I’ve always loved maps. As a kid, I waited excitedly for the National Geographic magazines, hoping that this would be one of the lucky months with a beautiful double-sided highly-detailed map. I’d pore over every feature of the map, looking for any oddities in the route a road took, for example, or what I considered to be strange naming conventions (West Virginia and Virginia? Baja California and Baja California Sur?). I’d try to imagine myself living in that location, and how the geography of it would affect my daily life. How would I get to school? Where would I play with my friends?
That fascination and imagination continues to this day when I look at maps. I am fascinated by enclaves, exclaves, and any other -claves you can think of. The quirks of human history and geography, laid down on a map with different splashes of colour. I try to imagine what it’s like to live in the various exclaves in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Are they cut off from their families and friends?
My love of maps evolved, however. As is well known, I am an admirer of public transit maps, especially metro maps. Why? At its core, the fascination is for the same reason. How do people go to school, to work, to play, to shop, every day in their city? Which stops are the busiest, and which are the quietest, and why? Beyond that, it’s also because the maps bestow a certain order on the organized chaos that is any modern city. No need to navigate traffic, or get lost by taking a wrong turn. You look at the map, you find your starting point, and you take the shortest route to your destination. Of course, in the larger cities (Mexico, New York, Moscow, Japan) the systems are quite complex and the shortest route may not be so obvious; but still, taking the metro is much, much easier than driving in an unknown city.
Last year, I read a book by Ken Jennings, who holds the record of the longest win streak on Jeopardy!, called Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks, and I was pleasantly surprised that I’m not the only person with this “affliction”; I nodded my head in vigorous agreement many times while reading it, saying “That’s me! That’s me!” while the cats stared curiously.
And then there are metro maps. In many cities, the metro/subway/tube is almost a symbol of the city itself. When I think of the world’s great public transit systems, I think of Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Mexico City, Madrid, Barcelona, and of course, my home city’s system, Montréal. And oddly enough, I am not the only one who thinks like this. There are many other people out there who are as fascinated by metro maps as I am. Take a look at this site, for example, as a recent one I found. And of course, the classic UrbanRail.Net. And then there’s the well-known book, Transit Maps of the World.
To finish off this exploration of maps, here are a few interesting videos:
Weird choice of music on this next one: