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Book review | Mapping New York

November 16, 2009

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“The Metropolis [Manhattan] strives to reach a mythical point where the world is completely fabricated by man, so that it absolutely coincides with his desires.”
Rem Koolhass, Delirious New York

Black Dog Publishing had released previously Mapping London and now, following on the same editorial topic, is presenting Mapping New York, a richly illustrated survey of the urban and social history of New York City, the most populous city in the United States, and the center of the New York metropolitan area, which is among the most populous urban areas in the world.

The city consists of five boroughs: The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island and, as Seth Robbins and Robert Neuwirth says in the introduction: “New York City was invented by a map.”

Is interesting to note that the first maps published in the book are dating back to the 16th Century, when the European settlement began with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement, later called “Nieuw Amsterdam” or New Amsterdam, on the southern tip of Manhattan in 1614. As Rem Koolhaas did with his Delirious New York, suggesting that the city was a site for an infinite variety of human activities and events [both real and imagined] and represents the essence of the metropolitan lifestyle; this books confirms Koolhaas vision about the development of New York as a leading global city.

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Located on a large natural harbor on the Atlantic coast of the Northeastern USA, all the maps have some kind of magical achievements when they try to communicate the poetic behind the city, that was designed according the federal Congress decision of mapping Manhattan’s wilderness territory as a precise 36 square-mile parcels, ready for subdivision and sale, around 1811. This was a visionary development proposal, called the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, that expanded the city street grid to encompass all of Manhattan, and the 1819 opening of the Erie Canal connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the North American interior.

As we can read in the introduction: “The maps of the world and the American republic were changing as transportation improvements and the rising market economy announced a new capitalist age, and New York wanted a piece of the action. As America began to fill in the map of the western frontier, New York State planned a new canal cutting from the Hudson River to the great Lakes. The Erie Canal opened in 1825, anchoring New York’s place at the center of a new mapof transcontinental trade.”

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In the 19th century, the city was transformed by immigration and development. These big changes are reflected in the maps presented here, from John Randel Jr.’s map in 1821 that presents the City of New York as laid out by the commissioners with the surrounding country to George Waring Jr.’s map from 1886, where Waring focused on the representation and documentation of new York parks, passing through Robert Mose’s Panorama of the City of New York map, where he presents an expansive diorama as a dense reconstruction of New York City featuring every single building constructed prior to 1962, totalling 895,000 individual structures.

But the book is not only about maps. It’s also about New York city representation in many graphic ways: aerial views, touristic maps, typographic ways of mapping, as “Manhattan” by Howard Horowitz in 1997 or Aaron koblin’s “Flight Patterns” designed in 2005 and representing the United states mapped by the flight paths of national airlines and many others, as we can see here:

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There are also many interesting researches that are part of the book. The “Routes of Least Surveillance: Manhattan, USA circa 2001” by the Institute for Applied Autonomy with Site-R is part of the book An Atlas of Radical Cartography, and is and intriguing commentary on the concept on public observation in a major city. Also the “Spatial Information Design Lab: Million Dollars Blocks” by Laura Kurgan and Sarah Williams is a research done at Columbia University and offers an unique cartographic documentation of New York City, with 13 separate projects that attempt to map urban locations across the USA using carefully selected social data that together form a unique interpretation of the urban landscape.

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The complete contents are:
1. Introduction
2. The history of the city
3. Servicing the city
4. Living in the city
5. Imagining the city
6. Biographies
7. acknowledgements

We highly recommend this book, for reading, for learning about New York City history, but also just to enjoy surfing and get lost in each of the maps presented here!!

Editor: Duncan McCorquodale

Published by Black Dog Publishing

Hardback, 272 pages with 216 b/w and colour ills

29.0 x 24.0 cm

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