Clean, orderly, and entirely devoid of human life
March 17, 2011 2:06 PM   Subscribe

The official "StreetView" map of China is eerily reminiscent of SimCity, rendered in perfect isometric perspective without a pixel out of place: Shanghai, the Forbidden City, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. That hasn't stopped companies from trying to create a more true-to-life photographic alternative: there is coverage of Hong Kong and Macau in Google Street View; sanction to cover the rest of China appears to have been given to City8, which covers 40 cities. (The latter site is in Chinese, but Chrome or language plugins do a decent job of translating the content).

(Earlier visits to online Chinese maps in posts on the blue are either plagued with advertising, defunct, or outdated, so thought these alternatives might be worthwhile).
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (32 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Is this what China really looks like?
posted by swift at 2:08 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Reticulating Shanghai...
posted by Rhaomi at 2:15 PM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

Where's the log flume?
posted by schmod at 2:17 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whoa. Those (real) streetview photos of Macau are wild. That's some crazy architecture...
posted by schmod at 2:23 PM on March 17, 2011

I get the impression if I browse around that for more than two minutes, a pop-up window telling me, "Mayor, we've got FIRE!" will appear and I will have to dispatch some fire engines.

Does the mayor really have to personally authorize fire and rescue?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:23 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The representation of Shanghai includes the Expo 2010 site, it's pretty cool. (I'm not sure how to create a link that's goes there, but if you follow the river "down" and "to the left", you'll come to it; the Chinese Pavilion is a huge, red-roofed square).
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 2:25 PM on March 17, 2011

I totally want this for where I live.
posted by chimaera at 2:28 PM on March 17, 2011

Wait what ? they have stuff like this building in Macau?

Google street view is pretty cool, no matter what people say about The Goog.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:30 PM on March 17, 2011

posted by the aloha at 2:32 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Approximately the same location on baidu vs a photo on google maps.
posted by finite at 2:36 PM on March 17, 2011

I'm waiting for the UFO to land and the microwave power plant to misfire and start a firestorm in the heart of the Forbidden City.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:41 PM on March 17, 2011

That's so fucking awesome.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:41 PM on March 17, 2011

I'm really confused. Why would you make a drawing of an entire city from photos rather than just publish the photos? And how would you go about doing this even if you wanted to? It must have taken hundreds of artists.
posted by miyabo at 2:42 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a huge Street View nerd. Macau & Hong Kong are some of my favorite places to explore on it. Here's photo essay I did on Macau and a tour of Hong Kong (part 1, part 2).

I really hope one day that all of China (especially the rural parts) are on Street View. Unlikely, I know...
posted by mattbucher at 2:45 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

It must have taken hundreds of artists.

They probably came from the same factory all the caricaturists and fancy name writer people in Times Square came from.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:46 PM on March 17, 2011

I LOVE it, I wish all maps looked like this!
posted by _paegan_ at 2:48 PM on March 17, 2011

a) It's nice to see that at least some people still appreciate this sort of thing over bland photos.
b) It looks more like Traffic Giant than SimCity.
posted by wierdo at 2:48 PM on March 17, 2011

I came across this a couple months ago and I think it's absolutely fascinating, particularly since so much work obviously went into it. These clean little video-game cities are a pretty good representation of how the Chinese leadership see their country.
posted by theodolite at 2:49 PM on March 17, 2011

miyabo: "I'm really confused. Why would you make a drawing of an entire city from photos rather than just publish the photos? And how would you go about doing this even if you wanted to? It must have taken hundreds of artists"

In China, they just have slaves do it.

