…I was just tired of doing homework in my dorm room in New School’s housing on William Street. First, I was 24 at the time and, frankly, too old to be living in a space that small with two other people. Second, I had just quit my job and moved from The Bronx to Manhattan to start school full-time and didn’t think that cooping myself up at a desk was the best way to expand my horizons. So, during the Fall semester of 2010, I began taking the subway to the end of various lines to both give myself time to complete my reading and visit environments that were unfamiliar.

I had been living in NYC for over three years at this point and considered myself fairly seasoned in interborough adventures , but these subway sojourns allowed me to experience the city in a completely different way. By traveling with no particular destination in mind and purposefully skipping familiar stations, I actually felt more in control of my time than I did when vainly fighting the clock and train schedules to reach class or an appointment. The trips began becoming therapeutic escapes and I began taking pictures of my ‘discoveries’ to tell my friends all about my travels.

Of course, the popular questions were “where is that?” and “how do I get there?” but I felt that just telling them to take the A train 9 (as it were) wasn’t enough. Luckily, my Concepts class required us to make final projects, so I wanted to take a stab at making what I then called a ‘visual meditation map’ to kill two birds with one stone. The final result  was SMALLWORLDNYC, which featured maps with photo slideshows set to music plotted at the respective ends of the 1, 4, and A train lines.

When I presented it, classmates told me about the work of Guy Debord and the Situationists and I’ve been intrigued with notions of psychogeography and mental mapping ever since. As I’ve studied further, Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City and Stanley Milgram’s mental maps of Paris and New York have been influential as well. Principally, I’m interested in exploring how we travel and what we see along the route affects how we think. I found my trips to be a release, but I don’t expect others to feel the same. To be sure, the initial purpose of the map was to encourage that type of engagement, but as I’ve studied more maps and schools of thought in the past year, I’ve recognized the ways in which my map is limited.

For one, in my attempt to refrain from over-explanation and to duplicate the sort of random interaction of traveling to an unknown place, I feel that my guiding statement – “Let yourself be surprised by what the unfamiliar has to offer.” – may not provide enough context on its own for helping users understand its purpose. A separate page describing the project and my aims would be a good addition.

As a novice to editing, I used iPhoto to create the slideshows. Due to my rudimentary skills, the videos came out as somewhat repetitive and possibly too long. Mixing up the static photos with more dynamic recorded footage could be a good remedy.

I chose Google Maps for its easy functionality and customization features. Looking back, I think it was also a good choice to incorporate a base map that people commonly use for point-to-point directions and challenge them to use it for random exploration. (One friend commented to me that, being so accustomed to the subway map, it surprised him to see just how much water surrounds the city.) One drawback of using Google Maps, however, is that its management is completely owned by a separate party. Depending on how Google configures its API in the future, it could drastically alter or even remove the map I present on my site.

These are just a few things that come to mind as I look at the project a year later. Please comment if any other limitations come to mind or if you have observations! I may continue with this project in some way in the future.