The NYPL Podcast
Podcast #145: Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Garnette Cadogan, Suketu Mehta, and Luc Sante on Phone Maps, Libraries, and Walking
Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlasof course, writers. At the New York Public Library, we recently were visited by five contributors and editors: Rebecca Solnit, a prolific essayist and author, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, a geographer and writer, Garnette Cadogan, a scholar of cultural change, Suketu Mehta, a Pulitzer-nominated journalist, and Luc Sante, a writer and critic. For this week's episode of the New York Public Library Podcast, we're proud to present these mapmakers discussing phone maps, libraries, and walking through cities.
Addressing the postulation that maps are no longer relevant, Solnit spoke of the limitations of cell phone navigation:
"Somebody said to me maps are obsolete, which I didn't accept. People get around with their phones a lot now, but Josh [Jelly-Shapiro] wrote a beautiful article for Harper's a while ago addressing this and we walked about this in the New Orleans atlas and elsewhere, that your phone will get you where you're going but it won't help you understand where you are. And there is kind of a post-geographical obedience to the machine, a sort of outsourcing of orientation to machines which often fail and mislead us. You know, I worry kind of about people not really knowing where they are, so I really wanted to think about what do maps do? How do they help us understand? We're long past the era where geography was something children had all through elementary and high school. We wanted to give a kind of series of festive and subversive geographies lessons."
Mehta remembered the importance of libraries to him in considering the geography of the city, the way that libraries act as gathering points:
"The library is amazing because you see all these immigrants studying for the civil service exams, and it's really incredibly well-used throughout the day. They have periodicals and books and it seems like a hundred different languages. So when the library hours are cut back because of budgetry shortfalls, it's the worst thing you could do to the city, to the lifeblood of the city. You want to see libraries that are used. Go beyond Manhattan and go to the boroughs any afternoon and you see how many people. Old people just hang out there because it's their only community space in many of these boroughs. As a kid, this is where I went every afternoon after school."
Cadogan made the case for walking as a medium for memory in the city. Walking, he said, was not just a way to arrive at destinations but also a way to see spaces with greater richness:
"One of the wonderful things about the city, a city is many things, but part of it is a collection of memories. And what better way to form these memories than walking? By walking is the way you transform a space into an actual place... Every block, which is a thing that Matt affirms, is wonderfully interesting because they're irreducibly complex, and what better way to know that than walking? New York allows you discover that by way of walking. What it also does, it allows you to see at once how accessible the city is, how much more warm, how much more friendly, how much more beguiling it is than people often think it is."
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