Welcome to Mapping Mobility, our recurring series on innovative cartography in the public space. We’ll highlight innovation and stories about the conceptual urban space and how we navigate it with humanity’s most essential mobility tool.
Come December 22, 2012, Delhi Metro will turn ten years old. It has amassed tremendous national and international admiration -as well as scorn- for a decade. Bangalore’s own rapid transit system, Namma Metro, limped into action in 2011. Though many other Indian cities are being outfitted in Metro systems as the next urban must-haves, the Delhi Metro can be credited with practices peculiar to it. The Metro even has a museum at Patel Chowk station, consisting of now yellowing panels that outline the process of the train system’s construction and an odd assortment of souvenirs such as a Metro themed ludo, ties and pens. It also sports an enchanting acrylic map of the planned extensions with dazzling LED lights blinking eerily in an otherwise uninspiring lobby. If museums are purported to chronicle culture, perhaps an interesting practice to emerge -especially since the birth of the Metro- is that of commuter generated maps of the train network.
For Bangalore, the do-it-yourself maps in question are very simple schematic diagrams. The maps are often lacking in detail, crudely produced, inaccurate, illegible or available in an inaccessible file format. This might appear to be indicative of the larger culture of data sharing in India, but urban transit data engages people very actively: indeed, abundantly. A testament to this is the voluminous 647 pages that constitute the thread for Namma Metro on Skyscrapercity! The thread itself is rich with a variety of conversations about the metro’s relationship with technology, real estate, aesthetics, etc.
It is a common practice to trace over an existing map. Not only is it more accurate, but more intuitive. An accurate map needs to be at one’s disposal to make that happen. It would be no surprise if Google Maps topped the popularity charts of these ad hoc cartographers. The city map of Bangalore by Eicher received a particularly reassuring pat on its back when it started appearing behind the brightly-colored metro lines in several publications, too.
The official map in its current form was not available immediately. The purple-and-green that define it today were absent save for the logo and the maps did not look very different from the speculative editions that populate cyberspace. This map, featured here as part of an announcement of building activity, was one of the first indicators of Metro construction along the main roads of the city, is now a distant a memory and has been uprooted from several locations since. Even when erected tall along the footpath, the cake of dust and soot made it almost illegible.
With the release of more information, the fog of uncertainty cleared slowly and what was unleashed upon the public was a spectacular display of imagination. As Metro construction took firm ground in the city, speculation about the train coaches and station design gripped curious minds equally strongly. Information visuals in publications often reflected that.
Each subsequent major development -including line expansions- in the Metro plans deftly found their way into user-generated maps. Information also materialized through physical structures. All one needed to do, then, is log their geographical coordinates. (This could have easily been the case with this map.) While structures helped root information in accuracy, the geographical lay of the land often took a flight of fancy in the minds of many an illustrator.
The city now looks towards its tryst with the ambition of the Metro in the future. The maps outlining this take up challenges of equal measures, with typographical dexterity and futuristic visual language. The imagistic future of Namma Metro is indeed bright. Ambition for India’s low carbon transport systems is high, but only time well tell if institutional capacity can lift these future lines off the page and into reality.
Indeed the progenitor of these many maps, in addition to the muse of artistic inspiration, may have very well been the paucity of official information easily available, which has allowed these designs to blossom in the imaginative soil of innovation.