Skip

You can't get there from here
March 13, 2013 8:31 PM   Subscribe

It's nearly impossible to make consumer navigation technology work well in India. Western-style routing based on directions ("Turn left onto Woodrow Street") is impossible when streets often don't have names, not to mention the problems of using the local language. The solution? Landmark based navigation.
posted by overleaf (55 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would like landmark based navigation in the US. It is often hard to see street signs, and harder to concentrate on driving, a small GPS screen and scan for signs.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:46 PM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have been wondering if anyone was doing this for months, since an Indian friend expressed his amazement at how easy it is to get directions here.

Isn't it interesting that western countries developed a postal addressing system that's relatively easy for computers to understand, decades before computers were invented? We could have equally easily settled on some mishmash of different systems. But we got number, street name, city, state universally adopted early on, and it is just about perfect for geocoding addresses into coordinates.
posted by miyabo at 8:56 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember getting directions from many people in Rajasthan, unfortunately most folks had no reality based idea of which way I should go. This did not stop them from rushing across busy intersections to help me with my map and send me nowhere in particular. The worst was Jodhpur, where the VERY narrow streets curve and everything is painted blue. I feel that most people in that city felt themselves to be lost and only sent me out to be a low cost explorer.
posted by qinn at 9:02 PM on March 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


I had the same experience in Amsterdam funnily enough.
posted by fshgrl at 9:11 PM on March 13, 2013


I don't mean to be flip, but is this news? Post addresses in India are often written relative to landmarks. For example, the Leela Hotel in Bangalore is a huge landmark, and nearby addresses are commonly written "Old Airport Road, opp. Leela Hotel".
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:11 PM on March 13, 2013


I think it's news to most Americans that there are different ways to do addressing and navigation. I was surprised myself to find out that street addresses in Japan are typically numbered sequentially by the date a building was built, not by position. It just never occurred to me.
posted by overleaf at 9:22 PM on March 13, 2013


I don't mean to be flip, but is this news?
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:11 PM on March 13 [+] [!]


No. But it's a good thing Metafilter isn't a news site, because I found this fascinating.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:23 PM on March 13, 2013 [21 favorites]


Hm, the first directions I had to give to an auto driver in Bangalore involved taking me to a place "near Tiger Prabhakar's house," which was apparently the main thing the driver needed to know. Unfortunately, searching for it through this service doesn't seem to work. :D
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:31 PM on March 13, 2013


It gave me the distance in kilometers and the rate if I hailed an autorickshaw.

Unless there's been an extraordinary boom in rickshaw meter repair and/or rickshaw meter trustworthiness since I was last in India five years ago, the latter metric here would be purely speculative if not aspirational for a non-local anywhere outside Bangalore and certain parts of Delhi, Bombay and Hyderabad.
posted by gompa at 9:47 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was in Delhi last year work. One of my colleagues I was traveling with is an avid stamp collector and she wanted to go to a post office to buy stamps. So on our day off we called for a taxi to do some shopping, with the goal of eventually getting to a post office.

Now I have always been under the impression that if you are a cab driver you maybe have some wayfinding skills and experience. Certainly when we asked the driver to take us to a market he had no trouble navigating the maddening vehicle-choked Delhi streets, but when it was time to go to the post office suddenly all bets were off. We were stopping about every five or six blocks so the driver could ask someone for directions, and it seemed like EVERYBODY had an opinion about where the post office was, but none of them agreed on its exact whereabouts. It took two hours to find the damned place.

Later during that same trip we had a weekend off so we decided to hire a driver to take us to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and other sites. We had toyed with the idea of renting the car ourselves but the hotel concierge strongly urged us to not do that. I'm really glad we listened to him because that trip was pretty crazy too.

At first we were cruising down the highway just fine, no problems. Then we entered a more populated area and there was a traffic jam. No problem! Our driver was very good at sneaking through the traffic, until BAM! Nope. We could go no further. Even Virender's (our driver) expert skills were no match for the gridlock in front of us. A grain truck, likely over capacity to begin with, had spilled all over the highway on both sides and police were turning everyone back. We tried to get through anyway and almost tipped the car into a ditch.

