Map Critique: The Deleted City

One of the advantages cartographic advances in mixed mediums is that it allows a degree of fluidity in data sets. As James Corner states, in his article, The Agency of Mapping, “mapping acts may emancipate potentials, enrich experiences and diversify worlds” (Corner 231). However, after much research, the analysis of mapping still seems rooted in maps as place-based agency as opposed to a mediation of space, which I suppose begs the further question of whether or not a map can exist as a map without root to coordinated space, in which case the following critique is simply of a representation of data. I, however would like to propose that a map can exist as an agency of spaces relative to each other.

It was for this reason that Dutch information designer, Richard Vijgen’s, project, “The Deleted City” provides and interesting platform on which to offer critique. The project is based on the web-hosting platform, Geocities, which was shut down by Yahoo in 2008, while host to over 35-million personal websites (Stone web). In 2010, the Internet Archive Team released these files to the public in the form of a 641 GB torrent. Geocities is an interesting case because this web-host allowed members to “settle” this digital space in a sense, in the form of cities and neighborhoods. Because Geocities sites were registered in “neighborhoods” and “cities”, Vijgen was able to spatially map this digital information in a sort of spatial x and y gird.

At first glance this project is interesting because it attempts to map a digital space that is completely abstracted from the idea of a coordinated place. The map starts out at a large scale, and the user is required to scroll and zoom into different neighborhoods and pages in a sort of explorative manner. Indeed, The project is categorized as a digital archive, and the way one has to zoom in order to uncover further layers of data is a bit like an excavation.  ­­­There is a small legend and title in the left hand corner, which offers the viewer who is provided with a touch screen interface, clues as to what different colored plots signify but nothing more. In this sense, the map makes sense as an interactive explorative tool. And since this map plots static data from a specific slice of time, it successfully takes on the form of a spatially based digital archive of information.

fig.1 Excavating layers

My main criticism of this map is the manner in which it was presented. While the map appears to be interactive, the project was presented to the public in video form, with a demonstration of a person interacting with the map, which leads to the argument of whether a map can exist in video form. My argument is not, for the very reason that maps allow audiences to interact with data across space and time, and a video forces the audience to be locked into both of these. In this case specifically, a demonstration diminishes the map’s apparent goal of providing a sort of explorative excavation of the digital data that is presented. And while the context and goal of the project are clearly stated, the actual presentation of the map fails to evoke any sort of argument since the user seems blocked out of any sort of navigation of or interaction with the data.

I suppose the argument of “place based mapping” versus “space based mapping” can also, in this case, be imagined as “place “ versus “perceived place” since, Geocities users were allowed to choose the categorization (and ultimately the mapping) of where their site was place within the web-host.

This provides an interesting framework to view graffiti, and specifically memorial graffiti, which is so inherently tied to neighborhoods and communal interactions around these site-specific monuments, but also around perceived sentiment around these pieces.

With the digitization of a lot of graffiti, the idea of user generated space based mapping of memorial graffiti relative to the presence of other digitized graffiti proposes interesting arguments on how space in which memorial graffiti is created is renegotiated in the absence of delineated neighborhood lines. Allowing for creator negotiated boundaries would lead to interesting revelations on where specific memorials are perceived in relation to other works as opposed to a place based cartographic representation which inherently links memorial graffiti to its surrounding neighborhood and not to other works. Allowing artists to map their own perceived spaces would thus created new communities and neighborhoods in which memorial graffiti murals live- a reconfiguration of geography and the social space in which we see graffiti.


1. Corner, James. “The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention” In Denis Cosgrove,  Ed., Mappings(London: Reaktion, 1999): 231.

2. Stone, Zak. “Remember GeoCities? Explore a Map of the Vintage Internet Metropolis”. Good 3Oct,      2011: Web.

3. Vijgen, Richard. “The Deleted City”. October, 2011. Web.


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