1. Environmental
September 10, 2014

Maps pouring scorn on everyone, coming soon to a city near you

By Barbara Speed

When it comes to cities, maps don’t really tell you the whole story. Yes, the roads are marked out, yes there’s sometimes a post office or a pub on there, but sometimes you want to know what locals really think of an area.

Enter Judgemental Maps, a crowdsourced collection of maps handily blazoned with locals’ stereotypes of different neighbourhoods. Want to know where the “white trash, soccer moms” of Pittsburgh are? (Banksville, apparently.) Or where to go in London to find “curry and hipsters”? (Shoreditch, obv.) Judgemental maps have your back.

The site was founded by standup comedian Trent Gillaspie, who realised that jibes about neighbourhoods in his local Denver always went down well in his comedy routine. At the beginning of this year, he decided to commit them to Microsoft Paint and publish them online, and the Denver Judgemental Map was born. It swiftly went viral, was shared online by thousands in and outside the city, and Gillaspie put out a call to comedians he knew in other cities to put together their own.

“People contact us who think it’d be funny to have a judgemental map of their own house.”

What he didn’t expect was that map submissions and suggestions would arrive from strangers all over the US, desperate to get their most poisonous or bizarre city observations off their chests. Taking contributions from strangers does have its drawbacks: Gillaspie has no way of knowing whether their observations are dead-on, or unfunny and inaccurate. That goes double when the map covers a city he’s never visited.

The first map of London hosted on the site, which was also its first non-US map, received a pretty poor reception for this reason.  “The comments were like ‘this isn’t accurate’, or ‘this isn’t funny’,” Gillaspie says. “It was hard because I don’t know a lot of the terms. Someone was saying it had a lot of misspellings, but I’m not familiar with ‘English English’, so I couldn’t tell what they were.” (One example: “hipster” misspelt as “hispter”.) Luckily, someone came forward and created a funnier, correctly-spelled London map:

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Now, Gillaspie gets friends in different cities to check the maps, to make sure everything’s funny and, er, spelled correctly. But even then, maps can fall flat.

The Minneapolis Map is a case in point. It is not, at first glance, any more offensive than the others – neighbourhood labels include “hairdressers”, “sell-out hippies”, and “Democrats with BMWs”.  Yet the comments section exploded (there are 225 at time of writing) with allegations of racism, despite the fact that none of the labels explicitly referenced race. A local news website even ran a poll asking “Were you offended by the Judgemental Map of Minneapolis?” (though only 4 per cent of respondents actually answered “Yes”). Gillaspie says the author requested for her name to be removed from the map because she was getting so much abuse.

More successful maps tend to be those which couch their offensiveness in humour. “Making it more creative makes it more palatable for the audience. A label like ‘you probably haven’t heard of this neighbourhood yet’ is funnier and more effective than ‘rich black people’.”

A high point is the map for 1860s San Francisco, where labels include “Horses now, Baseball Soon” and “abandoned ships”. Gillaspie says he also has a map lined up which covers a single park.

There is a line to be drawn, of course. “We have had older people contact us to try and submit one for their own neighbourhood, or who think ‘it would be fun to have a judgemental map of my house’. It might be funny for you, but is it funny to a bunch of other people? No, probably not.”

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