So we turned back until our driver found a "suitable" side road. I'm not sure how he knew this. He wasn't using GPS or maps or anything. Maybe it was the long caravan of other vehicles that tipped him off. It was a one-lane dirt road that wound through several small villages and farms. It was quite a lovely detour and the rest of the trip to Agra was uneventful. But on the way back...

You'd think coming back would be easier, right? Like we've already been this way before, easy peasy. Well I'm not exactly sure what happened but somehow we ended up in an incredibly crazy part of Dehli where the alleyways kept narrowing to fine points and the streets were just oceans and oceans of jagged, broken asphalt. It was like the most forgotten corner of Delhi ever. Took us an extra hour just to find our way back to our original route.

Traveling in India is very exciting, but don't bother relying on GPS. Or maps. Or sometimes even the expers. Just go have a blast and don't get too upset if it takes you a little longer to get where you're going.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:48 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I had the same experience in Amsterdam funnily enough.
In the UK it's by far the most common way or at least used to be, helped by the fact that there were plenty of pubs with distinctive names and big signs proclaiming the same - "Keep going until you see the Red Lion, then it's the second on your left" etc.
posted by Abiezer at 9:52 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The rural village I live in, even though streets are named and houses are numbered, gives anyone with a GPS fits. My parents came up to visit me the first time and got lost, since their satnav didn‘t have my street listed by the name the Post Office uses. Depending on who you ask, I live on Rue du Comté, or County Road, or the Old County Road 9, or the Old Highway 17, or...

“No, mom, just turn left at the chip stand.“

Technology improving our lives indeed.
posted by Jughead at 9:53 PM on March 13, 2013


I think it's news to most Americans that there are different ways to do addressing and navigation.

Yes, but the important thing is that many of those different ways don't actually work, not even for the people who have to live with them. Being able to explain where you live with precision without having to draw pictures of nearby statuary and architecture is an objective good.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:02 PM on March 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have a mental image of Google India streetview teams going out in the dead of night to invent names and surreptitiously install street signs out of sheer frustration.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:18 PM on March 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


1adam12, I think address precision or even a Western-style map is not necessarily an objective good. Who needs to know exactly where you live... that is, who doesn't already know where you live? Anthropologist/political scientist James C. Scott wrote about maps in Seeing Like A State
Since the driving logic behind the map is to create a manageable and reliable format for taxation, the map is associated with a property register in which each specified (usually numbered) lot on the map is linked to an owner who is responsible for paying its taxes. The cadastral map and property register are to the taxation of land as the maps and tables of the scientific forester were to the fiscal exploitation of the forest.
He also talks about how the project to "rationalize" city streets into nice legible grids (see Baron Haussmann in Paris) was very much a project to impose political rules.
The cityscape of Bruges in 1500 could be said to privilege local knowledge over outside knowledge, including that of external political authorities. It functioned spatially in much the same way a difficult or unintelligible dialect would function linguistically. As a semipermeable membrane, it facilitated communication within the city while remaining stubbornly unfamiliar to those who had not grown up speaking this special geographic dialect.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:25 PM on March 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


The American system lacking any formal divisions smaller than a city is a problem, though. If you say you live on Famous Street 1200 I probably understand if I'm from the area, but if not there's absolutely no frame of reference, and good luck finding a small street on a map. Meanwhile, in Japan, if the address is Shinjuku Block 3 you have enough information to get within a five-minute walk of where you're going using any map, even if the specific building number is completely useless.

I remember Prague is interesting because it has both order-built and order-in-line numbering systems.
posted by 23 at 10:25 PM on March 13, 2013


In the UK it's by far the most common way or at least used to be...

My brother's mental map of London revolved around using pubs as landmarks. It worked wonderfully for him, but i could never get directions from him as I can never seem to be able remember the names well enough, unless of course I have spent sufficient time inside.

With the number of pubs that have closed over the last couple of decades I don't suppose it would work so well for him any more either, though he'd probably just remember the ex-pub's name and location ("It's just past where the Sun in Splendour used to be until it turned into a tandoori restaurant in 1989").
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:36 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think Israel might be the same way, outside of the major cities. Our distributor there does not have a street name or building number; we have to put the city name in the address field. I feel sorry for the FedEx driver.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:39 PM on March 13, 2013


So most urban centers do have names for virtually all roads out there; it's just that, nobody uses them, sometimes not even the the municipal corporations in question.

In fact, I'll argue that relying on mind-maps, so to speak, won't help much either. Growth in the last ten years in Indian cities has been exponential, cancerous even; so much so that every person on the road has a different mental idea of where he or she is. For instance, getting from the Hyderabad Railway Station to, say, the old Chief Minister's house can be one of the following:

1) "Turn right at Ek Minar ki Masjid and go straight along Nampally Station Road, to finally turn right at Humayun Nagar park, go straight along Mehdi Nawaz Jung Road till the Peddamma temple, and then turn right"

or 2) "Turn right at the Ethiopian Mosque, go straight, past Bazarghat, to turn right in front of the Mir Alam mosque, go straight along Banjara Road No 1 till the Road No 12 junction, and then turn right"

Depending on with whom you converse, one of the following will make sense (but rarely, both) Indian cities have become jam-packed, the crowds massive, the kind of crowds on the street eclectic and diverse; recent migrants wouldn't recognize the old colloquial names for streets (or landmarks) , old timers won't recognize the pace of change (many old-timers know a certain mall in one of the main drags as a famous actor's old house, for instance), Muslims wouldn't know the names of Hindu temples, Hindus won't know the names of mosques and so on, so forth. What you're seeing here isn't a constant set of directions, but a constantly evolving cityscape; it will continue to be so until we start evolving new common narratives for the city. In that limited respect, new metro stations in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai are a start; they'll bring more advantages that getting people off the street, in that they'll get people to orient themselves along metro stations, like you would in London or New York (or in Mumbai itself, given its local-train network).

Right now the services aren’t in Hindi or other local languages, largely due to the technological hurdles of adapting phones for these scripts.

We've had ISCII (Indian Standard Code for Information Interchange) for about 30 years now; we've had support for Indic scripts in Windows since 2001 at least. I'm sorry, but the hurdle in adopting Indian languages on the mobile isn't technological, it's a misalignment of priorities for the Anglophone management at software, telephone and telecom companies. It's actually a tale of retrograde growth; while WinMo supported Indic character rendering till about v6.0, it summarily dumped the library in question, uniscribe.dll, out of Windows Phone 7. Not until last year's version, WP8, did Hindi make a re-appearance, and even that is half-hearted; you only have a Hindi keyboard in WP8, when there are 18 or so different officially recognized scripts on a rupee note, all previously supported in Windows XP to 8 and WinMo 5 &6. Apple could render Indic scripts from iOS 4 onwards, but typing, and only Hindi keyboard, came in iOS 6.0. Stock Android has had a full Indic support for some time, but phone manufacturers have been tardy in bringing out Indic keyboards to their respective ROM's; it's quite a bit of a mess there, too complex for me to keep up on which phones support Indic script and which don't.

All this is also a disgrace, given that we have one of the world's largest IT workforces, and that most of WP7 development was apparently fanned out to Microsoft's India Development Center, that's either at ISB Road, Hyderabad or In Front of Boulder Hills Road, Opposite Wipro Lake, Next to the Indian School of Business, Gachibowli Main Road, Hyderabad.
posted by the cydonian at 11:01 PM on March 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


Huh. Landmark-based navigation in India has been a Google Maps feature since 2009.
posted by lantius at 11:06 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Garmin's 2013 Nuvi models have something like this: "Garmin Real Directions guide using easy-to-see landmarks, buildings and traffic lights – rather than hard-to-read street names."
posted by mrbill at 11:09 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Who needs to know exactly where you live... that is, who doesn't already know where you live? 

