CategoryDesign

Designing a new static map style for Chicago Cityscape

I redesigned the static maps that are shown on Chicago Cityscape’s Place pages to tone down their harsh hues, and change what data (which comes from OpenStreetMap) is shown.

All 2,800 maps are automatically generated using a program called MOATP (“Map of all the places”) which is based on Neil Freeman’s svgis program. Both programs are open source.

The map now shows all roads; it was awkward to see so many empty spaces between buildings. Secondary* and residential roads are shown with slightly less thickness than primary and motorway roads. Also included are multi-use trails in parks.

Parks and grass are shown in different hues of green, although I don’t think it’s distinctive enough to know there’s a difference. Cemeteries remain a darker green.

I’ve changed the building color to soften the harsh brown. Only named buildings and schools appear, which is why you see a lot of gaps. Most buildings outside downtown aren’t named.

Retail areas have been added in a soft, salmon and tan-like color to show where “activity” areas in each Place.

I’ll be uploading the new maps soon.

* These road categories come from the OpenStreetMap “highway” tag.

I grew up in the suburbs and it shows in early drawings

Vanceville 3 of 13

This panel has the light rail station next to an office complex that had the United Airlines headquarters and the office for “Steve Vance Enterprises – Western Region”.

I lived in suburbs until I was 22. The suburbs of Houston, of San Francisco, and of Chicago.

And from when I was 11 years old to about 15 years old I drew a municipality called “Vanceville” (and “Vancin” at one point) on 13 adjoining panels, each a standard size grade school poster. I started in fifth grade, within a couple of months of moving to Batavia, Illinois.

The first panel was drawn on the backside of a poster that displayed my study for class that counted cars on my street categorized by their manufacturer.

The suburban pattern of development was all I knew – and it really shows. I didn’t make it into the respective city centers that often, and when I did it was mostly by car. I think I drew the ultimate suburb of NIMBYs.

I don’t support this kind of development. Back then I thought I was designing the best city. I had no idea that what I was drawing wasn’t a sustainable way to develop places where people live.

You can see how four panels adjoin.

You can see how four panels adjoin.

I mean, just look at all the massive parking lots I drew. I seriously thought that that was how cities should be designed. I didn’t know that they paved over natural areas and caused dirty water to run off into the river I drew.

There are no multi-unit buildings. In fact, each single-family house is built on a huge lot. I gave each house a big garage, writing explicitly “2 + 1” and “2 + 1/2”.

I drew townhomes, a denser housing style than single-family, because I had a few friends who lived in them. This panel has my house in the lower-left corner.

Sidewalks are rare, but they become more prevalent in later design phases. You can forget bike lanes, but you may be lucky and find a bike path, again, in a later design phase. Those phases are also distinguished by smoother lines, fewer stray markings, and a lighter touch of the pencil.

People have to drive to the parks. Strip malls abound. Many of the shops are named for real businesses in Batavia.

Oh, wait, I drew in light rail tracks and stations. But I didn’t draw them because I knew or thought transit was a good thing. None of the places I lived had it. I drew the light rail because I loved trains.

Vanceville was so oriented to driving that some of the road lanes had “ATM” imprinted where a right-turn arrow would be, to signify that there was an upcoming turn off for a bank drive-through, with two lanes that had only ATMs. Even “Steve Vance Enterprises – Western Region” was connected to a 5-level car park.

There are just so many roads. I drew what appear to be interchanges between two “connector” roads within a residential neighborhood! That same panel seems to have as much asphalt as any other surface, be it developed or grass or water.

I’m not surprised this is the kind of city I drew.

If I still drew, the outcome would be completely different. It would probably look like a mix of Rotterdam, Madrid, and Houten.

What else do you see in the drawings? View the full album.

Vanceville 5 of 13

I drew these at a time when I was also obsessed with spy stories, which explains the CIA building.

Respect the corner!

Buildings on corners should have corner entrances or minimally deviate.

Contractors work on building the new entrance.*

The residential building on the northwest corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Halsted Street was built in 2003 with a first-floor commercial space with an entrance on the Milwaukee Avenue side. Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal – Milwaukee is a busy street and this side of the street has a fair amount of foot traffic. But the other side of the building, on Halsted Street, faces one of two entrances to the Grand Blue Line subway station and a major transfer bus stop.

7-11 is moving into the building and have built a new entrance out of the corner space with floor-to-ceiling windows. Now it’ll be much easier for transit riders to get to a convenience store. The other advantage is the added visibility: seeing the entrance from far away, from all sides, saves milliseconds in our internal GPS processing time – make a bee-line to the entrance instead of “hunting” it down after you make your way in the general direction of the building.


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* You can see that there’s a step here so it’s not currently accessible. Originally this wasn’t the entrance so that makes sense. I don’t know what these contractors are doing but 7-11 must make the entrance accessible.

Welcome to the Land of No

No bike riding!

The Lincoln Park Zoo has a Nature Boardwalk at the South Pound near 2000 N Cannon Drive. Each venue has their own signs listing the rules for their respective properties.

