Geographies of Empty Spaces on Print and Digital Reference Maps: A Study of Washington State
J. B. Harley’s insistence that “there is no such thing as an empty space on a map” invites critical inquiry into which places are being left blank in popular reference maps, and why. I discuss the myriad reasons that items may not appear on a map, and invite a rethinking of the way selection is conceptualized in cartographic education. In this study, several GIS-supported methods are used to identify and compare consistently empty areas in print and digital maps of Washington State made by Google, Microsoft, OpenStreetMap, Rand McNally, National Geographic, and the state Department of Transportation. I then examine the physical and human landscapes of these places using imagery overlays, queries of land ownership data, and observations from site visits. In the state of Washington, empty spaces on the map are highly connected with regional and global economies, and are essential for supporting the needs of urban life such as food, electricity, construction, and waste disposal. City dwellers may not ever see or recognize the intensive land uses occurring in these geographies, whose landowners include an intriguing mix of large industries, multiple levels of government, religious colonies, and individuals searching for space and solitude.
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