Map as art?

Filed under progress

The most daunting and yet exciting phrase in the design brief for this project was ‘maps as art object’. However, following the interview for the project and initial research, we soon decided that Scarborough deserved the best possible most legible map we could draw. So how would this also fulfil the ‘map as art’ function?

We decided to produce two maps. One side of the printed publication features the map that has resulted from our research, focus groups and much experimentation. The reverse is also a map of Scarborough – composed entirely of photographs. Until recently this had descriptions of some of the key cultural locations but more recently 2 poets were commissioned to compose text to accompany the images.

Here’s a taster – a response to Crescent Arts (underneath the town’s art galley) by John W Clarke:

The things you see
down there!
A pocket fish,
cupboard vistas,
opening horizons of
brick, day printing
into night, throwing
the mud of life.

What’s in a name?

Filed under research & consultation, the map

Some neighbourhoods have names that have their roots in the history of the area, for example ‘Ramshill’, which evolves from the area being sheep pasture (originally the larger area of ‘Rams Dale’).  Some evolve over time through colloquial use – the ‘Old Town’ surely developed in this way as people sought to describe different areas of the ever-growing Victorian Scarborough. Some names are invented by councils, developers or other groups, often with an aspirational edge.

One such area is that centred around The Crescent which hosts the municipal Art Gallery, Crescent Arts studios and Woodend Creative Workspace/Gallery and extending either side to include Westwood School of Arts, down past the Rotunda museum and probably taking in the Spa and the Futurist theatre/cinema. Add the SJT and you almost form a pleasing ‘S’ shape linking these key cultural landmarks.

When Scarborough’s Renaissance programme kicked off about 7 years ago this stretch was referred to as a potential ‘cultural quarter’ – a phrase that’s very much late 90′s / early noughties town planning speak but at least suggests the importance of culture to the renaissance of Scarborough.

So is the label still valid? The Crescent didn’t quite expand culturally as intended although Woodend is a renaissance success story. An idea for a sculpture trail through the gardens linking the main locations didn’t come to fruition. But there’s a definite arc from the top of town to the seafront that takes in at least 7 culturally significant venues.

[current council-produced town centre map - i've marked the cultural venues with a pink dot]

Some stakeholders in the CHART Scarborough project think the label shouldn’t be used. Our focus groups thought it should, even if it is still partly aspirational. One person suggested it might even prompt renewed focus on the area to finish the job.

Maps have long put names to places, often turning the vernacular into the ‘official’ in the process. Should ‘Cultural Quarter’ become an accepted name for this part of town?

When the man from the OS came

Filed under progress

We were fortunate to recently have a visit from Glen Hart, Ordnance Survey Head of Research, and one of his colleagues. Glen was visiting John Whelan at the University of Hull Scarborough Campus who has been doing some fascinating (and actually quite beautiful) stuff with OS data and vector graphics.

The CHART Scarborough map, which John used as basis for a student project when it was still at concept level, proved a useful dovetail for John and Glen and gave us an always welcome fresh pair of eyes, not least from someone with a wealth of knowledge and ideas.

Most interesting was discussion on vernacular geography which is a current area of research for OS – basically how a map can provide a ‘sense of place’, which is exactly what CHART Scarborough is all about. As a result we decided to revisit the colour scheme of the map and an idea we initially rejected – that the urban area colours might reflect the building materials or shopfronts of the buildings. Which means getting our there writing down the colour of every building of every street to form a composite for that area. Below is one such record.

This we’re combining this with some more building footprint detail suggested by feedback off the Cartotalk forum. We reckon – although unfortunately we just don’t have time to research this particular aspect fully – that some indication as to the frontage of buildings in both shape and colour will help people locate the area they’re in on the map as well as help in capturing the feel of Scarborough town centre.

We’ll also be taking a final look at the area or neighbourhood names. I’ll write a new post on that, particularly as there’s some discussion brewing about one particular label…

Photography workshops

Filed under postcards project

If you’ll pardon the pun, taking on a series of workshops was uncharted territory for me, so I was intrigued to see how people of different ages and backgrounds would view the town we live in.

The first thing I wanted to know was how many people from within the group were actually born in Scarborough and how many had moved here from another place. I was astonished to discover only three at that first workshop had been born in the town; the rest had all come here either as children with their families or had moved here out of a love for the place. I think people are drawn to the sea, and to the big open easterly skies; there is something special about living somewhere bounded by water on one of its borders. There is a real elemental sense of place when you live on the coast.

My aim was to get a series of visual clues from each of the people attending that would give me a mental map of the places that were special to them in the town; or an idea of a journey regularly taken by them, whether a walk to school or work, or to a favourite place.

We gave everyone a cheap, disposable camera, fixed lens, no zoom, quite basic really. The aim was not to get people to produce technically brilliant pictures, but to record a journey, or a week in their lives, maybe taking in any special places, people or events we had talked about the previous week. The results were better than expected for me: I discovered I could plan a route across the town from south to north, from the Shuttleworth Gardens, across South Cliff, over the Valley Bridge and out towards the North Bay and Peasholm via the Castle Headland. There were also some surprises in there: Robert’s fondness for graffiti art, Charles’s view of the world from his wheelchair’s level, and Devon’s gritty bit of photojournalism showing a derelict building with a bike in front, its reflector winking back red light from the camera flash.

