Mapping a Small World – Making Neighbourhood Maps in Lockdown.

A short post, this, due to a heavy workload despite the global pandemic this year. Yes, I have still been illustrating in the middle of it all  – juggling daily living with one eye on the news, bracing myself once a week for the wild west of the supermarket and once a day for a walk around my neighbourhood. I haven’t been further than a few miles from my home for a long while so this is a post about different ways to approach mapping a small world…

three cornered wood
My local woods….

In the past few months, I’ve become an explorer, kitting myself out as meticulously as if I was travelling somewhere dangerously different. Face mask: check. Gloves: check. Hand sanitiser: check. My travels to the Arctic or across the North Atlantic were no different in terms of a list of required survival kit to venture outdoors. And just like then, the edges of my known world have been pushed and new discoveries have been made by looking at maps. I found a narrow streak of green gold, taking me for miles through the suburbs, barely hitting any traces of concrete. I discovered a hidden copse with a swooping woodpecker. A white windmill. A hilltop dew pond and its cheerful yellow irises. All within urban sightlines and 15 minutes from my home. It made me think about how such small neighbourhoods can be so rich in detail and so diverse geographically.

Suburbia truly has multiple personalities. Graffiti-wild industrial estates merge into residential scratchiness blurring hazily into languid green. Mapping a local pocket can reflect all of that chaotic texture in one strike. As an example (and not yet having had the time to chart my corner of Hove) this is a map I did of part of Windsor.  The lines and circles show the emotionally different characters of its housing, fields and Great Park in a simple way.

Map of Illingworth
Map of Illingworth, Windsor

Zoom in even more and focus on a city block. It takes 5 minutes to walk around the part of Brighton charted in the map below. Instead of showing particular urban personalities, it focusses bluntly on the negative spaces, the interesting grid of road and intershapes. The graphic patterns were inspired by those found on medieval maps delineating field strips – Once upon a time, there were fields here, backing onto the place the fishermen dried their nets. The white road breakers draw the eye to the street names – in themselves, a reflection of a place and it’s history if you care to dig deeper.

tidy street
Round the Block Map, Brighton


Zooming in on a place can, in more detail, also give a view from the mapmaker’s peculiar perspective too. I made this map of Ditchling village in Sussex a few years ago. Centred on a busy crossroads, it shows an area that can be walked in 20 minutes or so but the fascinating historic architecture found within that short time made perfect cartographical features for me. Other mapmakers would discover their own features of interest no doubt, be that pubs or lampposts or trees, and each map of the same place would look different.


The upshot of writing this post is a note to self: map my neighbourhood.  Either using the broad characteristics of its crazy multiple personalities, the patterns of negative spaces or those detailed features I love. For the most part of human history, this walkable area, reached within 15 minutes from my home would, after all, have been my entire world. Small places can be entire universes.

Kirk Ireton
Another small map. Map of the Village of Kirk Ireton, Derbyshire Dales.

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