Beyond the Map (from the author of Off the Map)

Review :

We access maps with our phones, computer etc. In 'Beyond the Map,' Alastair Bonnett argues that maps are inadequate to describe the world 'the old view of geography as a collation of known and clear borders and established, accepted facts is disintegrating. The world exhibited in the book is fragmented and fragmenting; it is surging with utopian and secessionist ambitions and it harbours legions of ghosts and endless secrets.'

Geography is getting stranger: new islands are rising up, familiar territories are splintering and secret realms are cracking open their doors. The world's unruly zones are multiplying and changing fast. With thirty-nine stories from thirty-nine extraordinary places, Alastair Bonnett tells us about the shifting nature of place and place-making.

Hostile Architecture:

From ubiquitous protrusions on window ledges to bus-shelter seats that pivot forward, from water sprinklers and loud muzak to hard tubular rests, from metal park benches with solid dividers to forests of pointed cement bollards under bridges, urban spaces are aggressively rejecting soft, human bodies.

We see these measures all the time within our urban environments, whether in London or Tokyo, but we fail to process their true intent. When you're designed against, you know it. Other people might not see it, but you will. The message is clear: you are not a member of the public, at least not of the public that is welcome here." The same is true of all defensive architecture. The psychological effect is devastating.

There is a wider problem, too. These measures do not and cannot distinguish the "vagrant" posterior from others considered more deserving. When we make it impossible for the dispossessed to rest their weary bodies at a bus shelter, we also make it impossible for the elderly, for the infirm, for the pregnant woman who has had a dizzy spell. By making the city less accepting of the human frame, we make it less welcoming to all humans. By making our environment more hostile, we become more hostile within it.

The Saharan Sand Wall:

The Saharan Sand Wall is the longest active military barrier in the world - a sand berm 1,367 miles long that is visible on Google Earth. Guarded by 90,000 Moroccan troops and bolstered with 7 million land mines, it has acted since the late 1980s as Morocco's defense against the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, an essentially exiled people of 600,000 who mostly inhabit refugee camps in Algeria and Mauritania.

The Ferghana Valley:

The Ferghana Valley is at the centre of Asia, nearly 1,250 miles from the nearest ocean; the middle of the middle. It lies in the very heart of 'Central Asia', a rather nebulous but very central-sounding label that also puts it at the crossroads of three former Soviet states: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

It is a riven heartland. The Ferghana Valley contains eight fractious enclaves. There are two marooned outposts of Tajikistan and four bits of Uzbekistan in that part of the valley that is in Kyrgyzstan, as well as one Tajik and one Kyrgyz territory in the part that is Uzbek. Although they appear as solid lines on most maps, many of the borders hereabouts are actually far from certain and very much disputed. Over recent years the valley's many national boundaries have been witness to a lot of what the outside world usually classes as 'ethnic violence'.

Tsunami Stones and Nuclear Markers:

The coastline of Japan is dotted with stone tablets, bearing warnings like "High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants," and "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis." The Japanese are used to the power of nature, but the shock of the 11 March 2011 disaster, which is often referred to by the month and year as 3/11, has been profound. One of the consequences has been a renewed interest in the stones and an anguished search for new ways to send a message to subsequent generations.

How can we warn future generations What can we do to create a mark in the landscape, some permanent alteration, which will make them sit up and listen This is not just a dilemma for countries that suffer from tidal waves. The most profound challenge is for those many countries looking for somewhere to put nuclear waste, which will remain deadly for a hundred thousand years or even longer. How do we tell people to keep clear, to stay away from radioactive disposal sites, across such deep reaches of time Recently the nuclear industry has been coming up with possible answers to this question, in part by drawing on the story of the tsunami stones.

They have turned to artists to come up with ideas. To date, these include creating children's songs about radioactive waste that get carried down generations, and building a creative 'laboratory' above the waste sites in which each generation can think up new ways to explain the problem of nuclear waste. Another idea is to breed 'Ray Cats', genetically engineered felines that will start glowing when they are near radiation.

The tsunami stones, old and new, do important work, but it is time to admit that we can't warn the distant future; we can't buy off our guilt with stones, spikes, songs, luminous cats or anything else. With that acknowledgement should come another: the choice is between saying 'let the future sort it out because we can't', or 'we shouldn't be creating lethal hazards for unborn generations'. The former position is so obviously irresponsible that it seems to me we are stuck with the latter. Our efforts need to go into creating cleaner types of energy supply. The tsunami stones determinedly exhort us to learn and listen; and one of the things they are saying is that we need to take responsibility for our own actions, and not pass the buck to the future.

'Dau' Movie Set:

It is nearly unbelievable story of a Russian filmmaker who in the mid-2000s recreated a model city of Soviet-era Moscow, complete with apartments, electricity, and plumbing. The director required his cast to live there 24 hours a day and never break character. Actors began spying on one another and some were arrested by a secret police force that put them in jail alongside criminals brought in as extras from nearby jails.