Are you not aware of the existence of pizza delivery? Or the postal service? Or ambulances? I don't want to have to make the intimate friendship of the fire brigade just so I can call them in an emergency.

The alternative to the idea of privileging local knowledge over outside is to have a system that provides for both local and outside, in other words something coherent. Perhaps what was good for tax dodgers in a pre-Renaissance town of 30,000 people, most of whom would die in the same house they were born in, is not a good system for a modern megalopolis three orders of magnitude larger, connected to the entire globe.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:10 PM on March 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


the cydonian: Thanks for the interesting summary of mobile OS support for the Devanagari script. On a relatively minor note, Apple added support for a Hindi keyboard in iOS 5 (with an InScript layout), not iOS 6.
posted by RichardP at 11:13 PM on March 13, 2013


Yup, sorry, typo. I meant iOS 5 indeed. :)
posted by the cydonian at 11:20 PM on March 13, 2013


That said, there was something to be said about Nokia's attempts to offer local languages, including Amharic.

Mapping Kibera and how parts of Africa are being mapped also offers a similarly fascinating story, btw.


In 2010, we announced the availability of driving directions on Google Maps in many African countries. This is a feature that allows users to get driving direction information from one location to another (e.g from Kotoka International Airport to Hotel Novotel in Victoria Borg, Accra in Ghana)


But of course not everyone drives or always needs to drive, so today we’re bringing walking directions for 44 African countries!
posted by infini at 11:28 PM on March 13, 2013


Homeboy Trouble, I am definitely pro-food delivery.

I wanted to put out Scott's argument against the high-modernist planning perspective of street naming/organization because I fell into the Western-centric perspective of "you're doing it all wrong" when I moved to Seoul and everyone navigated by landmarks and subway stop exits. You would have to tell cab drivers things like "the old district tax office intersection" or "the alley where the Gucci boutique used to be" and it made me bonkers for a while. Still the Chinese food delivery guys could find you anywhere. I could call from the middle of a Han River park and they would get my black bean noodles to me with no fuss.

My favorite set of directions ever was to a coworker's taro farm up on the North Shore of Oahu and included the phrase "walk over the plank and listen for the dogs barking."
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:52 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Venice needs this. I've heard the French held protests when they put numbers on the houses, not sure about the exact concerns.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:35 AM on March 14, 2013


spamandkimchi: 1adam12, I think address precision or even a Western-style map is not necessarily an objective good. Who needs to know exactly where you live... that is, who doesn't already know where you live? Anthropologist/political scientist James C. Scott wrote about maps in Seeing Like A State
Since the driving logic behind the map is to create a manageable and reliable format for taxation, the map is associated with a property register in which each specified (usually numbered) lot on the map is linked to an owner who is responsible for paying its taxes. The cadastral map and property register are to the taxation of land as the maps and tables of the scientific forester were to the fiscal exploitation of the forest.
Er, there's a rather large difference between a cadastral map and a map usable for route finding. Also, since you don't necessarily need one to make the other, this seems like a giant derail.
posted by brokkr at 1:56 AM on March 14, 2013


Why do you even need landmarks?

I wish my in-car TomTom could just give rally co-pilot-style directions. "200 meters - easy right, then over crest to hairpin left....etc"

I've also been looking for an app that could do this for my recorded mountain biking tracks.
posted by guy72277 at 3:46 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's absolutely true. If you have an easily navigable address, then people you don't know can find you, and for most humans I would argue that is not a net positive situation. Unexpected visitors might be police, might be taxmen, might be bill collectors, might be from any of a dozen levels of government, might even be an angry distant relative. No, on the whole, it's much better to be trivially locatable only with the benefit of local knowledge. (One assumes local delivery agents would have the appropriate knowledge.)

