The mental map

Many years ago, I think it was around 1983, my friend Paul Mijksenaar, himself one of the worlds leading experts on signing, made a calendar. It was a very special calendar, starting in april and ending in october the following year. This calendar could be used in 1983, but than again in 1988, 1994 and after that in 2005, 2011 and 2016. There is a new page for every week. The subject of the calendar though was even more interesting. It’s about maps. Paul is a collectionneur. He collects lots of weird stuff. One of the things he has a crazy collection on is maps.

The page with the week of the 28th of august on it features three very interesting maps. They were made by P. Gould and R. White and published in their book Mental Maps. I think the Mental Map is the most important map there is. Mijksenaar also printed another Mental Map in his calendar, a map made by Hugo Brand Cortius (under his writers name Piet Grijs). The map shows the world as Piet Grijs sees it.

But lets first go to the mental maps of Gould and White. The first map shows Los Angeles through the eyes of the ‘upper middle class’ whites. The map is based on interviews, people were asked after their knowledge of Los Angeles en its direct vicinity. The number of times a neighborhood, street or object had been mentioned decided its intensity on the map. The middle class white map is a map full of items although some parts of the map stay remarkably empty. The next map is the map of Los Angeles as it is seen through the eyes of the inhabitants of Avalon, a black community. These black people only knew these parts of town where they worked in white houses and there is no connection between the areas. Even worse things get when the Spanis speaking people were interviewed in Boyle Heights. Most of the time they only knew the bus station where they arrived and where they would also soon be leaving again.

Gould and White

So what we see is not two cities but in this case even three.  I would like to argue that where these maps interconnect must be the most interesting places, because that is where everybody goes. And the more of these places you have the better it is for the most important quality any city can offer: the possibility for it’s inhabitants to emancipate, the possibility for a better life.

Where everybody goes in Los Angeles seems to be downtown. Near Little Tokyo and City Hall. I visited that spot almost thirteen years ago and again last summer. Will write about that in another blog.

What is not on your mental map doesn’t exist. Where you have had a bad experience will be on your metal map in black or darker colours. The places that you liked, where you were able to make friends, where you had a good time and would like to go back will be in beautiful colours.

Every city in the world that is high in the lists of attractivity, every city in the world that attracts huge amounts of visitors will have a brightly coloured mental map with a huge amount of people. One can argue what is worse. To be on the map in the wrong colour or not to be on the map at all.

I like to think about these mental maps of cities. Lets say that the most important thing a city as an entity can do for its inhabitants is give them the possibility to emancipate. All the katalysts, everything that a city can give to make that emancipation possible is welcome. It can be hardware and software, it can be it’s buildings it’s public spaces or it’s people: it can in fact be really everything. So in everything you do, is it a small business or is it a huge investment in a complex regeneration scheme. Put it on the map. Make people aware of it. Even better: put it in the map in a positive way.

The Titanic helps to put Belfast on the map. It so much better than the “troubles”. Even though the ship sank, it was completely ok when it left the harbour of Belfast where it was built. That is at least what the people in Belfast say. It is a thing that can attract you to Belfast but it is not the thing that makes you wanna come back. That’s the hospitality, the warmth, the beer, the food, the music in the pubs.

Similar stories can be told about every city in the world. What is it that puts that city on the map. How does it work for the inhabitants of that city. The more places a city has that makes one feel welcome, the better it is, the more attractive it is.

Ten years ago I worked in a neighborhood in Rotterdam on a project called the Hofbogen. We were visited by a group of students from Los Angeles (what a coincidence). The students were asked to help me with the regeneration project and they were divided in different groups that all did their own research. Every group made a presentation and one of the groups hap among the hundreds of maps that hey had produced a map called: Places where I dare to go inside after eight o’clock in ten evening alone. The map was empty.

Here some examples of mental maps that I found on the web. For instance this one: how Dutch people see the world.

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