Saturday, August 25, 2018

--- Pride of place: Mapping the Neighborhood ---

Pride of Place: New Haven Material and Visual Culture is a lesson module created by teachers in the Yale-New Haven Teacher's Institute. These modules are great sources of ideas for personal adventures in learning. This one explores neighborhoods, maps, local history, fences, artifacts, cultural art, public art, tools and art, ethnicities, memorials, and local narrative.

I will be telling stories of past and current adventures for each of these lessons and I will make suggestions how you can explore your local culture through the material structure of your neighborhoods.

Maps are primary tools of social studies  and they are more accessible today through the Internet than they have ever been. The first lesson in Pride of Place is Mapping the Neighborhood by Carol Boynton. You might want to read it before you begin your own exploration.

A good way to get a feeling for geography is to create your own (maps, that is) of your microgeography - the geography of your home, and then broaden out to look at your neighborhood, your town and on out to the world.

I have a home layout utility called Sweet Home. It's an opensource package available from SourceForge or from the Sweet Home 3D website:

You might want to play with it.

Here's a quick, approximate floor plan I made of my room. The only measurements I made were the room dimensions.

                                                                     [Floor plan]

I live on a main north-south thoroughfare in south Denver. I walk the streets a lot. My preferred grocery is about a mile to the south and the library I use is 1.3 miles to the east. I walk to each of those at least once a week. The only trails near to me are the Highline Canal Trail to the south and the Harvard Gulch Trail to the north. The Denver University campus is less than a mile to the north.

Directly across the street is an interesting two story house and just to the south of that is the church I attend. To the north is a gated community. I am surrounded by affluent neighborhoods. It feels strange.

Selma played havoc with my sense of direction. People talked about East Selma and I had to figure out what they meant every time. The roads and river conspired to throw me off. Starting in Valley, Alabama, where I grew up, the road to Selma is Interstate 85 which runs from Georgia south southwest to Montgomery, then the Selma Highway turns off to head due west following the Alabama River, which also turns west from a generally southern flow in Montgomery. Just outside Selma, the main route through Selma - Broadway - begins a gradual turn to the north and by the time Broadway turns into Citizens Parkway, it has made a straight shot due north toward Birmingham. The River, on the other hand has taken a southerly direction toward Mobile.

It was very disconcerting.

Denver is easy. If you can see the Rocky Mountains, that's west. That's all you need to know.

Of course, where ever you are on Earth, the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west.

There was a time that, if you wanted a map of the region, you had to go somewhere and get it. When I was a child, maps were provided free as a courtesy by gas stations. Now, you can get them as state rest stations...or you can buy them at a local department or grocery store.

But, then, everyone with a smart phone or computer has a map. The Internet offers several mapping utilities but the most popular is Google maps. Most Internet browsers will give you an excerpt and a link to Google Maps when you type in a place name. It offers not only street and road maps but topographic maps and satellite images. You can zoom in or out for details or search for nearby locations by topic - restaurants, churches, schools, whatever. I use Google Maps quite a lot when planning my adventures.

[Google Maps (2018) Denver, Colorado. retrieved from,+CO/@39.7136308,-105.0346792,12z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x876b80aa231f17cf:0x118ef4f8278a36d6!8m2!3d39.7392358!4d-104.990251 8/25/2018]

And if you want more, there is Google Earth which provides....well, I don't have the space here to list all that it offers. You'll just have to download it (it's free) and play around with it if you want to know. And you're not just stuck with our planet. You can explore space. The universe is at your fingertips.

                                                             [Moon from Google Earth]

Many people think that exploration involves travel. Your neighborhood is interesting. You may be surprised by what you find there - the cultures, architecture, history, geology, etc. Take a walk near home and keep your eyes and mind open to new things.

A "bird's eye" view of your area can often show you details that you would otherwise miss. Check out your area on Google Maps or Google Earth. See what you've been missing.

Sketch details in your area - interesting houses and other buildings in your neighborhood, nearby parks, geographic details. Sketching focuses your senses and guides them to things that you would otherwise miss. It's a great way to train your senses.

                                                                   [Sketch of bindweed]

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