutes its own social reality for readers: the Google Maps templates offer a basis to refract socio-economic distributions in the city, rather than fetishize the authority of the given map as a form that commands assent; the familiar templates increase the improvised nature of the comparative mapping exercise. But Matthew Block, Shan Carter, and Alan Maclean are also particularly inventive graphic artists in how they use of Google Maps–especially in comparison to how it is usually used by others.
The interactive maps created from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey provide tools to track social realities across the nation, and filters to view specific variables in each zip-code and neighborhood. I’m interested how maps embody Oakland as a coherent entity, and in Oakland a test-case to examine maps as embodiments of space and to illustrate spatial divides, as well as to filter different aspects of social space. The interactive maps devised by Block, Carter, and Maclean employ Google Maps templates to invite viewers to process the coherence and divides within data from the US Census in spatial terms, using data for the years 2005-9 to create multiple maps, generated on demand, that refract or mediate statistical realities in visual formats which provide compelling ways to embody and understand social realities from the ground up. The statistical “maps” map at stunningly finer grain that reality–by “Mapping America: Every City, Every Block,” as they boast–that use tools of mapping creative interventions to analyze the Bay Area and its inhabited landscape; the mapping forms offer tools more than vehicles to demonstrate variables of race, income, education, or presence of recent immigrants, offering alternative models by which the region might both be mapped and, by extension, surrogate realities by which its composition might be known. As much as surrogate realities, they refract pieces of that reality that we must juggle and assemble for ourselves, less attentive to the semantics of the Google Maps frame than their content. One might compare them to conventional maps based on skimpier data, to which their detail and agility provide a sort of foil–starting from the graphic charting crime-density in the Bay Area based on the police blotter.
The map is surprising for how the area immediately around the campus is a thick blotch of indelible red, bleeding into its nearby areas and along Telegraph Avenue like indelible ink. Most of this “crime” is based on calls to the Police Dept., including a significant number of calls about problems of noise around fraternity row: the impermeable barrier both around campus can be explained by the different policing agency that supervises the university’s campus, and the boundary of the Berkeley Hills to the East. Crime is mapped not only indiscriminately, but distributed to reflect the contours of public complaints, as much as actual crimes. Although the red splotches and streaks around much of Oakland and focused in its downtown seems in keeping with the difficulty of maintaining control over the dispersive city, while around UC Berkeley are dense stains of intense crimson that corresponds to the frequency of calls that the local police receive near campus. It is interesting to contrast the map to that of San Francisco–where a huge amount of crime is clustered in the downtown, near the Embarcadero, Tenderloin, and Mission and some pockets around Van Ness–in a broad field of relatively crime-free green.
And so, if we shift mapping forms to a sort of heat-sensitive map of the violence committed and reported, the hot-spots of Oakland are more readily apparent–almost as a diffuse miasma of violence spread over neighborhoods like a viral form whose trajectory is difficult to explain or track: heat-sensitivity is an apt cartographical metaphor of the subject charted:
The map of hot-spots of violent crime provides a different picture, if a tragic one, extending along the city’s major streets deep into East Oakland. One might ask how this maps onto the city’s racial diversity. Given common predispositions, it might make sense to reflect on the city’s composition with greater granularity. Does violence correlates to the complex ethnic or racial distribution of the city? or to income? or to gangs, as often suggested? The interest of theinteractive maps lies how viewers map these simulacra against their own individual mental maps, as much as in their mimetic claims: ‘simulacra’ since all maps are both filters of information that parse the relevance of social space, providing deeply social tools for reading. Rather assigning integrity to the map as a unique document, we can understand its ‘social life’ through how each creates and constitutes its own social reality for readers. Aside from the heat-spots in West Oakland, race is not a determining factor in a clear a way at all, although the ethnic diversity of Oakland–a historically African American city with a rapidly shrinking number of areas dominated by African American populations. It’s in fact striking that the greatest mix of black and hispanic Oaklanders in any neighborhood occurs on the edges of Oakland: and that the island of Piedmont is the only area that’s white.
The same data can readily be re-mapped to present a distinctly different picture of the city, emphasizing urban diversity, by using the US Census Bureau’s data from 2005-9, using the American Community Survey. Block, Carter and Maclean exploit the Google Maps platform to embed Census data in color-coded terms, which shows small pockets of African American concentration by light blue, but relative integration with the greatest concentration of Asians near Chinatown downtown. The below aggregates units of fifty people, rather than proportional composition, to provide finer granularity of the population and of each neighborhood in Oakland, if in a less than dynamic manner:
Oakland’s complex diversity might well be compared to the clearer clustering in other urban regions of the Bay Area, where whites are more concentrated in clearly bound neighborhoods, and Asians similarly concentrated in areas around Golden Gate park (Inner and Outer Sunset)–if with considerable overlap of Asian and Hispanic populations in the Mission:
Far more sharply defined geographies of racial separation define New York City, where property values create the starkly demarcated racial composition of Manhattan, and concentrations of blacks in outlying peripheries in the Bronx, New Jersey, Queens, and Brooklyn, as well as part of Harlem:
We see a different picture of Oakland if we look at outside racial self-identification, but examine economic diversity at a finer grain in its neighborhoods.
