Messin’ With Maps

There’s no way around it, I’ve been fighting it for years – I’m a map nerd. I have maps hanging in various parts of my house, maps in shoe-boxes, and maps in email links that I send to myself.

It’s not that I get lost a lot or at all for that matter. Heck, in this day and age, the GPS in my phone can guide me or get me untangled from the mess I got caught in. I don’t know what it is, maybe there is something about seeing a city from an overhead view that must intrigue us humans. Maybe we are envious of birds or maybe we just like to look over what we created.

With the advent of GoogleMaps, Map Quest, Bing , and others, you don’t always get to see the full picture of a city. Sure you see it as-is, but it doesn’t make you think outside of the here and now.

I came across a map of Peoria from 1867 on the Library of Congress website months ago that really piqued my interest (I then emailed the link to myself).

Click on picture for interactive view
Click on picture for interactive view

It is stunning how much detail went into this map 146 years ago. No, there isn’t a street view option, but with today’s computer technology you can dive into different nooks and crannies around the city of Peoria.

One of the most fascinating things to notice is that; human settlement on every map, including this one, dating back to the dawn of civilization is densely populated at the center and everything one might need is in close proximity by foot.

The cross-section that I cut out is of what we still refer to today as downtown. I marked where Main Street is, because looking at a map from 2013 you might think you’re in a completely different place. The downtown of yesterday looks full of buildings of all sizes and uses.

Click for full view
Click for full view

Compare that to the downtown of today:

2013 Downtown

Roads have been given priority over the city. As you can see, Interstate 74 cuts through the center of the city like a knife. The street grid itself is still there but something about it feels wrong. There are large blocks of single use facilities, and towering structures that seemingly could care less about the people they serve. There is an abundance of open space in and around the center of the city, as opposed to the 1867 map where it was dense at the core and tapered off as you headed out of the city.

History is a funny thing. We often look back at years past with a nostalgic eye and even say things like, “Back in the good ol’ days.” But in a day and age when we are looking through all of our economic development and city planning cookbooks to find the secret recipe of what makes cities tick, we have forgotten that proximity, scale, and a proper mix of uses is why those days were good in the first place.

We’ve built out, and then built even further out. We’ve replaced sacred with sameness. At the time the map from 1867 was created, there was a famous quote already at the forefront of American consciousness which started a movement of sorts:

Go West, young man, go West. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles.” “That,” I said, “is very frank advice, but it is medicine easier given than taken. It is a wide country, but I do not know just where to go.” “It is all room away from the pavements. […]

Another funny thing happens when you compare maps. You find out that street names change just as buildings change. Although the GO URBAN project house on Voris was yet to be built in 1867 (it was constructed 33 years later), the name of the street was previously called Veris according to this map.

Go Urban 1867
GO URBAN house pre-construction

It is by no coincidence that I take my project name, “Go Urban, Young Man” as a spin on that quote. While this house was built after that movement had started, and city planning at the time was responding to the ills caused by the Industrial Age – today is a new day in American history. Our communities have become less healthy by matter of having to drive everywhere and we have become disconnected from our own environment. The urban core is no longer crowded, which presents many new opportunities of its own. Densely knit cities offer the ability in connection of ideas through a close network of innovators and Peoria could realistically return to that place.

As we have shifted to a Knowledge Economy we are in need of embracing the knowledge we have gained in the past century and a half. We are no longer preserving just a memory of what was, but preserving what made it special in the first place all while building layers of our own future on top of it.

To find out how you can be a part of a movement to rebuild Peoria start by checking out my project: GO URBAN, YOUNG MAN


6 thoughts on “Messin’ With Maps

  1. I have always thought this was an amazing map. I forget exactly who or what group put it together, but most likely, Veris was simply a misspelling. Voris, Laveille, Morton and many others were people who developed the area. Morton’s wife donated the land for the now barren Morton Square Park. I have some good stuff I will find and pass along to you.

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