Anonymity is a fine thing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:13 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can't get there from here

Head down this road until you get to where the old Stetson barn used to stand before it burned to the ground in (18)67. Take a left. Keep driving until about a mile (or is it two?) before Thomas' house and look for a tree that's still slightly scarred from when he backed into it three years ago towing my truck out of the ditch. Take another left. Look for a picket fence that hasn't been painted in years (or a freshly painted one--I saw Bob up at the hardware store the other day) and take a right. Drive past every Dunkin' Donuts you see until you get to the one that still bakes on-site (you'll know by the smell) and turn right again. After another ten miles, you've reached your destination you're lost.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:57 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're really arguing in good faith that you should only be locatable via an intimate network of friends and acquaintances I question your hypocrisy not only accessing the internet and typing your internal philosophies therein, but also registering here via paid account.

Apart from that, the perspective of only allowing those people who already know you to find you is the sort of radical level of self centered mindset one normally only sees in the terminally narcissistic.

If one is willingly living in a civilized country with all of the ascribed benefits, you must forfeit certain things. Like living in an untraceable cloistered hermitage, unaccoutable to neither law nor lawman.

I think that attitude is the ultimate end game level of hipster sine qua non attitude, where you're too good for a street address because then plebes might like find your distillery on the top level of the abandoned condemned pickle factory underneath the overpass.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 5:07 AM on March 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


A friend of mine, while giving me directions, once said, "Drive until you're sure you've gone too far, and then turn left at the church." Darned if it didn't work, too.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:07 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you have an easily navigable address, then people you don't know can find you, and for most humans I would argue that is not a net positive situation.

I don't think it's very positive in situations where the fire department, paramedics, or ghostbusters need to find you.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:15 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is also an issue in Puerto Rico. I've had to try to find Google Earth imagery for specific locations in PR, and it drives me up a wall, because although the streets generally have names, the addresses for properties out of the major cities are things like "KM 12.7 PR 126" (12.7 km from the beginning of PR 126 -- well, it's a road, not a straight line, so if I were driving it might work to get me there, but I have yet to figure out how to figure this accurately from the air). If you're in a major city you might get a street address ("Calle Juan Salvador 2300") but apparently Google has yet to figure out how to map these. If you're lucky you get an intersection or an aerial photograph, which makes it doable.

The cadastral map and property register are to the taxation of land as the maps and tables of the scientific forester were to the fiscal exploitation of the forest.

Interestingly enough, tax assessors here in the US use a completely separate set of numbering for their property tax records that has nothing in common with street numbers, and indeed, doesn't even reference the street in the number. Street numbers are fine for EMS, pizza delivery guys, etc. -- but not for assessors, as they would only cover developed properties -- think about vacant properties, properties down unnamed dirt roads, etc.

The most common system here in the northeast US is a set of official tax maps, each one numbered, with numbered lots; you're Map 33 Lot 127A, or whatever. And while every lot has a number, not every lot number has a corresponding street address. (Or three separate lots have the same street address, which can happen if, say, Pizza Hut buys three houses and tears them down to build one Pizza Hut.)

If you have an easily navigable address, then people you don't know can find you, and for most humans I would argue that is not a net positive situation.

Especially if you're Ron Swanson.
posted by pie ninja at 5:49 AM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's another side benefit: you can instantly tell who is an outsider and treat them suitably poorly.
posted by aramaic at 6:01 AM on March 14, 2013


One of the clever business ideas I have neither the time nor technological ability to develop is to allow custom overlay's to the machine generated GPS systems. So you could have the device make references that (potentially) would be meaninful to only the person giving and the person receiving ... "turn left at Jack's old house, go under the bridge and weep for all the pretty graffiti that was painted over..."
posted by Karmakaze at 6:15 AM on March 14, 2013


The worst was Jodhpur, where the VERY narrow streets curve

You'd think the residents of Jodhpur would allow themselves a little more horizontal clearance, especially around the hips.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:19 AM on March 14, 2013


I give directions to my house as "if you drive into the lake, you've gone too far."
posted by desjardins at 6:26 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Me too, desjardins, and once or twice people have hit the lake.

