Making maps together

August 20, 2020

Over the past few months, many of us have gained new perspectives of the places we inhabit. After spending five weeks in a pretty strict lockdown, I still remember waking up on the first day we were allowed to go out for a walk. Wandering (galloping) the streets with fresh eyes, I slowly rearranged the pieces that make up a neighborhood.

Which spaces are most significant, given the need to socially distance? Why am I feeling such fondness towards an ordinary tree or street corner, just because I haven’t seen it in so long? Like many of you, I’ve re-built a picture of where I live.

Making maps – whether tangible or imagined – help us to understand how we experience places.

I find this really interesting on an individual level, but also when we do it together.


Cartographies of Imagination

We encouraged the children to annotate and colour-code areas and locations of significance: places they spent a lot of time in, ones they were scared to walk past, places that were haunted, areas which were 'full of secrets.'

With the goal of creating more participatory and playful visions for the future, this project positions children as key participants and decision makers in cities. The case study shows how mapping is a means of expression, while advocating for the role of “thick data” in designing cities.

The St. Louis Map Room

Many of the mappers chose to render their personal stories onto their maps, marking places that held meaning to them, offering anecdote and emotion to go alongside statistic.

What I find really fascinating about this case study is the layering of different types of data. Here, the mapping process is both a way of making sense of statistical information, and a method of creating new data in the form of stories. Together, the maps help us understand the different ways a place is experienced.

Queering the Map

My memories start to transpose onto this space, becoming a means of orientation and movement.

Participatory mapping can also happen (and flourish) online through crowdsourcing initiatives, like Queering the Map.


As Rebecca Solnit said:

Maps invite us to locate ourselves in relation to whatever they show, to enter the labyrinth that is each map and to find our way our by grasping what is mapped.

This was originally published on my newsletter, Design With. It was archived in 2023.