This is Bostonography

Greetings, Bay Staters and curious outsiders. This is Bostonography.

My name is Andy Woodruff. I am a cartographer and one-fifth of Axis Maps. I have lived in the Boston area for a little over two years, having arrived in Cambridge in 2008. That’s a lifetime short of being accepted as a real local, but nevertheless I have a great fondness for Boston, Cambridge, and the rest of the area. When I’m not doing my day job, too often I’ve spent my time describing the city with maps. (Below, for example. More on that one eventually.)

Paths traveled in Boston

And why not? In its geographical form Boston is, for lack of a better word, unique in this country. (Permit me to use the word “Boston” loosely to describe the urban settlement centered on Boston, ignoring arbitrary administrative boundaries.) Culturally and physically speaking, it is an eminently mappable city. And I’ve witnessed the pride in the city that can be inspired by maps that speak to the character of Boston. This is part of my motivation in creating this site.

“Bostonography” could mean a lot of things, but my idea of it is maps and graphics that describe Boston and life in Boston, and the underlying stories about the city. This isn’t a collection of every single map or image that turns up; it’s about those that represent particularly interesting facets of Boston’s culture or geography. Or sometimes it’ll just be especially cool Boston-themed work. The material on this site might range from eye candy to thorough academic studies.

Tim Wallace, area native and Ph.D. candidate in Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, joins me as a partner in this endeavor. He brings to the table a real knack for uncovering fascinating images and stories as well as the perfect level of scholarly interest in Boston’s cultural geography. He also brings lots of gummy candy. Not having overlapped in our graduate school time at UW, Tim and I largely know each other through conference encounters, which are great for hatching schemes like this site. For a bit more about us, check the About page.

So there you have it—an introductory post. We’ll dive into some actual interesting stuff very soon, starting with the work of the influential Bostonographer Kevin Lynch (one of his maps, showing “some major problems” in Boston, is below as a preview). So thanks for dropping by, and stay tuned to the RSS and/or Twitter feeds!

"Some Major Problems" in Boston

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14 Responses to This is Bostonography

  1. Carlos says:

    With all the Boston & Massachusetts references in Family Guy, you could practically have an entire blog devoted to that as well. 😉

    Looking forward to reading more about about Boston!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Carlos. And thanks for the comment. Too true about the Family Guy New England references. Luckily for us, as Quahog is “located” in Rhode Island, we might not touch on it too much. Although you bring up an excellent idea – the greater Boston area has been represented over and over in various ways through pop art and film. Some of that will surely find its way to the pages of this here blog.

  2. Jeff says:

    Great idea. Part of the challenge of Boston is that the geography is always changing. Recently, while at the Boston Harbor Hotel, I was enjoying their display of historical maps of the city and the region — and I solved a mystery. The reason my condo’s basement is so prone to flooding? Not only is it built on a marsh — but right on top of what was once a pond. Filled in sometime during the last hundred years, the ground remains so low-lying and water-logged all it takes is a few days of rain and everything in the basement is floating.

    • Tim says:

      Hey, Jeff. Sweet find in the Harbor Hotel. Yeah, Boston has all kinds of mysteries to be revealed underground. There’s bound to be loads of stuff hidden under this city when something like 2/3 of what we consider Boston proper is built on fill. Hopefully we will cover some of that stuff here soon. Thanks for checking out our first post!

      • Marilyn O says:

        Yeah, they always say if we got another earthquake (and we had a fairly severe one in the 1700s, I believe some church steeples crumbled) but if we got another one, the entire Back Bay would simply crumble and sink into the landfill below and the Charles would wash over the remains.

  3. Marilyn O says:

    On another note (& the original reason I came here) – I love the Axis maps as graphic design for the wall and will probably buy one for that, but I’m sure you’d admit, I couldn’t even imagine actually TRYING to get around town using it while driving! Of course, I don’t NEED a map, I could drive around Boston blindfolded – after all, everybody ELSE here seemingly does.

  4. RJ says:

    Andy and Tim,

    As a ostonian who has been dazzled by the combined beauty and functionality of maps my whole life, I’m really excited to see where this blog goes.

    One question/suggestion: is there a way to re-draw a map so that the length along major roads reflects the time it takes to drive them? I think a series of these maps, e.g. showing Boston in the middle of the night compared to rush hour, would be very interesting. It could be done by creating nodes at major intersections and using traffic data to distance the nodes from each other appropriately, thus stretching the underlying map attached to the nodes.

    • Thanks, RJ. That’s an intriguing idea, and it would be fun to give it a try. Travel time maps in general have always held my interest and one of these days I’ll look further into the various display techniques that people have come up with. Most often they seem to involve mapping travel times from a single point of origin rather than between many nodes, although I’m sure someone has come up with a way to do that. (Sometimes you hear people talk about subway maps as being scaled by travel time in this way, but I don’t think that’s really the case.)

      Anyway, academic and trade interest aside, it would definitely make for a pretty cool set of Boston maps. We’ll jot it down on our “ideas” napkin!

  5. Brendan Decker says:

    Hello Andy:

    I am a fellow NACIS member (although I have not been able to attend a conference for several years now), and cartographer living in Arlington, MA. We are neighbors! Email me if you ever want to chat some more cartography-related ideas. I studied cartography at The Ohio State University, and I have lived in greater Boston for about 5 years now. I am a GIS coordinator out in the metrowest “burbs”. I always enjoy corresponding with fellow cartographers!

  6. Mark Jaquith says:

    You know about NEMO right? The North East Map Organization.
    We are definitely the coolest map group in town. Our conference will be at the BPL this June. You should check it out.

    P.S. Thirty five years doesn’t make you a local either.

  7. Paul Zagaeski says:

    Another fan checking in. Looking forward to your posts.

    I’m always intrigued by representations of the historical evolution of a locale. The coolest thing about living in a U.S. city with extensive history is recognizing a familiar present-day location as it’s portrayed in a historical map or illustration.

  8. Richard Lesses says:

    As a certified map freak and ex-Cantabrigian (now in Belmont), I love this place.

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