Madrid, As Understood Through Its Metro Map

Maps are fascinating things. In our daily lives, most of us travel the same routes so frequently that it becomes easy to take the ease of movement within familiar neighborhoods for granted...but plunk us into a new location, and we tend to get lost pretty quickly. Unless we have a map. Maps translate the physical world into images that help us to understand how places work on a functional level. Each map is like a unique micro-language, with its own symbols and signifiers and whatnot--but when creating maps, cartographers must also use written language to help people translate their visual systems.

Much as we get used to routes and places, we get used to the maps that help us understand them. Especially in a world where cities and their surrounding regions blend together into "metropolitan areas," we are expected to know and understand very large areas to function on a day-to-day basis. Basic road and transit maps become vital, then, because we rely on them to give order to systems that are too large for us to memorize. Without these maps, simple route deviations could become long, drawn-out detours as we struggle to find our side destination and then return to our original route.

When a map changes, it casts new light on the mundane geography of users' routines. Madrid recently changed the map used to represent its metro system (a change brought to my attention by The Map Room, a wonderful cartography blog.) The change, as reported by TimesOnline, has not been well-received by Madrileños. "The old one was more realistic," one complains. But the really interesting quote comes from the new map's designer, Rafa Sañudo. From the article: "Mr Sañudo stands by his creation. 'We knew that whatever we did, we would get hit from all sides,' he told El PaÍs. The old map, he said, was not geographically correct either. 'But because people are used to seeing it, they think it is,' he said.

The two maps are actually very different. The old map is a veritable spaghetti bowl of colored routes. The new map, on the other hand, creates a rigid grid of lines that all crisscross at perfect 90-degree angles. While probably much easier for tourists to read, I can understand why residents of the city would be bothered by the change. The new map is, in a way, a reimagining of the geography of the city. For long-time transit users, this new system is a misrepresentation not just of their train lines, but of the size and the layout of the city--important factors in its character. Looking at the map, one might think Madrid to be a very carefully gridded, almost mechanical place as opposed to the more organic, compact, and relaxed city that it is. The new map is tantamount to an insult, then, because it tries to reinterpret a place that is familiar and, most likely, beloved to those who have to use it. Put simply, the new map challenges the ways that Madrileños understand their world.

On a related note, there's a reworked New York Subway map that's apparently been around for years...I, however, first read about it today. It's a pretty great map...though, to throw in a somewhat ridiculous critique, it's almost too clean to represent the MTA.

You've gone wrong way about new metro map... (TimesOnline)

Alternate NYC subay map, via Built Environment Blog

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