Committing to a topic?! That is as difficult for me as it is for the Oklahoma wind to cease blowing in the springtime. Anyway, I wound up choosing the OKC Bombing Memorial for my visual analysis topic.

I found this interesting map courtesy of Brandy McDonnell’s blog titled BAM’s blog. She is a Entertainment News reporter for the Daily Oklahoman, and she coupled one of her posts about parking tips for people interested in celebrating New Year’s Eve in downtown Oklahoma City at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art with the map below. You can see the post in its entirety by following this link:

http://blog.newsok.com/bamsblog/2011/12/31/okc-museum-of-art-offers-traffic-parking-tips-for-new-years-eve-in-downtown-oklahoma-city/

The museum itself created this particular map, or at least some undisclosed person who was paid by the museum did. Please glance a centimeter or so towards the bottom of your screen, if you have not already done so, and take a look at the map.

Thank you, sirs and madams, for your compliance! Now, it is plain to see that the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial is not the main subject of this map, but how it is displayed here suggests a few things to me.

The artistic community in charge of creating and distributing this map chose (whether consciously or unconsciously) to make only two landmarks on the map green: the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. What do these two places have in common? Well, nature has a certain soothing, calming, respect-demanding aspect to it, and so does the memorial, a beautiful site commemorating the loss and lives of people who were needlessly injured and killed. Both places are oases of life and hope amidst a bustling urban metropolis and represent values humans feel deep, deep in the cores of their beings; whether people realize it or not, people value the world that allows them life and the people they live life alongside more than anything else. So, it feels most appropriate that these two places share the color of life that we see springing from the ground and trees at this time of year: green.

Though the map does a rather nice job of abstractly representing the memorial, it shows no details, nor does it even indicate that the memorial and the museum are actually separate sites. The map just lumps the two together into one big green rectangle like they are one huge building, or, more accurately, one huge plot of land; the green color suggests that the layout/structure of the memorial and museum may be quite similar to that of a large garden, which is a misrepresentative generalization.

But, as Monmonier states in How to Lie with Maps, “The map is as it is because the map author “knows” how it should look.” The mapmaker who made the image above was more concerned with how well the traffic flow aspects of the map are communicated. He/she provided the map user with a layout of the position of many of Oklahoma city’s major landmarks in order to better display the flow of the downtown area near the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, not to describe what these landmarks look like. The map looks just as the author intended; it shows exactly what the reader is supposed to focus on and highlights that portion of the map with blue arrows and red X’s. It was not the map’s job to paint a visually accurate picture of each and every structure/building in the area, so the map did not do this.

The author knew exactly what was supposed to be communicated, and he/she accomplished that goal. Did the author make an artistic choice by making both the memorial and the garden green in contrast to the neutral, cold browns and grays of the rest of the map? I have no clue. It is certainly an interesting aspect to examine, though.

I like to think that the mapmaker does not simply “know” how a map needs to look, but that the mapmaker also feels how a map needs to look. The resulting material does gloss over many elements of the actual physical place the map describes, but it also, I believe, reflects the mapmaker’s feelings in one way or another; even amidst many generalizations, one can find amazing subtleties.

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