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Redefining The Basemap PDF Print E-mail
Symposium Papers
Written by Kuniko Vroman   
Apr 14, 2006 at 03:15 PM

Alison Sant

mapping, basemap, collaborative mapping, locative media

Current collaborative mapping projects, using locative media technologies, have often overlooked the conventions of the basemap as a site for reinvention. Although these projects imagine alternative organizations of urban space through the way it is digitally mapped, they remain bounded by datasets that reinforce a Cartesian and static notion of urban space. This paper questions the methodology of the basemap, as it is utilized in these projects, and proposes alternative tactics for mapping the city.


As the technologies of locative media develop, they have engendered a series of projects that utilize GPS, wireless networks, and mobile technologies to augment space with its digital double of media annotations. Of these, collaborative mapping projects have proposed to use location sensing technologies to create a shared interpretation of urban space. Admirably, they offer tools with which to gather multiple perspectives of place, escaping the margins of tourist guidebooks and visitor maps, to enable a collectively defined notion of the city. As the strategies of this vision are defined, the code written and the geographic data sets collected, it is crucial that we examine the strategies of mapping itself, including not only what is mapped but how. Many of the first forays into collaborative mapping projects draw from digital data sets to present basemaps that illustrate the geographic features of the city; including road systems, public transport routes, and district names, as a datum upon which to annotate information. Undeniably, this notion of space is a common reference. The spatial hierarchy of the map is reinforced by the daily practice of navigating a new city, finding a subway stop, or an unfamiliar address. However, embedded in these everyday references is a set of assumptions that order perceptions of physical space. Although many collaborative mapping projects undermine their own basemaps by layering them with communally defined concepts of space; including participants’ emotions, itineraries and memories, these annotations are inextricably linked to the predefined foundations of the map the overlay.

Common digital datasets, like the U.S. Census Bureau’s TIGER databases, are an expression of a singular notion of urban space – one that favors the street over the route, the static over the temporal, and the formal over the subjective. Like any map, they inscribe a conception of the landscape. The basemap promotes an understanding of the city founded on a purely geographic categorization of urban space, defined by the Cartesian coordinate, the road system, and the block plan. As contemporary projects are created that build upon the datum of common basemaps, they are structuring a collaborative notion of space within this predefined conception of the city. As locative projects seek new ways to interpret the landscape through collaborative mapping, there is an opportunity to promote an alternative to the convention of the basemap that avoids reinforcing our current notions of geography. Towards these ends, there are some important questions to consider that may help to define potential directions for these projects by reflecting on the modalities they omit. First, can we reconfigure our notions of space to consider the city as event, rather than an assembly of static landmarks? How should we associate these events to one another in order to visualize space as an evolving set of relationships? Is it possible to invert our notion of the city to foreground the fluctuating patterns of use, occupation and abandonment? Finally, can we use wireless technologies to reflect back on themselves, revealing the emerging hybrid landscape of the material and the Hertzian, as wifi nodes are installed, wireless devices deployed, and ad-hoc networks formed? The city is an enormously dynamic mechanism, which incorporates variable patterns of movement, occupation, and density. The fluctuating nature of wireless networks reinforces these dynamics, while simultaneously calling into question the traditional boundaries of the physical infrastructure. As we develop strategies for creating collaborative maps, using locative media, we must also develop a cartographic language that is well suited to plotting the temporal qualities of this evolving landscape. By visualizing the city through this broader notion of mapping, we have the opportunity to see the landscape in new ways, ultimately becoming aware of the changing practices that inform our notion of place.


Last Updated ( Aug 07, 2006 at 01:04 AM )
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