Blocks (5)- Maps 2015 (16) Barcelona as seen by the tax man

pbarna 0-0

French geographer Yves Lacoste used to say that geography is since its inception a war tool. It’s not my aim to contradict him, but in fact urban cartography is since its inception a tool to levy taxes… here are the primary results of processing the cadastral maps of Barcelona by assigning a 3 m height to each level above ground… More soon.



Maps (2015) Lago d’Iseo

An image from the project by Christo in Lago d’Iseo. Image from ANSA

This comes from a press release by ANSA, the Italian Press Agency, and the title is quite catching; in English it would be “walking on the Iseo lake with Christ”, as this is a project for a temporary structure on the aforementioned lake, in Northern Italy, which springs from the mind of Christo Vladimirov, aka Christo, and Jeanne- Claude, two plastic artists that have done things as wrapping the Reichstag. As always, an interesting work of art.

Maps 2015 (13) Nolli

The map of Rome drawn by Giambattista Nolli in 1748 is one of those documents that any planner (or at least any architect- planner) would like to have for the cities in which she works. It is the ancestor of many maps used in historic district plans. Sure, nowadays those historic district plans can also include detail regarding the layout of non-monumental buildings, but the debt towards this pioneering map is what it is…Alongside the five weeks in balloon by Jules Verne and the maps of Turgot for Paris and Texeira for Madrid, it is one of those works that predate such things as google maps…

The University of Oregon has a website in which you can get a look at the document; the app allows a comparison with current satellite images. Berkeley allows the access to jpg portions of the map.


Maps 2015 (12) Seeing TV in Italy

grande fratello

Design Density is a research laboratory at the Design Department of the Milano Polytechnic. The Link Magazine, published by Mediaset, called them to do a work for their tenth issue in which they were to visualize a series of datasets concerning how Italians see TV. From the first season of Big Brother and its followers by region (quite related to the places contenders came from) to other issues as the time “compass roses” of audience by chain. All this can be seen in a Flickr group.

Maps 2015 (11) Views of the world in the 1940s

Richard Edes Harrison’s story is interesting: how a designer became a cartographer not because of specific map-making skills, but rather through his ability to convey a complex information to common people. In a moment (WWII) in which aviation was the technology that transformed the perception of distances, his maps introduced to the US public projections and perspectives that, by going ahead of the traditional Mercator projection, allowed people to better understand the events as they unfolded.

Timothy Barney’s and Kenneth Field’s articles are interesting

Maps 2015 (9) Fracking in the North Dakota Oil Boom

mapas 2015-9- Fracking dakota

Here is a map by Mason Inman that is far from clear at first sight, but which is appealing from an aesthetic point of view. When you zoom in things become clearer: extracting oil can happen through horizontal pipes, so these are the most visible elements in the map. Each well has data associated. The way the land is exploited is surprising, it almost seems an agrarian structure.

Maps 2015 (2) The blackout of the bubble

As I have already said some years ago, the central issue for the blog this year will be the grain of the city; i.e., how the detail that you see on the urban space is formed by aggregation of circumstances. The bylaws applied two centuries ago are the fodder of today’s tourism guides, and the old crisis often explain how a neighborhood took its shape (try to explain the XVth district of Paris and its architectural mix without the brutal economic discontinuity of the inter-world-wars period…).

The issue today is the way in which the real estate crisis spread over Spain in the recent years. The real estate sector, central for economic growth since the second half of the 1990s, based its expansion on the construction of new homes, mainly in peripheral zones. In terms of landscape, this means that large sectors of urban outskirts (often still without building, and probably with many years ahead in that situation) were prepared for development by building streets and infrastructure, by contrast to urban cores where existing streets received sometimes a face- lifting, but buildings got not that much of an upgrade in general terms.

The end of what has been called the real-estate bubble has not been homogeneous on the land. This can be analysed in many ways, and this is how I did it. The Ministerio de Fomento, the Spanish Government’s body more related to housing (an attribution of the regions) publishes each quarter data on the evolution of the selling price of the sq m of housing, for a set of 283 municipalities over 25.000 residents, recording differences between homes completed less than 2 years before and the older stock. I did not focus on price itself, but rather on when there has been a “blackout” in data due to a lack of statistic representatively of available data. I’m fully aware that there are other resources, authored by private agents, that have different data, but I chose this one as it is public and everyone can use it, and it also has chances to stay active for some time. A remark for those willing to use the source: for the analyzed period (first quarter 2005- third of 2014) a municipality was added to the list; I used an homogeneous series excluding that one.

