Chapter 16. Mapping and Placemaking

There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.

JANE JACOBS

Maps and Territory

INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE IS LARGELY CONCERNED WITH BOTH DESCRIBING AND INSTANTIATING NEW PLACES, but these places are made largely of semantic information. Mapping is a method that people have invented to establish context, using semantic information for the task. Sometimes, maps describe something that isn’t made yet. Often they describe something that already exists but is too big or complicated on its own. A map is a semantic-information artifact that helps us understand something about what it describes, even when it is describing itself.

This puts an interesting twist on how we normally think of maps and their relation to places. From one position, we can say that maps and the places they describe are not the same things, but from another position, maps are hard to separate from the places they are about, and they change what those places mean to us.

So, let’s begin with the first position: “The map is not the territory.” Those are the words of Alfred Korzybski, the philosopher and scientist who developed the theory of general semantics. Korzybski wasn’t especially writing about cartography; his main point was that the concepts—and language—we use for the world aren’t the same as the world itself; we need to realize that the way we describe the world can become reified so that it ...

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