Spratly Islands:

Trap Streets:

In cartography, a trap street is a fictitious entry in the form of a misrepresented street on a map, often outside the area the map nominally covers, for the purpose of "trapping" potential copyright violators of the map who, if caught, would be unable to explain the inclusion of the "trap street" on their map as innocent. On maps that are not of streets, other "copyright trap" features (such as nonexistent towns, or mountains with the wrong elevations) may be inserted or altered for the same purpose.

The most famous example of the insertion of a false place name on a map is the tiny settlement called Algoe, the town that's namechecked in the film Paper Towns. It was a fictional insert on a map produced by the General Drafting Company in the 1930s, on an empty road north from Roscoe in New York State. The toponym is an anagram of the names of the company director and his assistant: Otto G. Lindberg (OGL) and Ernest Alpers (EA). This 'trap town' worked, up to a point. Rand McNally's map of the state duly identified a place on that lonely road called Algoe, and the General copyright breach. At this point fact and fiction begin to merge, because Rand McNally not only did not admit infringement, but they pointed to the fact that there was, indeed, an Algoe General Store on that spot. Hence there was an Algoe. Which is, of course, rather puzzling. Why was there an Algoe It is because, when they were thinking about what to call their new store, recently built on that stretch of road, the owners looked at the General Drafting Company's map and saw that it already had a name. So Algoe came into existence. The general store shut down years ago, but if you go to Google Earth, the same spot is still tagged 'Algoe'.

Cairo, city of the Zabaleen:

Mokattam Village, sitting close to central Cairo but on a craggy hillside in the shadow of Mokattam Mountain, is a Coptic enclave, a unique Egyptian branch of the faith that is almost as old as Christianity itself. It is 'one of Egypt's many hidden places'. Here live the Zabaleen, Arabic for 'garbage pickers'. Zabaleen are migrants, who arrived in Cairo in the mid-twentieth century, then being pushed out to this arid ground in 1969.

Within the international development community, the Zabaleen are famous. They are 'far ahead of any modern "Green" initiatives', according to Garbage Dreams, a recent documentary which follows the tribulations of three teenage Zabaleen boys.

Yet these plaudits have not shifted perceptions among the Cairenes. The public view of Garbage City is tinged with disdain, not just because of the smell but owing to the Zabaleen tradition of using pigs to consume organic waste. Egypt is, for the most part, a more tolerant place than many of its neighbours, but it is a 90 per cent Muslim country and attitudes to the Zabaleen can quickly veer from wrinkled noses and mild amusement to outright contempt. A government-imposed mass slaughter of the community's pigs in 2009 was justified in terms of containing swine flu but, given there were no cases of swine flu in Egypt at the time, it was understandably interpreted within Mukattam Village and the wider Christian community as having been driven by religious hostility.

It seems obvious that they should be regarded as one of the city's greatest assets, not a source of shame or pinched noses but of the proud boast: 'Cairo, city of the Zabaleen'.

Off Street View:

The very rich and the very poor have one thing in common: they're not on Google Street View. The off-screen places of Street View are not only at the extreme ends of income, but this is where the most resilient of the hidden zones lie. Their stories tell us a lot about the changing relationship between wealth and visibility. It is rumoured that among the residents of Hidden Hills are famous names like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian. These days the wealthy - famous and non-famous alike - don't want to be seen. Increasingly wealth and secrecy go together. It has started to seem like a natural pairing but, in fact, it's a recent phenomenon.

The reason that Street View doesn't venture into the warren-like world of the slums is not because the streets are too narrow for its camera car. Many are broad enough and, in any case, the cameras can and often are carried as backpacks. It is because it is assumed that Google users don't want to see and the slum dwellers don't want to be seen. Maybe it would make us feel bad, or the residents ashamed. But before we become too worked up about Google's disappearing act, we need to consider a simple question: how do we know that the slums of Wanathamulla are there Because Google Earth shows them. On conventional maps they are just a blank space. Google Earth and Street View are technologies of visibility, and they show up what is not officially acknowledged. Activists working in slums across the world have been turning to Google Earth as a tool to cajole governments into acknowledging and assisting hidden communities. The movement for mapping slums began in India, Sri Lanka's giant neighbour. In the city of Sangli, for example, the slums were once just cartographic empty space. Google Earth changed that: they could no longer be denied or ignored. They now have recognised borders and a programme for rehabilitation.

The same thing is happening in Africa. In Nairobi a group of activist mappers who call themselves the Spatial Collective use handheld GPS devices to put the city's slums on the map.

"A place is a storied landscape, somewhere that has human meaning. But another thing we have started to learn, or relearn, is that places aren't just about people; that they reflect our attempt to grasp and make sense of the non-human; the land and its many inhabitants that are forever around and beyond us. It can be an unnerving exchange, especially when what we hope to see is something purely natural, and what we find instead is our own reflection. Shorelines are waxing and waning with increasing speed, and old kingdoms, like Doggerland, as well as new ones in the once-inaccessible Arctic, are being revealed, demanding that we look at the landscape, and at the map, in new ways; as something in motion, unmoored by tradition."

15 downloads 760 Views 12.6 MB Size