This is what I did:

Data "blackouts" in new homes price statistics in Spain. To see again the animated image, uptdate the page.

Data “blackouts” in new homes price statistics in Spain. To see again the animated image, uptdate the page.

  • A map of the data “blackouts” (upper animated image, you can see green turn red): It identifies the last available data for each municipality concerning homes under 2 years. Just two municipalities (Madrid and Barcelona) have had a record of no data blackout in any quarter, and as of the third quarter of 2014 there were only eight municipalities with data: Almeria, Barcelona, Caceres, Madrid, Merida, Las Rozas de Madrid, Madrid, Teruel and Zaragoza. In some cases, as Madrid and Barcelona, metropolitan areas with many points can somehow mask the visibility of still “on the radar” municipalities.


  • A chart of the evolution by quarter of the number of cities without statistically representative values for the price of homes overall (no age class distinction), and for those under 2 years old (new homes). It is clear that in 2009 things became complex, and that the first quarter of 2011 became a clear threshold. By comparing the chart to the evolution of free homes (homes sold in a free market without public subvention to purchase) completed and the average price of a sq m of urban land in municipalities over 50.000, there are many parallels. Homes under 2 years old reduce, as there are no longer produced in large amounts.


  • A comparison between the charts of the home prices, in national average, in Spain, Colombia, France and the United States, by quarter, from the first 2007 to the second 2014, taking the valuest of 1st quarter 2007 as 100%. It is clear that France has not seen a drop in home values (a reduced residential output), in the US the 10% correction seems over (even if the difference in country size probably would deserve a more detailed analysis, and Colombia has a chart clearly reminding that of Spain five years earlier, something that doesn’t seem good.


  • A cross tab vision of the demographic size of municipalities and the number of quarters (regardless of their order) in which they have been “under the radar” for new homes prices. It is clear that size matters, and more populous municipalities (that in Spain are often those with the larger physical areas and have large developments) are those that seem to have best survived the crisis, with wider markets and, against all odds, a better stock of price- stabilizing elements for the housing demand (transportation, distance to jobs, facilities)

All this doesn’t imply automatic answers to questions regarding the future of these municipalities; any plan must face a future that, by definition, is uncertain, and so needs a certain degree of flexibility. But the lesson would rather be (as will be seen in future posts) that long term plans have a sense in urban planning if you grasp the idea that buildings will also be built long term. And therein lied the rump here, as development was drawn without a clear demand for the buildings that had to pay for the streets and pipes and electric lines that were built (leave alone the land itself, often bought at astronomic prices…).

Maps 2014 (44) The history of cartography according to the Universtiy of Chicago

Venus as the Morning Star in the Codex Borgia, an ancient celestial map from the pre-hispanic Mexico (volume 2, book 3 of the History)

Venus as the Morning Star in the Codex Borgia, an ancient celestial map from the pre-hispanic Mexico (volume 2, book 3 of the History)

As this moment of the year has come, the place in which I live has gained a festive momentum, in which presents are exchanged. I could not possibly give what I don’t own, but I can share with those that like me enjoy maps a link to an extraordinary resource: the History of Cartography edited by the University of Chicago, which encompasses examples from prehistoric times to the European Renaissance. The volumes are not limited to the “western” world, as they include examples from other cultures.

The website allows downloads by volume and chapter. Happy reading!

Maps 2014 (43) The Roman world


Stanford Universtiy has developed a geospatial model of the Roman world, Orbis, which can be consulted as a web map. In technical terms it is a geographical information system in which you can consult, using current standards of transportation planning, the least costly, the shortest or the fastest route between two points of the empire taking into account what was available in those ancient times. The methodological explanation of the GIS is interesting. I can not judge to which extent the results are close to what was real, but at least they seem consistent.

I’ve tested the fastest route from Flavium Brigantium to Lutetia: 17,2 days in summer, some 50 in winter, mainly by boat. I’ll never complain about two days by car…