Cartography Geeks
May 1, 2011 5:36 AM   Subscribe

Bostonography is the study of Greater Boston, Massachusetts through maps and graphics. This site is run by a pair of cartography geeks; Andy Woodruff of Axis Maps, and Tim Wallace.

Recent posts of interest on Bostonography include: Boston's Designed Locations, imagining space through web-based locator maps, and Map Pinning Boston discusses diy pin maps, while Travel Poster Maps on Woodruff's site and Wallace's Google Reverse Geolocation as an Ad Scheme are interesting discoveries. [previously on MetaFilter 1, 2]
posted by netbros (19 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have time to explore right now but obviously anybody with my username is going to be enthralled by this. Thanks so much!
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:59 AM on May 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Of course it is. And they may not know it yet, but anyone doing cartography, or geography, elsewhere -- well, they're really just doing a sort of misplaced and bastardized Bostonography. We tolerate their lesser sciences, for the most part. But it's time to consider an auto-da-fé directed towards those heretical New Yorkologists. That sort of demon science will not stand, sir.

There's actually some really beautiful visuals on this site. Thanks for the post!
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:10 AM on May 1, 2011

I've been following this blog for a couple of months now, and my only complaint is that I wish they posted more frequently. This week's post about Boston's many and varied "squares" was very good.
posted by briank at 6:14 AM on May 1, 2011

All the years I lived in Boston ('77 to '84) and heard all those TV and radio ads going on about all those little suburban towns outside of Boston proper... a seemingly endless litany: Framingham, Needham, Brockton, Waltham... just went on and on. Perhaps Bostonography might finally help me make sense of it all?

Well, thing is, it's a little too late. I don't give a rat's ass about Boston or its surroundings. This looks good, though, for folks that do!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:05 AM on May 1, 2011

You’re walking around Boston and a friendly stranger approaches you. “Say, I’m new in town. What neighborhood is this?” she asks. You furrow your brow, laugh nervously and say, “Back Bay? South End? Possibly both… or neither.” Then, for fear of coming off like a grade-a jerk, you apologize and explain that Boston is notorious for being a geographically confusing place to newcomers. You go off on a tangent about how you blame colonial cart paths and Frederick Law Olmsted’s string of Emerald Necklace parks for the wonky non-grid that makes up much of Boston’s city streets. By the time you finish your tirade, your new friend is gone.

...or you just say "Well, the resident parking permit sign over there seems to think we're in the Back Bay."

Cool-ass maps and dry comic hyperbole (also the game of "How many squares can you identify?" which I have enjoyed this morning) notwithstanding, man that writing comes from a beanplating outtatownah. Not that it's a secret; there's full disclosure and all on the blog and I ain't knocking it. Completely.

But Boston logic begets Boston logic, and theory is often quashed by practice. The illogical road system teaches you how to cope with it until it's the norm, not the aberration. You learn to navigate by landmarks, not by street names, even if you know them all by heart. You covet, seek out and cherish those precious rarities like streets with metered parking and intersections where you can legally pull a U-ie. (Or just not get caught.) You learn where not to try a left turn at certain times of day, preferring instead to take two rights, three lefts, one rotary, and a bear-right-turn-left jobbie. And sometimes you discover that, against all logic and reason, there really is a simpler solution staring you right in the face.

This jibes with the site's disapproving side glances at GPS and the favoring of personal navigation (which creates personal cartography) over too much reliance on tech. I dig that. But I think they've got a little ways to go before they fully embrace the Bostonian spirit, or are fully embraced by the spirit.

It's like the old chestnut of the tourist taking a cab from the airport who watches, wide-eyed and horrified, as his driver speeds through a red light. "Oh, don't worry, buddy!" says the cabbie, sensing the discomfort. "This is Boston. That's perfectly normal. My brother's been driving here 40 years, and he does it all the time."

The cab whizzes through another red light, which sets off the passenger again. "I said don't worry!" the cabbie reassures him. "This is Boston! It's normal! My brother does it all the time!"

Then he screeches to a halt at a green light. "What the hell'd you do that for?" the passenger cries.

"My brother might be coming the other way!"

(Bonus antique: Tourist gets into a Boston cab, says "Please take me some place where I can get scrod." Cabbie replies "That's the first time I've heard anyone use the past pluperfect.")
posted by Spatch at 7:11 AM on May 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I like the comparisons of "cute" Boston with vast, overwhelming New York. But New York's dirty secret is that the good bits are surrounded by hundreds of square miles of architectural, human, and social mediocrity out of which you could carve about 30 towns more desolate than the dullest, most depressed backwaters of the South or Midwest. Boston, on the other hand, is a nice compact place, with something interesting around every corner. In Boston, you rarely get that feeling, as you often do at the farther reaches of the New York metropolitan area, of oceanic hopelessness and wasted grey desolation. In Boston, depression is a black, spindly thing, having tea behind the curtains.
posted by Faze at 7:14 AM on May 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

In Boston, you rarely get that feeling, as you often do at the farther reaches of the New York metropolitan area, of oceanic hopelessness and wasted grey desolation.