Each sign employs a different symbol to communicate the same thing – bicycles cannot be ridden in the parks – but their designs take two approaches.

One says no and the other says yes.

  • The Zoo’s symbol uses the color red, a line slashed over a bicycle, and “Please do not:” text to prohibit the activity of riding a bike.
  • The Pond’s symbol uses the color blue and suggests walking your bike, accompanied by the text, “Please walk your bike”.

Please walk with your bicycle. 

Bicyclists – and drivers for that matter – are constantly being told no. Might there be a friendlier, more positive way to communicate rules?


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What modernism should we preserve?

Ed. note: This post is written by Ryan Lakes, friend and architect

Goldberg’s Marina City towers are a couple of my favorite buildings in Chicago, but all of the discussion about preserving Prentice Women’s Hospital – designed by Bertrand Goldberg – has left me conflicted. The following is my response to the video above that was originally posted on Black Spectacles.

When we figure out how to easily move old, significant buildings that are no longer wanted by their owners and occupants, to museum-cities made up of the old masterpieces that have since fallen out of use or favor, then we will have the luxury to preserve them like books, paintings and sculptures. To me, large buildings are more like trees than art. Occasionally the great old fall to make way for the young. There is no moving them. And as time passes, individual systems age and decay, and evolution leads to new, often more efficient ways to compete for space and resources.

Prentice Women’s Hospital is slated for destruction by its owner, Northwestern University. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

Contemporary architecture has a new set of more complex criteria to respond to than what was included in original modernism’s scope. With form ever following function, in modernism, as functions change, so too shall the forms. Is modern architecture able to do so? How do fans of modernist buildings plan to preserve them as fuel prices rise and the desire for energy efficient buildings increases?  What else besides their structure is not obsolete? Let’s not forget that the time of modernism was when most thought our resources were unlimited, that it was better to leave our lights on 24 hrs a day to save bulbs, and that it was better to employ machines to fabricate our buildings rather than our neighborhood craftsmen.

Photo of Zurich Esposito at protest to save Prentice by David Schalliol. 

The United States uses way too much text for regulatory traffic signs

Look at these two signs in Berlin (right outside the American embassy). They’re universal across the European Union – and probably in adjacent non-EU countries. The upper one means “yield” and the lower one with the white arrow means “compulsory right turn”. In the United States, there are several signs that mean the same thing. The simplest one we have comes in two forms: symbol and text. That makes two different signs, but there’s a third one. It’s also a text sign but has extra words!

American symbol sign (actually a symbol with text): The sign has an arrow pointing in an upward curve toward the right and the word “only”. Photo by Joseph Dennis. 

Yet there is no need to mix a symbol and a word, as both parts of the message (“right turn” and “only maneuver you can make here”) can be communicated with symbols. In the EU, the right turn sign has two states, both depicted by symbols: off and on. Off meaning you cannot turn right there and is depicted with an arrow pointing right, on a white background, circumscribed with a red circle. The “on” version means you must turn right there and is depicted with an arrow pointing right, on a blue background. (It would be pointless to have a sign saying you can turn right somewhere.)

The next sign is the text-only version of the “right turn only” sign.

American text sign: The sign says “right turn only”. Photo by Michael Jantzen. 

And then there’s the most ridiculous one, “right lane must turn right”. In many places, Chicago included, bikes and buses are excepted.

A group of people protest the stupidity of this sign design. I mean, a bunch of Tea Partiers protest our socialist road system. Or something. Photo by Susan Adams. 

All of the signs depicted above mean the same thing! Why have we developed four unique ways to communicate a single meaning?

While I’m on the subject of right turns, here’re two signs in San Francisco, on Market Street at Octavia Boulevard. Octavia is the end of the Central Freeway, so people driving here are in the mindset of fast highway driving. Cars cannot be turned right here and bicyclists are warned to look out for people making illegal right turns. In other words, “Beware car drivers who break the law”.

Photo of “right turn prohibited” symbol sign and “[bikes] watch for prohibited right turns” text sign by Adam Fritzler. 

Reverse traffic planning

Nothing revolutionary, just a clever design. It’s a t-shirt worn by Bicycle Innovation Lab co-founder Lasse Schelde in Copenhagen. I met Lasse at the Svagerløb Danish Cargo Bike Championships on August 18, 2012 (see all photos). The graphic is an upside-down pyramid. From the top it moves to the bottom with decreasing area as follows:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Utility Bicycles
  • Public Transport
  • Taxi/Transport
  • Car Sharing
  • Own Car
  • Airplane

There are many ways to interpret this graphic, but I see it as one of decreasing efficiency in moving people (disregarding nuances of population and distance).

A photo of me cycling in the team relay race on the world’s fastest cargo bike. 

Lasse and I were on the same team for the relay race. Miche and Brandon Gobel all rode his Bullitt. I started first so I wouldn’t have to carry any of the luggage (which consisted of two car tires and a wooden Carlsberg beer crate). The race was hosted on the Carlsberg brewery lot.

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