As to why, I'm guessing because in real life, things aren't so squeaky clean. In reality, there's probably a lot of embarrassments to those in power, old shabby buildings, maybe you can't even get a good picture of the area without having the bases of the buildings obscured by pollution.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:05 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

It doesn't have to be either-or, Burhanistan.
posted by wierdo at 3:07 PM on March 17, 2011

I lived in China and Hong Kong for years. And I can unequivocally say that, yes, China is REALLY this clean and tidy. Chinese people do not spit, or shuffle the streets in bed room slippers, or pour unknown liquids from balconies. We move with the silent hum of happy purpose and love for the People's Communist Party!!!
posted by helmutdog at 3:10 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is pretty cool. I would love this as an alternative (not instead of) google street view. It's really lovely, actually.
posted by maxwelton at 3:23 PM on March 17, 2011

I'd be interested in seeing something like this automated. I get a real kick out of cartoon rendering. I think it would be a really fun project.
posted by lucasks at 3:36 PM on March 17, 2011

Holy crap, those Baidu maps are incredible...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 3:42 PM on March 17, 2011

Yeah, sensitive areas are not included in those maps.
posted by stratastar at 4:56 PM on March 17, 2011

Yeah these 45 isometric maps are beautiful. Cool pixel art, for sure, but the perspective also conveys something new in visualizing a city. I don't think the political language that frames some of this discussion is appropriate. It's an alternate technology for showing maps, with its own benefits and drawbacks.

There's a whole parallel world of Internet in China, divided from us mostly by language and culture but also, sometimes, by censorship or anti-competitive regulations. I wish we had more crossover points like seeing these Baidu maps, there's a lot of smart people developing amazing Internet stuff in China.
posted by Nelson at 5:01 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

China's State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping is in charge of handing out licenses to do online mapping services for China. These are new, and to date only a few companies have these licenses, and Google is never ever ever going to get one ever, not even if they fly their Street View Bicycle over special-like. This is, I suspect, less to do with any specific fears (they weren't wild about military installations being viewable through Google Earth's Keyhole imagery, but then again that information's been out there for ages) and more to do with a general tendency towards paranoia and preemptive sphincter-tightening. For the same reason, I've heard, GPS devices within China often get a random offset; Chinese-made devices can apparently take this into account, while foreign devices and/or mapping services can't. I'm not sure that this will actually do anything to inconvenience anybody attempting to order a missile strike on Beijing, but I can vouch that it is a considerable and pointless annoyance whenever I try to check my location on my iPhone.

(For what I assume is the same reason, finite, that photograph isn't anywhere near the Forbidden City. It looks to be in Caowan Shitiao, which is about a mile and a half (ballparking here - I may be underestimating) south and east of the Forbidden City, in a formerly nice old part of town that got more or less leveled by "rejuvenation efforts" before the Olympics.)
posted by bokane at 7:19 AM on March 18, 2011

If China is restricting mapping licenses, it probably has more to do with trade protectionism than security. The Chinese government is very insistent on supporting local businesses over international, particularly in the Internet sphere. It's a big part of why Chinese parallels to Google and eBay exist: the American companies find it too difficult to do business in China. To be fair, Baidu etc are also good products on their own merits.

It's practically impossible for "GPS devices within China often get a random offset". There does seem to be a fixed offset in Chinese map sources, but it sounds like a geodesic problem: different coordinate system or datum. Ie, a database skew that's correctable. More importantly: not random.
posted by Nelson at 7:56 AM on March 18, 2011

Ah I complete forgot about these things! At least in Hong Kong these types of maps are very useful, as directions and addresses are often given out as a building name rather than a street address, since a lot of the complexes are known destinations in themselves to many cab drivers etc. Most of these maps search by building and are useful to locate where you are going rather than trying to use a normal street map. I imagine it could be similar in Shanghai. Also that Hong Kong map is pretty limited in scope, and its hilarious how the city just ends at the wan chai district into happy green fields.
posted by tmthyrss at 11:00 PM on March 18, 2011

D'oh! Thanks, Nelson.
posted by bokane at 3:46 AM on March 19, 2011

I wonder how up to date these maps are considering all that construction going on all the time in China?
posted by Pantalaimon at 9:26 AM on March 19, 2011

Oh wow, this is neat. I really hope those companies think about doing more than just Chinese cities. It would be so awesome to see how San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Hamburg, etc. done up this way.
posted by FJT at 10:09 AM on March 19, 2011

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