But then there was the time my sister drove away from the lake.

...And one time my brother couldn't find the lake, which is a pretty good trick, seeing as how it's not very small.


So I guess landmark based navigation is not entirely helpful if one doesn't know their way around already.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:55 AM on March 14, 2013


Believe it or not, this is exactly the problem services like FourSquare are poised to solve way faster than the other bigger mapping players.

Human created waypoints -- billions of them -- is the basis by which landmark navigation succeeds.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:12 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that attitude is the ultimate end game level of hipster sine qua non attitude, where you're too good for a street address because then plebes might like find your distillery on the top level of the abandoned condemned pickle factory underneath the overpass.

If you're saying what I think you're saying here, it sounds like your brain can't comprehend the fact that a society or culture different from yours has a set of rules that it governs itself by, and a protocol that is established that allowed people to get by and find each other for ages.

Thank you for labeling all Indians with your so called "hipster sine qua non attitude" ("ironic" choice of when labeling someone a hipster, in my opinion). Please tell the Indians how to find each other, they're all so lost.
posted by mysticreferee at 7:18 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


My Vietnamese in-laws once told me half-jokingly that to navigate in their countryside it was just easier to stop the car and ask the nearest peasant, who would answer in terms of trees (keep going for two palm trees then turn left at the banyan tree with the top missing, then you'll see a big banana tree etc.). Of course, those trees may or may not be still there, which was the point of the joke.

Another issue with fast-developing countries is that even the locals have a hard time keeping up with the map changes. We once got lost for hours in HCM-City because our friends were living in a area that had just become inhabited (it was a swamp only a few months before) and no one knew where the place was and how to get there, and the taxi driver certainly didn't. I'm not even sure that the place had a name yet.
posted by elgilito at 7:30 AM on March 14, 2013


I think the long-term, easily implementable solution to this will come from increased positional accuracy, so that the device can accurately say "take the third left", update to "take the second left" just as you pass the middle of a cross street, and go to "turn in 20 feet, turn in 5 feet, turn now, turn now, why aren't you turning?" when you arrive. Unfortunately, 15 meter nominal accuracy is not quite good enough for this.

I wonder if you could use a large network of phones as a sort of distributed d-gps? Whenever heuristics indicate that a given receiver is not moving (not hard with an accelerometer available) drop it into "survey" mode and start averaging it's position. Once it has it's own position to within the required error bar, start using it to calculate offsets and start uploading them to a web service for use by other nearby receivers.
posted by CHoldredge at 7:48 AM on March 14, 2013


The Republic of Ireland still lacks postcodes outside Dublin. They claim to be working on it though.

For now it's still a bit like this sometimes:

"Excuse me, could you give me directions to the motorway?"
"Ah, yeah, you want the third road past the Hennessy's old oak tree. Once you see the two fairy thorns in the back field you'll know you've gone too far."
"Hennessy's?"
"ah you know, a short mile past soldier's corner, then over Groom's bridge."
"Oh right."
posted by knapah at 7:59 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


No. Not talking about India. You might want to reread it before you jump to defend the honor of the entire subcontinent, because it feels like you're trying to be offended.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:10 AM on March 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hence the "If you're saying what I think you're saying here"

I apologize, but it's easy for people to offer all sorts of advice to entire societies and cultures based on their own way of life and their personal response to technological advances, so, yes, I get offended when that happens. It's very easy to assume you were doing the same.
posted by mysticreferee at 8:27 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Karmakaze, I totally wanted to do a Google maps overlay of personal memories but a GPS overlay would be even better. Audio! In robot voices! I WANT THIS.

Also, do I have a quote for you:
Conceptual space is constituted by a unified, consistent and coherent system of signs—such as Cartesian co-ordinates— which, from another viewpoint, reduces the world to that system as if reality is only represented by it and cannot be directly experienced. In one way, conceptual space allows all kinds of operations which would otherwise be impossible, like planning a city and then building it according to a plan...

