Redefining the Basemap
Current collaborative mapping projects using locative media technologies have often overlooked the conventions of the base map as a site for reinvention. Although these projects are ambitious in their aim to propose 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 base map as it is utilized in these projects, and proposes alternative approaches for mapping the city. Specifically, it looks at the city as a space of events, defined by the ways in which it is used rather than the orthogonal geometry by which it is constructed; and highlights several key examples from the history of urban planning and art practice that provide models for such alternative mapping strategies. By focusing on the limitations of the base map, I hope to provoke new ideas for these emerging projects.
As the technologies of locative media develop, they have engendered a series of projects that utilize GPS (Global Positioning Systems), wireless networks, and mobile technologies to augment space with its digital double of media annotations. Among 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 collective memory in which, in the words of Giles Lane, “ordinary citizens embed social knowledge in the new landscape of the city.” As the strategies of this vision are defined, the code is written, and the geographic data sets are collected, it is crucial that we examine the strategies of mapping itself; including not only what is mapped but how.