My job now is to work with these themes and ideas and interpret the different locations each individual has highlighted: I can’t wait to get started!

A bit of philosophy

Filed under research & consultation, what is...

As promised, a teeny bit of philosophy. A caveat first though – I know nothing about philosophy. But this project has prompted some fascinating background reading to help inspire and define what we were trying to achieve and one route I found us heading off on kept bringing up the same names – Debord, Benjamin, Lefebvre. So light up a Gitanes and prepare for the map as political act (that’s a smidgen of Walter Benjamin right there for you).

The theory of ‘the production of space’ (Henri Lefebvre) suggests that as we shape the world around us, in return we are shaped by that world – we become what we experience. Therefore a map that communicates a strong sense of place says ‘this is who we are’. We’re not just saying ‘this is Scarborough’, but ‘this is what creates a Scarborian’. With my town branding head on I’m thinking there are also positive image implications of producing this map, with my creative coast head on I’m thinking about making clear the impact of cultural activity on economic regeneration (over to Richard Florida on that one but Scarborough was, after all, declared the Most Enterprising Place in Europe as a result of activity in which culture played a pivotal role).

Clearly we’re heading into urban space territory here – if you want to change the mind, change the geographic conditions that shape it.

Further to this, if we accept that anything created has to be inserted into a living social content (Walter Benjamin), and that cultural production and production of space cannot be separated (Lefebvre again), then such a map is a political act as it will change the space it is mapping and thus change the lives of the people who move through that space (Guy Debord).

That’s all either pretentious crap blogged here to justify the project, or reveals some of the impulses that drive some of Scarborough’s cultural activity which are/will be illustrated on this map.

Ok, I’ll stick to design in the future. But the beauty of CHART Scarborough is that it has no end point – this first version of the map is intended to be a catalyst. And this research reading and the subsequent conversations with various people about the project has set me off on a real psychogeography tip that I hope to explore as one of many people engaging with CHART Scarborough post-publication of the map. Which, by the way, is pencilled in for mid July.

(The image at the top is a model of part of Scarborough that’s currently in the Renaissance Centre. I snapped it on my phone when we were running one of the project’s workshop’s there.)

Of cartographers and philosophers

Filed under design, progress, research & consultation, the map

We’ve been getting some feedback on the map from cartographers who draw a lot more maps than we do. Very useful it’s been too, highlighting some key aspects that have slipped past us as we’ve developed that design-blindness that sometimes happens on a long-running project. But something I’ve detected in the resulting discussion and from observing others is that are sometimes two distinct trains of thought about map-making.

One is that maps have developed their own visual language over the last few centuries and a map that follows in this tradition is the best a map can be. It’s tried an tested and refined and it asks that potential users learn how to understand and use such maps.

The other train of thought is that maps are fluid and that cognitive mapping theory, usually in relation to urban maps and particularly in the context of city centre wayfinding, is rewriting the rules. Maps can be far more intuitive that most currently are. This isn’t to deny that cartographer’s skills are just as valuable as before, but that a map can have a different theoretical starting point to which those skills are applied.

Under challenge from the former perspective and a wealth of cartographic experience it’s given me cause to stop and question some of the non-traditional decisions we’ve made, even going back to the theories and philosophies that underpin this project. So buckle those mental seatbelts, and whilst we make some design tweaks, my next post on here will be a whistle-stop ultra-condensed look at situationist theories and whether a map can change place. I bet you can hardly wait.


Filed under progress

Lack of activity on this blog usually indicates a flurry of action with the project (so take a look back and where we posted lots we were probably doing absolutely nothing…). Here’s a quick update.

James, who has been doing most of the work on the map itself recently posted a few thoughts on the electric angel blog:

James has also been out taking photos (such as the one above of marine drive) for the other side of the map which will include text by three local writers/poets: John W Clarke, Kate Evans and Jane Buckley.

The interventions prompted some interest in the street, in the local newspaper and via mobile phone as people texted in their cultural hotspots. There were no real surprises although we do keep spotting cultural spaces and places we hadn’t considered before. As the map approaches completion we’re planning a day when we re-walk every street on it to double-check the accuracy and be sure we haven’t missed anything.

This evening sees the final session of the CHART Scarborough postcards project which we haven’t mentioned on here yet. In short we have brought together a group of both young and retired people to work with a poet (John again) and photographer (Tony Bartholomew) to produce a set of postcards that explore how they perceive and interpret the town. These will both promote the launch of the initial CHART Scarborough printed map and, we hope, encourage people to think more about the place they live and what it means to them.

This evening’s session will be the first time I’ve met the group – I’m the designer who’ll take the resulting images and text and turn them into postcards so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s been produced and gauge some opinions from the group as to how they might work in the printed format so closely associated with the seaside.

Interventions 8

Filed under progress, research & consultation

Interventions 7

Filed under research & consultation

Interventions 6

Filed under research & consultation