October 14th, 2010 / 8:14 am

Geography Thursdays #3: Bill Rankin’s Radical Cartography

Density of White People in New York, WIMBY v. NIMBY series, Bill Rankin, 2010

Bill Rankin’s maps are not only representations of physical landscapes. They also attempt to explain how people live in the places they live, and the social and political implications of what his maps show is difficult to dodge. The maps are confrontational. They uncover the everyday things that our individual geographic habits might hide from us.  To see more of Rankin’s maps, click here.

The map above is part of Rankin’s WIMBY v. NIMBY series, which he describes like so:

Another take on the fragmented racial landscape of American urbanism, inspired a bit by Debord’s classic cut-up psychogeographical maps of Paris. Segregation creates cities-within-cities, islands and seas of inclusion and exclusion.

All maps show the same portion of greater New York — an area about 40 miles square, centered on Manhattan.

Compared to other American cities, however, New York does have many areas of genuine diversity, where the well-armed not-in-my-backyarders compete with the fiesty and loosely organized welcome-into-my-backyard brigade. The battle of the NIMBYs and the WIMBYs continues apace.

Note: “Diversity” here indicates the chance that two randomly chosen residents will be of different races or ethnicities — i.e., the Gibbs/Martin/Blau index of diversity. All data from the 2000 U.S. Census.

Radical Cartography‘s mission statement is care of Jean Baudrillard’s “The Precession of Simulacra”:

If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where the decline of the Empire sees this map become frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts — the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an Imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing) — then this fable has come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory — PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA — it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: The desert of the real itself.

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  1. keedee
  2. Kyle Minor

      I think that this response is not in keeping with the spirit of the post or the mapmaking, but if would make you feel better, I’ll replace the map with the one you suggested.

  3. deadgod

      Density of White People in New York

      Is this a map of the mass per volume of “white people in New York”? so the authorities can find which white people’s homes are decorated with lead paint? and which white people drink liqueur with gold flecks in it?

      Or is it a map of the relative hospitality to ideas of the minds of “white people in New York”?

  4. Kyle Minor

      Actually, I can’t do that, because, while Fischer does the overlaid map, Rankin only does a series, which you can see here: http://www.radicalcartography.net/index.html?nywimby

      Obviously the project does not mean in relation to the Baudrillard quote in the way you are describing it. Spend some time on Rankin’s site, okay?

  5. Kyle Minor

      Maybe the problem is that I put the Baudrillard quote right beneath the map, and they’re not in explicit conversation in the way I’ve made them seem. I’m going to add all the maps in the series, above, to provide context, and change the post to put the Baudrillard quote at the bottom. I guess I didn’t do a very good job of crafting this post.

  6. Kyle Minor

      All right, keedee and deadgod, I’ve taken your criticisms to heart. The post was misleading because I didn’t adequately contextualize the image. So I’ve edited it as of 12:12 pm, and I hope it better represents the project now.

  7. deadgod

      No, Kyle! – I wasn’t commenting on the layout of the post. I was keedeenk about the phrase, is all.

      And, without knowing keedee at all, I think she or he was simply making her or his own – perhaps idiosyncratic, perhaps commonsensical – connection. Not criticizing, just interpreting: not drowning, waving.

      The post is fine; all anyone has to do is to go to the link and see that, indeed, the quote is what they see when they first land at the site (as you say, a kind of “mission statement”).

      Rankin’s projects – the one’s at the site – seem to be exactly what cartography on a practically thoroughly mapped planet is good for.

      I wonder at that introductory (?) quote, though. I don’t think “hyperreal” is the right idea for his – what – interventions. He’s not “generat[ing] models of a real without origin or reality” at all; he’s using mapping to excavate the surfaces, familiar surfaces, of supposedly ‘already mapped’ territories.

      Baudrillard’s quote is temporarily thrilling to entertain as a possibility, but I think, from, oh, a few minutes acquaintance!, that Rankin is not a po-mo empirically-disclosed-reality denier, is he?, so much as he’s a (I hope) gleeful complicator – perhaps a problematizer – of “reality”.

  8. Kyle Minor

      Fair enough!

      Ordinarily I wouldn’t care enough to change the post, but I do think that it wasn’t clear enough to do right by Rankin. The other questions you raise here are a good starting place for a different discussion, and one that’s not about me.

  9. deadgod

      Ha ha. Ok, ok – your already-groovy blogicle is even better, in that the Rankin ‘description’ makes present clearly the focus of that particular intervention – this specific illustrating, I’m guessing, his general – .

      Still think hyperreality is not what he’s after, or after indicating.

  10. keedee

      It was a “disturbing read” but not the only one, I know it’s not the way you intended the post to come off. Dangerous stuff geography.

  11. keedee

      Yeah, that’s just about right. Map choice was specific to the post though.

  12. smart dumbguy

      man, I haven’t been to that site in a while, but I used to spend hours there. he’s good

  13. Elisa

      Huh. I know this guy. Think this is the first time I’ve seen someone I know, in ways that have nothing to do with lit-bloggery, alluded to on a lit blog.

      Hi Kyle!

  14. Eingeweide

      rankin, that fuckin hipster…