Designer maps out city of neighbourhoods

Friends, blogs help Chicagoan map Toronto

What if you could see our “City of Neighbourhoods” as literally just that?

The effect, designer Jenny Beorkrem of Ork Posters has said, is that you’ll see beyond the street, shops, parks and people that make up your world and come to feel that you’re part of something bigger.

That’s what Beorkrem did for herself in 2007. She wanted to create a visual representation of her home city of Chicago that stripped it down to an elegant, designerly depiction of only its neighbourhoods, in the form of a poster.

Since then, Beorkrem has turned her posters into a full-time business, branching out to do posters for other cities including New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Following a barrage of requests from blog-tipped Torontonians, Beorkrem finally gave in to the pressure and released a Toronto version this past spring.

But it was no small task. What was typically a six-month affair designing other city neighbourhood posters took more than twice as long for the Toronto version.

“It was the most complex city I’ve mapped so far. And a complex mapping makes for a complex design too when I go on to manipulate the type,” said Beorkrem in an email, adding that Toronto beat the next densest city she’s done, Los Angeles, by more than 40 neighbourhoods. Her version of the city has it at 178 neighbourhoods, 38 more than the City of Toronto’s definition.

But just how does a Chicagoan map the neigbourhoods—themselves a subjective matter of opinion—of a Canadian city she says she’s visited but once and only briefly? Or, for that matter, a city that can’t decide itself what its own neighbourhoods are called? (Was it “The Beach” or “The Beaches”? And what’s a “Junction Triangle”?)

Maps and books were a good start, Beorkrem said, but the best information came from friends and associates who were long-time residents of the city, as well as neighbourhood blogs. It seemed that going to the people was key; they are, after all, those who name the ’hoods in the first place through the long arc of colloquialism over time.

The only trouble with that, of course, is that not everyone agrees. Since the poster’s release Beorkrem has heard from some Torontonians with gripes about the names and boundaries of some neighbourhoods, although she says there haven’t been many.

And it would seem that Beorkrem has gotten her research mostly correct, or at least diplomatic. The Beach as it appears on Beorkrem’s poster has been keenly labelled as “The Beach(es)”.

The consumer response to the poster has been very positive so far, Beorkrem said, crediting its success to the poster being the first Canadian addition, but also to what she perceives as a strong civic energy in Toronto.

“Torontonians seem to have a higher than average amount of city pride. I don’t know … why certain cities seem to have more involvement and representation by their citizens than others, but Toronto does seem to have that,” she said.

Though she studied them well, Beorkrem declined to pick a favourite Toronto neighbourhood.

“As a visitor I don’t feel qualified to pick a favourite, even though I made the map.”

But the young Chicagoan designer may have the opportunity to form stronger opinions — this fall she’s planning a second trip to the city.


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By: Christopher Reynolds
Posted: Jul 28 2010 5:05 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto
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