I dunno, man, I've seen some pretty bleak-ass edges of Boston. That would include Charlestown, where I came this close once to getting jumped by some of the redneck locals cause they knew I wasn't from around there.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:22 AM on May 1, 2011

But granted, what I'm talking about is not an architectural desolation so much as a mental and spiritual desolation.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:42 AM on May 1, 2011

Yay, I get to explain my "Levels of Boston Navigation", developed as I tried to learn my way around Boston, coming from a Gridville with extensive signage (called "Los Angeles" by some people).

Level 0 - Navigation by street name) You find where you want to go on the map, and write out the route Google-maps style. When you try to execute your plan in the real world, you find out less than half of the intersections have street signs, and the locals are positively hostile when you ask them the name of the street you're on. It's called level 0 because that's how often it works - 0% of the time.

Level 1 - Landmarks) You learn where key landmarks are, and the names of some of the larger "squares". "Stay on Comm through Kenmore, past two Dunkin Donuts, then turn left at the carwash." You learn the four different types of road connection: 'turn right', 'bear right', 'split right', and 'make a hard right'. You also learn how to "turn right to stay on the same road'.

Level 2 - Used-to-be) After you've been in the City for a while, you learn to give and take directions based on what used to be at an intersection. "Go down Peterborough, and make a right where Thornton's used to be. Two blocks puts you at the old Sears Building. Yeah, I think they call it the Landmark Center now. You know the place." etc.

Level 3 - Gonna) The most advanced level. Involves giving directions based on what they were going to build, but never actually did. The location may have hosted a Thai restaurant for the last 5 years, but both the giver and receiver of directions refer to it as "the corner where they were gonna put that fancy Italian restaurant, across from Dali".

I have only used Level 3 once in my life, and I've lived in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville twenty years.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:21 AM on May 1, 2011 [33 favorites]

Thanks for this; cool blog. Makes me miss my city!
posted by threeants at 8:49 AM on May 1, 2011

I got to discover a few new-to-me squares (and statues!) this weekend during DASH. It was also a reminder of how tiny downtown Boston is. I kept looking at these stretches of map thinking "Groan, we have to walk all the way to the other side of Beacon Hill?" as we set out trudging down Charles St. Five minutes later, we were there.

Oh, and flapjax? Those were townies, not rednecks. ^_^
posted by maryr at 8:59 AM on May 1, 2011

Those were townies, not rednecks.

Heh. Actually, yeah, I know those guys never actually got sunburned necks from working in the fields or at construction sites down in Alabama. Still, I like referring to them that way. They are the rednecks of New England.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:11 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Roslindale, if you're heading south on Centre Street and want to stay on it, you have to take a hard left just past the old Hebrew Center for Rehabilitation of Aged (Aged what? Just Aged, which might be why they finally changed the name to something generic like SeniorLife), because if you go straight through the light, all of a sudden you'll be on the VFW Parkway. Later on, in West Roxbury, if you still want to stay on Centre Street, you have to take another hard left at another light, because if you go straight through the light, all of a sudden you'll be on Spring Street.

But give Tom Menino credit: Most streets in Boston now actually have signs telling you what street you're on. Not like Quincy, where they still figure if you don't know what street you're on, you don't belong there.
posted by adamg at 6:04 PM on May 1, 2011

n Roslindale, if you're heading south on Centre Street and want to stay on it, you have to take a hard left

Just like the famous corner of Tremont and Tremont in the South End near the Church of All Nations AME.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:11 AM on May 2, 2011

Makes me miss home!

When friends from NH visited they would just hand me their car keys. It was easier that way.

I liken driving in Boston to living in the movie Dark City. I could have sworn they were changing streets overnight.
posted by Constant Reader at 1:25 PM on May 2, 2011

I live on the same street that I work on, one town over. I cannot drive from my apartment to work in either direction on that street because of one ways. GO SOX!
posted by maryr at 1:39 PM on May 2, 2011

If there's one thing Boston loves, it's navelgazing. Still a good site, though!

(and still don't miss Boston... much)
posted by Eideteker at 8:29 PM on May 2, 2011

If there's one thing Boston loves, it's navelgazing.

Unlike, say, New York City. HAMBURGER
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:08 PM on May 2, 2011

imitation, flattery, etc.
posted by Eideteker at 5:20 AM on May 3, 2011

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