Pittsburgh as one of the cities on the “rust belt” and a fast-growing city because of technological development has a very unique pattern for urban development. Through observing the human-nature patterns in a multi-layered way, I hope the map can reveal how Pittsburgh has evolved into its current state.
Polish Hill was the destination for my first-hand research. An interesting phenomenon that stood out to me while I immersed myself in the environment was that just like in archeology these buildings are living fossils which shows layers of nature and human traces. In the neighbourhood, it is very common to see old abandoned houses covered with weeds are experiencing renovation into pubs, cafes or colorful residential houses, or greenery growing on top of year-long painted graffiti on a crumbling wall. I documented these qualitative data into Google map for future analysis.
The first key I identified from the first-hand analysis is the artificial (e.g. housing, factories, parking lots, roads, graffiti, sculptures) vs. the natural(e.g. wild greenery, parks, gardens, front yards).
However, the line between nature and nurture is not always clearly defined. Therefore, I introduced a second key of manicured vs. organic to help understand the influence of human/natural force on the objects. For example, Schenley Park is marked as manicured nature since it is managed by men, while the housing in Polish Hill is marked as organic for its growth is less planned and heavily influenced by the topography of the neighborhood.
The layering is more than visually interesting but reveals a urban phenomenon that marks the history of Pittsburgh. It aligns with the flow of population that neighborhoods in Pittsburgh has been through, as Pittsburgh goes through its ups and downs.
Such complexity and dynamic in the layers lends itself to a map that should be rich and energetic when showing this layering, instead of flat map with no depth.
For second-hand research I looked into the existing maps that displays the green spaces in Pittsburgh in a relatively large scale. This provide a general pattern of human vs nature, and especially the satellite map is able to achieve a more intricate pattern of how the infrastructures interact with the nature.
However, such bird-eye view makes it difficult to map out the more detailed qualitative observations such as graffiti or weeds in front the house, and thus losing the anecdotal characteristics I observed in the field research.
Complexity and Storytelling
Therefore, for my inspiration I turned my view into non-traditional map that focuses more on the storytelling side. Taking inspiration from the painting by the street artist Jean Basquiat (left). This painting of his demonstrates
- effective use of color coding to differentiate different areas
- text and sketches that conveys a more personal information that could adds a story-telling layer on the map
- overall very expressive quality which adds to more visual interests but rich in details
Engaging The Future
The map is designed to be installed in museum where people can use this map to gain more knowledge on the urban development of Pittsburgh, so the target audience are the younger generation and anyone who are interested in the topic. It also should be able to draw other audience’s attentions to encourage them to be more attentive about the city.
Therefore, the interactions should make sure the audiences not only look at how the city transform in the past, but also encourage people to envision the future and thus increase civil engagement on the relevant issue.
In the three explorations I have been trying to find the balance between expressiveness and clarity. Since the distinction between the nature and nurture becomes more and more blurry as I tried to delve into more intimate details, it becomes harder for me to decide the level of complexity the map should be and how can I organize them in a meaningful way that tells the story of urban development. Color is another aspect that I was exploring in the iterations. How to assign colors that best illustrate the contrast between human and nature and that still fits with our common color association of human and nature.
- Zoom in and out of map to see the details of map to see how human and nature interacts with each other;
- Prospect into the future, audience are encouraged to draw their own human-nature map for pittsburgh/their neighbourhood, and after they submit their maps, a collective map of every answer overlapping to see the direction where everyone prospect to get;
- Slider that allows users to drag to see the transition of Pittsburgh from the past to present to the future.
This is a very challenging project due to the complexity I planned to achieve. Since there are many variables interacting with each other the map might need to simplify the representation of each element and focuses on my original goal — urban layering. The layering could be illustrated in a more obvious way that as slider slides the patterns are reviewed in layers.