Today I begin a series of longer posts looking at my mapping world.
Part I: The Asheville Map or What I Did Last Summer
I live in a town where analog is celebrated, where the old buildings survived the urban “renewal” of the 1960’s and 70’s, and where traditional craft re-emerges through new artistry. I’ve been wanting to make a map of Asheville since I first visited in 2005. For a city that draws upwards of 4 million visitors each year, I found both a need and opportunity, since the available maps have been wildly scale-free, advertising-driven, an unmanageable size, simply inaccurate, unattractive, or likely a combination of those qualities. Having a longstanding profession of designing maps, I wanted to create a map that could be worthy of the love of place I feel for this community. In fact, it was the strong and diverse sense of community that seduced my wife and me to move here in ’09, and here was an opportunity to give back some of our capabilities.
In April we began the project in earnest, with my wife serving as editorial director and overall creative collaborator, setting tone and content together. The Asheville Map began to take shape as a printed paper map available for sale.
Paper, both as an homage to the traditional side of Asheville and as a visitor keepsake, and for sale because it could distinguish itself from other offerings by being free of advertising or sponsorship. I saw an additional opportunity for the map to impact the community in a tangible way and potentially promote the map in the process by earmarking a significant portion of the proceeds to benefit a local non-profit.
MANNA FoodBank has been addressing hunger and food insecurity in Western North Carolina for over 30 years and is the designated beneficiary of The Asheville Map. In some ways it was an easy choice. MANNA’s mission serves such a primal human need – one that still exists even in communities that support a bounty of food, farms and restaurants. MANNA’s stature and profile in WNC is well embedded and respected, and despite their terrific work, the need for their services remains greater than their resources. Perhaps as well there was some genetic proclivity to address the problem of hunger in today’s society. Well into the project I became aware that contributing to hunger relief was a choice my mother and grandmother had each made.
Along side the analog, the old, and the tradition is a progressive and aware populace and infrastructure. Through colleagues and friends The Asheville Map began to be realized with a wealth of publicly available data from the city, county and state.
The visual style grew out our desire to embrace two elements of Asheville. Firstly, to show the topography of this mountain town, which no other map seems to even take note of. The map presents shaded relief in an appropriately Blue Ridge Mountains palette.
Secondly, to fuse Asheville’s bright circus-like atmosphere through color and style with a cartographically accurate and detailed map.
Two elements of production took more focus than anticipated.
In our desire to make the paper map as useful as it is attractive, we located hundreds of points of interest, chosen to reflect the diverse and local nature of Asheville. Particular attention was given to food related POI’s, including the plethora of breweries which ended up getting their own symbol.
Food is important in this town on a number of levels: it’s a rich growing area; it’s a foodie town with great restaurants for locals and visitors; and the map sales benefit those in need of food. We also included POI’s that are particularly relevant to visitors, such as downtown gas stations, pharmacies, state liquor stores, dog parks, and river access.
Curating and checking the POI’s and working through the sometimes difficult on-map placement ended up taking much more effort than we expected.
Conceiving and designing the cover image was also an exploration that required many iterations. We knew we wanted an evocative image that captured the spirit of the community and the idea of a map cartouche came to us early in the production schedule. But working out the right image took some experimentation.
The background image was a photo taken one stormy evening and, once treated, started to set the tone of the cover. The hula hoop defining the cartouche was the next element to fall in place. And finally connecting with a local baker (Jodi Rhoden, owner of Short Street Cakes) brought in the inviting sense of Southern hospitality through a spectacular banana split cake! Our goal was to blend the seductive, nostalgic and hip sides of Asheville in one cover design and we kept working through images and designs until we were satisfied that we had it nailed.
An early and important decision was defining the geographic extents of the map. We opted to show a larger area of central Asheville than most other maps here. The larger central area includes neighborhoods where downtown buzz is branching out, where breweries and restaurants are starting to open. And the larger area includes much of the River Arts District where artist studios have replaced warehouses and light industry. The Central Asheville extent shows a unified core of the city, encompassing both downtown and the vibrant downtown-adjacent neighborhoods.
The other side of the map, labeled Metro Asheville, covers a much larger area and names many of the areas physical features. The Biltmore Estate is a huge portion of the overall metro map and we worked closely with them to determine what would be shown on the estate. Comprehensive neighborhood names are important in orienting visitors to the overall community and are not found on the other local map offerings. Biltmore Village gets its own inset, as does a Regional Map of western North Carolina.
I’m happy with the results of our project. We’ve created a map that is full of detail and visual richness. It’s a guide that extends beyond the paper map and I’ll go into that in detail in an upcoming post. For now I have to get back to marketing it!