A Foucauldian/Psychogeographical Critique of Contemporary Cartography

From the earliest cave-painting maps to today’s computer-driven cartographic methods, the products have reflected contemporary tools and technologies. As innovation allowed humans to travel greater distances, mapped areas grew simultaneously: the ship allowed for mapping Earth, satellites provided access to the galaxy. Production (and reproduction) innovations provided those in power greater distribution channels for their maps. 

Cartography is an exercise of power. Only the educated are both adept with current technologies and possess the intellect required for the abstract thinking inherent in the process of scaling and flattening the world (and beyond) into a mappable output.  Not only does the cartographer decide the content and organization of the map, he or she must also have the means of production to create the map. This has been true throughout history as empires used cartography to control and dispatch their armies, to plan empirical expansion, and to maximize financial gains through efficient trade routes with other countries. As the powerful have written history, so too have they drawn the maps. Michel Foucault referred to the process of cartography as a “technology of power.”

Our reliance on maps has increased as we have become an increasingly mobile society. Through advances in mobile technology and GPS, maps play a larger role in our daily lives than in any time in history. Though there are competitors, (Uber, Lyft, Apple, TomTom et al.) Google is by far the largest cartographer in the 21st century, using its fortune to map every square inch of the globe while utilizing its dominant distribution channels. As Medieval Kings sent sailors and cartographers on mapping missions by sea, Google sends satellitesto space and the ubiquitous Google Cars equipped with 360 degree cameras to cities to map our contemporary world, then coded and transmitted to billions of screens across the world. Medieval maps (et al.) amplified power by showing in detail the palaces and buildings of the wealthy and powerful, while the neighborhoods and buildings of common people were simply rendered as dots. Google employs a similar hierarchical strategy by showing different categories of information the further the viewer is zoomed. This prioritizes some businesses (advertisers) by showing their locations at the default scale, but requiring the viewer to zoom to see other businesses, essentially creating a class-structure for business visibility.

The Situationist critique of cartography is as applicable today as it was in the 1960s. The Situationists espoused “psychogeography,” an experiential, phenomenological relationship to the urban environment, inherently absent in the cold science of cartography. When a viewer looks at a map from a birds-eye view, human life and activity are removed, along with any non-administrative ideas of edges or borders. 

When one uses Google Maps for directions, there is no differentiation between routes, paths are optimized for efficiency in time over appeal, interest, safety and joy, effectively suppressing urbanity. In addition to the options of automobile, transit, bike, and walk, perhaps users could input their gender and interests. Conceivably, using machine learning and variably overlays, psychogeography could be a consideration in route optimization.

Cycling makes you fat.

I want to wear this.

I want to wear this.


This is the first time (in my adult life) that I have ridden a bike more miles in a month than I have driven a car, which is the primary goal of doing this tracking exercise. A secondary goal is to walk more miles than I drive, but the miles just pile up when you get into the car to go to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Perhaps that will change when we get a Whole Foods Downtown in a couple months.

Despite all the biking and walking, I put on 4 pounds. I fell into "I deserve it" mode after long days on the bike or on foot and binged on a dozen cookies or whatever. I know that it takes some time to lose weight cycling and muscle weighs more than fat and all that, but this was definitely the cookies. Now I am back to calorie-counting and exercising at the gym. 


Downtown institutions should encourage visitors to arrive by modes other than the automobile. Some do, some don't. The other day I wanted ride my bike to MOCA, so I went to their site to check bike parking information and found nothing other than how/where to park cars. With bikeshare coming and too many cars down here already, we really need to start making cycling/walking the norm. Let's make it difficult to find automobile parking on the website.

I walked by the Grand Ave. location on one of my dog walks to check the bike rack situation and saw no safe-seeming, off-street parking. I hear the Broad has great bike parking facilities. Step it up, MOCA.


I rode my road bike for the first time in a couple of weeks and it felt so awesome. On flat stretches it feels roughly the same as my computer, but on climbs and descents it's a whole different ballgame. I am planning some longer rides with friends now. I really need more friends. who ride bikes.

Cycling & Transit/Urban Sites I Read


A few months ago our automobile options included an old 1994 pickup truck and our Fiat. With the Vespa, the new (to us) public transit options that come with living downtown, and the fact that our studio is less than five miles from our home, I actually remarked (and believed) that we may never have to buy another car. Ever. Well, the catalytic converter was stolen from the truck, and the cost of a replacement CC proved to be the death knell for the good ol' truck. Fiats are small, of course, but when it is your only car, and you have an 80 pound pit bull, it feels small. So here we are, car shopping. Or at least talking about car shopping. I really wanted to hold out until Elon Musk saves the world with a long range, $35k Tesla in a year or two, but I think we need to purchase sooner than that. We intend to remain a one car couple, so the Fiat may be getting traded.

I want to buy electric now, and I am willing to deal with range anxiety for a couple of years. We don't drive many miles now, and we can rent a car to go out of town. But, I can't buy an electric car.

A primary reason for moving downtown was to be better citizens and drive fewer miles. Having become friends (eh, acquaintances) with many of my neighbors, I know I am not alone. We are the demographic who care about our transportation choices. There are many people in my 20-story high rise who care about their environmental footprint, and would like to avoid oil for ethical reasons. We are the customers for electric cars. But, we can't buy an electric car.

Here's the problem: I have nowhere to charge it. I pay over $200 a month for a parking space in my building. I haven't counted, but I estimate there are 200-250 parking spaces. There are exactly zero charging stations. I have looked all around the garage for even a 120V outlet to no avail. There is currently nothing in the zoning code that requires parking garages to accommodate EVs. From my window on the 12th floor of my building, I can count 5 public parking lots/garages that also provide exactly zero charging stations.

I haven't read it completely, so please correct me if I am wrong, but it looks like going forward all new residential construction must provide for 3% of spaces to be EV charging "ready." I am not entirely sure if this just applies to wiring, or an actual charging station, but either way, 3% is way too small a number.

California has always been a leader in championing the electric vehicle. Why don't we do the same thing here? Fuck 3%, make it 50%. Make it more. And make it mandate retrofitting existing buildings. If I pay $200/month and there are 200 stalls, that's $40k/month my building is grossing in parking alone. How much would it cost to upgrade 3% (6 spaces) of the spaces? I think less than $40k.

Fiat Don't Fail Me Now

I went to Texas, well, Arkansas actually, in the Fiat a couple weeks ago. I feel like I am always scouting cities and towns to move to Some Day. Observations from the trip:

  • Arkansas & Oklahoma are the most beautiful places I could never live. I saw a little pond in a clearing in the forest that was the most idyllic scene I have seen in years in Arkansas. Unfortunately, people.
  • AT&T 4G coverage is way better on the 10 than the 40. I only had 2 short outages on the 10 when I was super close to Mexico before and after El Paso. On the 40 I had outages more than half of the time. Don't get your Netflix on Route 66, or something else that rhymes with "kicks."
  • Albuquerque is awesome. I could live there. A fun minor league baseball team, an architecture program, outdoorsy stuff, and great food. It was by far my favorite stopover of the trip.
  • I didn't go to Marfa. I stayed in Van Horn in a hotel designed by the same architect who designed the Paisano in Marfa. It was difficult not to turn right off the freeway and drive the extra hour to go to Marfa. Next time.
  • I have done this solo drive probably 50-60 times in my life. It's just part of who I am now.
  • My dad is an awesome man.

A few thousand words: