New Scientist links to the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre’s Global Urbanisation and Accessibility Map – part of the World Bank’s 2009 World Development Report. The maps is made by plotting the estimated travel time to a “major” city. They conclude that only 10% of the world is more than 48 hours from a city. Primarily the most remote places are the poles, southern Venezuela, and central Tibet. Even the Sahara is comparatively more accessible.
Paul Butler’s Facebook friend visualization has been going around the intertubes recently. He says:
Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.
While it is true that’s what the arcs represent “friends”, but the image is informed by the geographic coordinates of the planet. What I find interesting isn’t what his visualization shows, but what it doesn’t show.
Here’s what I found.
BLDGBLOG writes about Nina Burleigh’s book about the French in Egypt during Napoleon, Mirage. In it, Burleigh mentions how each neighborhood in Cairo was walled off from each other. Only small gates, sometimes, just a single gate for a neighborhood interconnected the city. A city of cities if you will. Napoleon ordered that the entire city be mapped.
[I]t was deemed so daunting that at first the engineers hoped the order [to map Cairo] would be rescinded” – but, of course, “it was not.” Edme-François Jomard, the cartographer in charge of the project, wrote: “The city is almost entirely composed of very short streets and twisting alleys, with innumerable dead-ends. Each of these sections is closed by a gate, which the inhabitants open when they wish; as a result the interior of Cairo is very difficult to know.” Jomard, Burleigh writes, would spend his time “knocking on gates that hid whole neighborhoods.”
When I read this, I thought of two things. First, it sounds like 18th century Cairo was almost like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Only if you knew where you were going, and knew the password, would the hidden areas be open to you. The other was the Forma Urbis Romae.
The Forma Urbis Romane was an detailed marble map of Rome circa 200 CE. It outlined every street, alley, doorway, and stairwell in the city. Not just public areas, but the internal plans to the buildings as well. Unfortunately, a majority of the map was destroyed and used for lime and other building materials. Today, only about 10% remains.
I’ve always had a soft sport of maps every since I was little. Whether the map was a real location, or a fictional one, a map always filled me with wonder. It was a window to an adventure. With a map, I’m prepared to go.