What if you took the streets, alleys, and buildings away from a map of New York City? What would you be left with? Nothing but a light watermark of land. And no trace of its 8.3 million inhabitants.
Now what if you added back just two people?
That’s the idea behind A Subjective Map of New York City, by CleverºFranke’s lead designer Vincent Meertens. For a year, Meertens and his girlfriend Larissa tracked their comings and goings across NYC using the iPhone app OpenPaths (in a similar vein to Nicholas Felton’s deep Feltron Reports). Then Meertens added these travels to a map of the city—a map devoid of streets or other markers. And the result is what you see here. It’s New York for sure, but its details are etched out purely by activity.
Meertens appears in blue, while his girlfriend appears in red. Yellow dots represent markers. With this rubric in mind, it’s easy to spot the trends. The indecipherable black mass out of midtown is where the two overlapped most often. No surprise, it’s their home. Spouting out from there, you can see the clear red and blue paths, or their respective commutes to work.
As for everything else? Everything else is adventure.
"Because we are Dutch and love to ride our bikes everywhere, it made it more fun to explore the city as much as we could," Meertens tells us. "For me, the map was a way to make something that would remind me of all the nice moments we experienced."
In maybe their most ambitious outing, the couple circumscribed the entire island of Manhattan by bike. It’s the reason you see a neat blue line around the borough (Meertens confesses that his girlfriend wasn’t as diligent about tracking her activity as he was).
But truth be told, that’s probably the only readily apparent story within the map data. Most of what we outsiders can see is too esoteric for us to appreciate. The locations are a shorthand for memories that are not our own. To us, they’re just dots.
And in that regard, the map is truly the embodiment of the relationship between two people. Because while you may connect the dots from the outside, those dots contain an intimacy we'll never know.