Mapping Jerusalem

 

 

Q: How do you think mapping has changed in our lifetimes?
 
A: The big change is new technology, such as GPS on our phones and website design. Mapping is becoming pervasive. Previously, I would never have taken out a map to find a restaurant, now I always do. A related change is more popular contribution, people putting in new areas, reviews, ratings, things like that.
 
Q: So a form of democratisation?
 
A: Well, I am looking right now at how it is not in fact very democratic. It is perhaps more horizontal, but not everyone has the same access. There are restrictions such as the price of technology and also who has the interest, free time and skill to update the maps. It has created a new dynamic for sure, cartographers have lost power to, broadly, middle class people.
 
There are studies that show that men map more than women, white people more than black people and so on.
 
There are different places where people can map. In addition to adding a restaurant in google, there is a commmunity map site called openstreetmap (one word), which provides an alternative to corporate mapping. Even street names can be changed on this. Even here, you need to have a lot of technical knowledge to be able to have a significant impact on this, for big changes you have to be a web developer and it helps if you have other privileges such as available time, the right language and so on.
 
Q: So do you think that mapping can ever be apolitical? 
 
A: No. Even when you are deciding what goes on the map, that is kind of a political decision. For example, people tend to put a road on the map or a castle on the map, but not a tree. Mapping cannot be fully apolitical, but that is also not necessarily a bad thing.
 
Q: Tell me about your work in Palestine.
 
A: If you go to google maps, the Palestinian side of Jerusalem is not really mapped. It is not really transparent why half of the city is not mapped properly. If you take a screenshot of East Jerusalem on google maps, you will find that only Israeli neighbourhoods and settlements are really mapped in detail. The project I was involved with was using openstreetmap to map Palestinian neighbourhoods. It is difficult for the reasons I mentioned before: technical difficulties, English language documentation requirements, the fact that there are many Israeli mappers on the site.
 
Q: So there must be heated discussions on there. Is it like on wikiepdia, where people keep changing things back and forth? 
 
A: Well the protocol is that changes should not be made directly on the map. There are forums for discussion and changes should only really be made after agreement has been reached. There are very few Palestinians on there and many are against normalisation. In other words, they think that no real debate is possible until the end of the occupation, because the power balance is so unequal. So for those reasons, there actually isn't that much discussion, really!
 
Q: How about the topic of gentrification? 
 
A: I went to Jerusalem as an underpaid intern. I don't know about you, but in my life I have always felt like a gentrifier. As usual, I looked for a cheap place in Jerusalem! Jerusalem is in fact flooded with international workers, from the UN and so on - often on quite high salaries. Because of their tendency to want to support Palestinians, they try to move to Palestinian areas. This greatly increases the rent in those areas! That is not to say the rents on the Israeli side are cheap - there, it is mostly land being bought by American Jews which is pushing the prices up. Nowhere is cheap! I lived in the basement in a Palestinian house - the owners still lived there. I guess we were overpaying slightly, which you could argue was problematic because a Palestinian couple could not pay as much. Then again, we are from a rich part of the world, so in a way it is only fair that they took advantage - which they only did a little bit, really. It is one of these complicated areas where class and national politics intersectionality is a little bit contradictory. 
 
Q: What role do you think maps can play in the process of gentrification?
 
A: There is a famous activist project mapping empty homes in the East End of London. At the moment,  you are getting a situation where council tenants are being evicted and the estates are left empty, whilst property developers wait for an opportunity to develop them into luxury flats. At the same time, there is supposedly a shortage of council housing. This is a good example of using mapping to spread information about gentrification. 
 
Weirdly enough, if a neighbourhood is at risk of gentrification, it is better if it is not mapped at all. That makes it less attractive to people looking to move somewhere. For a restaurant or a shop, this might mean an economic loss, but it can also be a benefit to the community. 
 
Q: Where do you see mapping going in the future?
 
A: Google is pushing mapping in some interesting and strange directions. They are investing a lot in mapping, looking to blend it with other services, such as 3D images and data services, transport, traffic information, trying to predict what you are looking for. More and more, machines will also contain geographic data. Self driving cars are an extreme example, that is not really even a map, the information is in the machine already. 
 
Q: How about the idea of using mapping over time to see how an area has changed over time?
 
A: Well this is an important distinction - this will tell you not how an area has changed, as you can't go back in time and look at the area in the past, but rather how the mapping of the area has changed.
 
Q: That's true, it is a subtle but very important distinction to make! So what would you tell our readers if they have also caught map fever and want to know more? 
 
A: Check out openstreetmap. I criticise it a lot, but it is also very open to criticism. There are online forums as well, where you can discuss the gender, class and language problems in the project. They are also very open to sharing technical knowledge, really out of a passion for mapping.
 
"Mapping: A Critical Introduction to Cartography and GIS" by Jeremy Crampton is great for a general overview. It is thought for uni students, but it is easy to read!
 
For a shorter read on why and how maps are political, I find this "academic graphic essay" pretty good: http://www.colorado.edu/geography/foote/maps/assign/reading/Krygier-Wood-Rethinking-Maps.pdf
 
Oh, and there is a book that recently came out called "A history of the world in 12 maps", by Jerry Brotton. It is becoming kind of a bestseller. 
 
On the topic of gentrification, there are some great mapping visuals from the Bay Area in San Francisco:

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