summer SUSTAINABILITY course in session!


Base Map

The easiest way to start drawing a map these days is to start with an aerial image from Google earth or MapQuest or wherever you like.  Much simpler than doing a survey yourself!

Another online map source is the historic Sanborn fire insurance maps, which I happen to think are supercool.  Here in Utah they are available free online at the University of Utah library.  Try a google search for them in your area to see if they are available.

1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of part of my neighborhood in Salt Lake City.
"D" stands for dwelling.  Pink represents brick construction and yellow represents wood.
The number of storeys is indicated with a number.
Distances between buildings are shown: all of these things are important when a fire breaks out.

There are also municipal maps showing plat lines and other information.  Try your city, town or county planning website for access to these.

Select the area you want to include

For a neighborhood map, include at least a 1/4 mile diameter around your home.  If there are important elements at the edge of your map, be sure to include them, even if you leave other elements off at the edges.
Rome map - Figure Ground by Giambattista Nolli (1748)
Image courtesy of 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia
via Flickr.
Nolli chose to draw all of Rome with the streets, plazas, and
public buildings in white with the other buildings in black.
It was a completely new idea of how to draw a map.

Select the elements you want to include

You can't draw EVERYTHING.  You have to select what is important to you.  If trees are the best part of your street, draw them.  If the library is the highlight, then highlight it with bolder or darker colors or larger text when you label it.
Having said that, you should ALWAYS include public buildings and streets.

What does "to scale" mean?

It just means that small things are depicted small in the drawing and big things are depicted big.  This should not trouble you too much if you are working from a base map, because you will be drawing on top of it.  The important part is that every drawing should always have the scale indicated.
A scale can look like

  • 1/8" = 1 foot,
  • 1:20 (meaning, 1" = 20 feet),
  • or be representded by a graphic scale.

The first two examples are more likely when you are drawing something from scratch by hand.  The third example is expected when working from a base map like we are doing for this exercise.
Just be sure when you are using your map to also copy its graphic scale onto your drawing.  They look something like this:

Draw on top of the map or aerial image you've downloaded.  

You can either do this by having a printed copy and using tracing paper to trace on top, or using layers in a computer program like photoshop.

Good luck!  If you have questions, please let me know in the comments below.

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