Back to the Bay Area, stark income divides define the landscape of Oakland in this map of median family incomes in the same dataset, more than race:
More specifically, the map reveals clear divides and income troughs where median incomes have sunk below $25,000, often reflecting food deserts and islands of an evil toxic brew of desperation, hungry desire, and distraction:
For Oakland, the website Spotcrime employs catchy icons to track arrests (handcuffs); arson (flames); assaults (fists); burglaries (masked faces under hats); robberies (men running with money-bags); shootings (cross-hairs); thefts (purple silhouettes of men running); and vandalisms (green cans of spray paint spraying red), creating a detailed map to set off mental alarms in the name of a call to “know your neighborhood’s dangers”:
Even if the violence and theft are predominantly in low-income areas, where the map dutifully foregrounds these impressive icons, doesn’t it remove a lot about what good happens in the same low-income areas? After counting 1, 077 shooting incidents in Oakland in 2011 with 1, 594 victims of guns–the largest category among which (140) belonged to minors, and the greatest sub-group 16-year-olds (40) and 17-year-olds (38)–John Osborne used Google Maps to represent in a fairly schematic way the urban distribution of fatal shootings by neighborhood:
The terrifying concentration of aggregates off International Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in East Oakland, past Fruitvale Avenue, the overwhelming majority of whose suspects are male. In abstracting each as discrete, of course, the map is less successful underlying ties to both prostitution rings or drug deals, so much as a platform to make claims about gangs or organized crime. The following map of victims of shootings reveals an even somewhat scarier density in the identical area of West Oakland:
What kind of image of Oakland emerges? It’s difficult to map it clearly. One striking effect of the greater scale and definition of the maps based on the 2010 census is that the considerable proportion of resident immigrants in the city, which reveals a considerably high percentage–often more than half and up to 70% if not almost 80% in West Oakland, across from Alameda–of foreign-born residents, which demonstrates a considerable geographic mobility among residents that seems specific to the area: Oakland has long been a cosmopolitan center that attracted the displaced to its margins.
Immigration is not criminality, but suggests the margins of the city are where the displaced arrive: displacement might be something of a thread in Oakland’s history, from the arrival of (far more wealthy) San Franciscans after the 1906 earthquake in Piedmont to the Chinese-American railroad laborers who settled downtown, the railway porters whose families created a large community in West Oakland from the 1880s, and workers for the shipyards, or rich communities of Eritreans, Africans, Native Americans (Lakota or Dakota), Hispanic, Hmong, Vietnamese, Somalians and Congolese who most live in cheaper housing and are likely to be taken advantage of in varied ways. As of 2004, Oakland somehow ranked tenth in the US for the largest number of immigrants, according to the 2006 Census, despite a less vigorous local economy, and almost 30% of its entire population is foreign-born. The margins of the city somehow remain greater and far larger than its center.
But Oakland remains known, despite this mobility, despite the presence of city gangs, a more deep-seated and almost endemic presence and prime descriptor of the city. One can–and many do–blame gang-violence, or the competition for turf; but the violence is difficult to separate from prostitution and drug-related crime, not necessarily competition between gangs or gang-related activities, even though gangs do suggest a culture of violence.
Gangs are difficult to measure, although the intensity of turf-wars would seem to make it easy to use the map as an indicator of violence.
Yet if one looks at a broader map of “gangs,” the variables seem impossible to keep constant, even in a hand-drawn map of gangs in East LA from 1978 purporting to decode ‘insider knowledge’ about a topography of violence, but provides only the sketchiest of tools:
The difficulty of attributing meaning to the mapping of gangs is more apparent if one notes their widespread presence, given this–perhaps unreliable–map taken off of a “National Gang Map” which reveals a dramatic concentration of gangs and gang members in the Westernmost states:
Perhaps their presence itself reveals an attempt to make meaning from life or to carve it out of one’s social terrain to the greatest extent that is possible. One compelling map maps educational attainment–with the brightest yellow indicating an inability or difficulty to complete High School at 70%–with less than high school completion hovering around 40% among families.
In the Bay Area at large, the failure of education in the Foothill-International area is striking, and is doubtless also some degree of failure in socialization if not of public education, and maps a continuing challenge for the city’s School Board and public schools.
And a corresponding map of college-educated Oakland reveals a bounded drop in below 20%, more roughly characterized at 5-14% with a BA, with large numbers of closely bordering districts hovering between 5-8%: this might be one measure of the cultural insulation and isolation of the region, if not a clear barrier to what is often described as an ‘achievement gap.’
Those empty tan regions are a measure of the difficulty of shifting a divide between different Oaklands, because it maps a cross-generational or at least temporal divide in the given area over time. The heterogeneity of Oakland is nonetheless striking even in its inequalities, to turn back to map racial diversity of Bay Area generated in bright colors on the NYT website of Block, Carter and McLean, since it suggests a picture of considerable promise.
But of course a map is not a picture. It is a picture of variability, which can shift depending on one’s chosen criteria. In the distribution of income levels in North Oakland, aggregating incomes of twelve families reveals a telling integration of an income-mix more striking and apparent than the in the above demographic models: despite a scattering of upper-income levels across this North Oakland area from Emeryville, across San Pablo, and up to Broadway Terrace and Grand Avenue, lower income levels are present virtually throughout the region, with the exception of East of Broadway, although Broadway provides a clear dividing line of high incomes and lower ones, and the 880 corridor below MacArthur dotted with light blue markers.
The color-coded map of relative incomes provides us with some possibly meaningful correspondences to the hot-spots in crime. But I wouldn’t advance the sort of argument that maps crime–or gun-violence–onto variations in household income. The pictures of the city offer limited tools that suggest possible sites of research that might help to connect these dots. But they offer useful, ground-up mappings of the city’s inhabitants.
Processing the relations among inhabitants of Oakland offers a way to renegotiate your relation to the city as a whole. Mapping is about navigating, as well as processing, a surfeit of information, and about making the connections among it, grosso modo, that exist. The fine grain of the census maps provides both a corrective to our preconceptions, and the start of something like a more fair–and illuminating–map of the city’s social space.
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!