Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

7/22/2015

Navigating without street names

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Making your way around the Philippines is a crazy prospect sometimes. We have street names, but often they've been changed into something else by another government altogether. Lots of streets were formerly named something else. Not only that, but little alleyways and one-way areas, make tourists vulnerable to tickets from cops and makes Google maps practically useless. Friends rely more on apps such as Waze to get around.

Apparently, the Philippines isn't the only place with such a freeflowing concept of direction. Beirut and India share the same DNA, according to the Guardian.

The crowded cityscape of Beirut: ‘There’s usually a very clear order; you just have to understand it.’ Photograph: Karim Mostafa
As a result residents like Bahi Ghubril has created what is basically a crowdsourced Google maps, culled from government data and on the street conversations:

Ghubril went around each neighbourhood in the city systematically, from Dahiyeh in the south to Dbaye on the eastern coast. His first stop, he says, was always the municipal office collecting taxes and fees from local businesses, since they would know the names of all landmarks. 
“Then I continued, asking shopkeepers and people sitting on chairs on the pavements. 
Ten years later, imagine how many conversations have fed into the data we have.”
Ghubril’s wayfinding mission soon turned into Zawarib, a company taking its name from the Arabic word for narrow alleyways. It has grown to publish all kinds of atlases and maps – including coverage of Beirut’s NGOs and its informal bus network. 
“That data was already available from the ministry of transportation, but they never thought it would be useful,” Ghubril explains. “We mapped the buses – but then, of course, you have to find out exactly where to catch them.”
In India, "the notion of location...is highly social and visual, relying on memory and experience. “Addresses are very particular, with detailed references and directions like ‘nearby’, ‘opposite’ and ‘in between’, because roads often have no signs.” Instead they tend to take creative, often literal, names like 'The Road with the Oak Tree.'"

It might be intimidating to navigate such streets, but I think it's also a bit enthralling. Unlike other predictable cities. These places serve as opportunities for adventure, for the city to tell you what has happened there. In a way, it's a more human way to navigate. Instead of cardinal directions, we orient ourselves based on the things around us: trees, billboards, distinctive buildings; stumbling onto little, precious city secrets like that wonderful takeout place, or that cute shop, along the way.

Read the Guardian article here.


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