Map Your Neighborhood
As many of us are looking for useful distractions right now, I’d like to share some activities we can draw at home. I’ll be posting a new one each week for the next few weeks. Today I’m sharing a version of an idea I proposed to the Museum of Modern Art. Although we ended up using a different project, I think this one is perfectly suited for those of us sheltering in place.
Please interpret the drawing exercise as you wish. The word neighborhood, for example, can mean many different things. I generally think of my neighborhood as the walkable area near my home. You may choose to interpret it as a favorite route done either by walking, biking, or driving. You could even do a version of this exercise by focusing on your memories of the neighborhood where you grew up.
Pen, pencil, note cards
Let’s start by writing a few lists. I like to use note cards, but use what you have on hand. For each prompt, try not to overthink it. Let your brain wander as you write. We will use these lists later to incorporate ideas into a finished map drawing.
What are the landmarks in your neighborhood?
For the first list, think practically. How would you describe your neighborhood to others? How would you provide directions to get there? Do you live near a popular store, park, museum, restaurant? What places would you recommend to a visitor?
What do you remember right now about your neighborhood?
For the second list, consider the details. List the things that have caught your attention in the past. The things you notice every day. The mundane things others might not notice. The uneven sidewalk you trip over, the car that never moves, your neighbors’ charmingly odd decorations.
What do you remember after walking around your neighborhood?
For the third list, and if you are able, go for a walk in your neighborhood. As you walk, try to notice new things. This is also a good opportunity to note any changes. What’s different today? Once you return home, quickly jot down the things you noticed on your walk.
Letter or A4 size paper, pen, pencils, sharpie markers, microns, colored pencils, ruler
Use Letter or A4 size paper. Larger paper is great too. You’ll have more room to explore while drawing. Pencils, a gel pen, and a Sharpie marker are my favorite drawing tools, but whatever you have on hand is perfect. This is a great time to break out the colored pencils as color can be especially useful for adding emphasis.
Using your lists as inspiration, map the area you consider your neighborhood.
Let this drawing be less about an accurate map of the area and more about the specific details you have uniquely discovered about your neighborhood. Yes, you can look at a map online, but drawing is such a good way of getting time away from screens. You live in this place every day, so you already have a good understanding of its geography. You possess a wealth of information about the area and this information is unique to you. It’s this personalized information that makes your map more interesting than the analytical Google map of your zip code. Think of this map as your commentary on the area surrounding your home.
If sharing your map online, you may want to leave out specific details that reveal the exact location of your home. I suggest drawing the area surrounding your home, but skipping the representation of your home itself.
A good place to start is to think about how someone would travel to your neighborhood. Use your first list as a guide. What is the major street or public transit route that brings people to the area? What places might someone recognize or notice? Draw these important landmarks on your paper.
Continue to incorporate elements from your other lists. Add streets and routes as you go. Use symbols or written descriptions to reference your unique understanding of the area. There is no right or wrong way to approach the drawing. Remember the process of thinking about a familiar place in a new and interesting way is itself an important exercise.