In another way, however, conceptual space marginalises what Lefebvre calls lived spaces (plural), the spaces of and around the body, of association and memory, of desire and hope, of shifting meanings, over-laid, as it were, on the spaces of buildings and streets, cutting at times through the grain of the vista. (Malcolm Miles 2005)
(doubling-down on my anti-Cartesian stance with some Lefebvre, booyah)
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:40 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


All this talk about how terrible it is if the taxman can find you is the sort of thing I'd expect to find on some kind of Tenther website--odd to see it on Metafilter. I would have thought that most of us broadly agreed that people paying the taxes they owe is "an objective good."
posted by yoink at 9:54 AM on March 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


What is "tenther"?
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:10 AM on March 14, 2013


My favourite directions ever had to be to a party we were to attend that went "From anywhere in Canada: Get on the Trans-Canada Highway and head East. At the end turn Left, we're in the third house on the right." Not perhaps an optimal route for most locations but definitely the easiest!
posted by cirhosis at 1:27 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The notion that "non-address" navigation systems are just-as-good-but-different is entirely laughable for lots of reasons. It is not biased or absurd to suggest that, in 2013, a system that makes it easy for an outsider to navigate is better than one that relies entirely on variable landmarks that may or may not still be there.

This is reminding me of an argument I had once with a friend who took offense when I suggested (decades ago) that alphabet-based languages were inherently easier to work with computationally, because they were more efficiently structured vs. pictographic ones in terms of unique symbols required to communicate.

Sometimes, one way really is better than another way. Proper addresses and street names provide a real benefit, especially in a highly mobile world where local knowledge is no longer a given. The better way isn't always the western or American way, obviously, but every now and then, it is. I'd argue that addressing is one of those places.

It's only in places without proper addresses -- like Abu Dhabi, for example, where I admit the lack may be due more to rapid growth than anything else -- that communicating the location of my client's office to the cabbie requires a 10 minute discussion between the concierge, a bellman, another guest, and myself, plus a sketched map on the back of a manilla folder.
posted by uberchet at 4:36 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, one way really is better than another way. Proper addresses and street names provide a real benefit, especially in a highly mobile world where local knowledge is no longer a given.
All you have done is shifted the problem to "proper addresses." Here in the Pacific Northwest, it isn't uncommon for a (green) street sign to be completely obscured by (green) vegetation. Even if the sign is visible, the white lettering on the sign is frequently obscured by green moss.

Sure, you could complain that the signs in a residential neighborhood should be better maintained. But it would be just as easy to mine Google StreetView data for clear and unambiguous visual clues like the big red house on the corner, or the fact that the street you are looking for is one of the small unmarked streets right after that big intersection with traffic lights.

Obviously local knowledge like "Old Man Henderson's place" shouldn't be used, unless Old Man Henderson's Place is some kind of public landmark that is clearly marked. But "the big red house on the corner" is useful information to anyone who isn't colorblind. And if it is the biggest house at that intersection, then even the colorblind can benefit from that description.

Navigation by address is the best way to get around a perfect world where everything is clearly marked by its address and streets are similarly labeled. Even in cities where that is the norm, the reality is often far less than ideal.

Mapping companies that produce directions that are more usable by humans will produce a more friendly product. Humans are capable of processing far more information than just street names. Ignoring that additional information is just lazy on the part of modern digital mapmakers.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:53 AM on March 15, 2013


We have plants in Texas, too. The solution to obscured street signage is (a) trim the plants and (b) have access to good maps that use the right street names and numbers.
posted by uberchet at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2013


Apropos of this and Seoul where I've never been, except the airport. But I have lived in India and Thailand where much the same is true. Really, it boils down to this: if you're not zipping around at 100km/hr every day, and maybe have never left your village, landmarks make more sense than other constructs.
posted by seemoreglass at 8:29 PM on March 15, 2013


« Older Richard the Wurm   |   Yo La Tengo Live on WFMU --... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post