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CFCM: Subjective Mapping

This post covers presentations at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media at MIT’s communications forum.

Rick Borovoy’s project Lost in Boston focuses on what might well be my pet peeve with Boston – lack of signage. (Seriously. It’s a big problem. I suspect we do it to avoid letting Yankees fans find Fenway.)

He shows off a new sign, built by students at Mass Arts. It shows key local arts institutions, pointing to sites like the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s put up on private land and was designed through a student contest.

The point is that signs don’t need to come from governments. We can use local neighborhoods and local know-how to solve local problems. He invites us to participate – if you want a sign, want to sponsor or design one, email info AT lostinboston DOT org.

Jay Silver makes very personal maps. Inspired by the caricature maps he remembered from diner placemaps, he’s made maps of his childhood that feature his home birth and plates of tofu, and a map of a workshop he ran – a spiraling timeline punctuated with flower petals.

He calls this philosophy Awareness Mapping, and recently brought the technique to a community in India. He encouraged students to take photos of their environment, to make papercraft models of buildings, measured by hand, and turned into complex 3D popup maps. To show maps of motion, children danced and performed some of their maps.

Silver shows a video that intercuts images of the local community and maps displayed on a small video screen, mixing these digitized maps with local materials. He closes with a brief video of some scenes in Bangalore. “Maybe it’s a map, I don’t know.”

Jeff Warren is building a powerful set of tools for mapping called Cartagen. He’s interested in making “maps of things that Google cannot or will not map.” As an example, he shows the dotted line on the Google map between Morocco and Western Sahara. That dotted line represents “an avoidance of taking a political stance.”

Cartagen, at its root, is a rendering tool that renders in front of you at 15 frames a second. He’s used this to make a map of the world that loks like Warcraft II, converting contemporary map information into icons from the game. More practically, he offers a map of Cambridge, made using open streetmap data and overlaid with pavement quality data – very useful for bicyclists or community organizers.

The power of the tool is that it’s a scriptable, dynamic mapping environment. To show the powers of the tool, Warren build a system called Newsflow, which visualizes where a story occurs in the world, and where it was reported, connecting the two points with an arc.

His ultimate interests are in making mapping accessible to people who don’t have computers or smartphones. He’s working on systems to scan drawn maps and stretch them to correlate them to geographic coordinates, and another system that turns a cellphone into a sextant.