Maps of Intrigue

By Adena Schutzberg

The press coverage of ancient maps being found and new mashups being created is becoming commonplace. Rarely, at least for me, are such stories so fascinating that I dig deeper. One modern map story intrigued me enough to read the entire story in the Chicago Tribune. However, my skeptic’s hat was not on firmly enough that day, and I missed the opportunity to explore "the rest of story" as Paul Harvey would say. So, without further ado: "How a Sad Map Story Turned into Intrigue."

I first saw the story last week in the Chicago Tribune and wrote up a summary in All Points Blog (APB) which I reproduce here.
What if you made a great map of Chicago neighborhoods? Everyone loved it. It hangs in fire stations and police stations and is sold by Rand McNally. But, then what if you wanted to give it to school children in the city? You'd think that'd be easy, but alas cartographer Christopher Devane ran into Chicago Public Schools system bureaucracy and was eventually issued a and "cease and desist" letter to halt his efforts.
The original coverage suggested injustice and how needy students were not getting these very important and valuable maps. I took that at face value. Luckily, Allan Doyle, faithful APB reader didn't. He dug a bit and found that there's more to this map, and thus the story.

The Chicago Neighborhood map, first created by Big Stick, Inc., Devane's company, was first published in 1992. It started with just 182 neighborhoods and now, in its third edition, has 237.

The website notes that in April 2006, "Big Stick begins free distribution of its new Third Edition of the Chicago Neighborhood Map to every school, police station, and firehouse in the city of Chicago. All made possible by the supreme generosity of the Third Edition’s sponsor, EastLake Development & Management, Corp." That doesn't seem to mesh with the article in the Tribune. Nor does it mesh with statements about for whom EastLake Development sponsored maps. (See below)

From my research all was well with Big Stick until 2004. A lawsuit that year stemmed from issues relating to a deal between Big Stick and a subsidiary of the Chicago Association of Realtors, the Northern Illinois Real Estate Information Network Inc. (NIREIN). NIREIN contends that Big Stick did not pay for or produce the maps the two parties had agreed to create together. A settlement came in late 2005, including a payment to the Realtors and a deal for them to sponsor the next edition of the map. Big Stick had not yet paid the full amount required, $11,000, on time. That led to more hearings in 2006.

In finalizing the latest edition of the map, Big Stick decided to add a new "motto" . The new motto was one that the Realtors found offensive: "Home is where the hood is." That prompted the Realtors to drop their plans to sponsor the new edition. Big Stick was unable to pay the amount required in the settlement, claiming the naming controversy held up production of the map and thus income for the company. The motto does indeed appear on the images of the new map hosted on the website.

Further confusion came from the settlement which noted that "Chicago property manager Eastlake Management and Development Corp[oration] was to help Big Stick pay $3,875 of the money owed the Realtors." A rep from Eastlake explained, per Crane's Business, that the company was only sponsoring maps for the Chicago Public Schools, not paying off the lawsuit. It's not clear then who was paying for the maps for fire and police stations noted on the Big Stick site.

In May of this year, Crane's Business reported that Devane chose to abstain from the efforts by realtors to rename Chicago neighborhoods to heighten their appeal. Devane refused a $75 bribe to call Logan Square "West Bucktown."

So, what's to be learned from this story as it continues to unfold? First, I am reminded that there are two sides to every story. Second, the story highlights that maps, the data on maps, and the names of maps is not objective, but subjective (How to Lie with Maps). Third, it makes me wonder about the statements made by the Chicago Public Schools. Perhaps that organization decided to use one explanation of why it didn't want the maps in the schools to overshadow the real reason? Fourth, it reminds me of the research, beauty and passion that go into maps, even ones that make some angry. Finally, it rekindles the lore of paper maps and their place in the world.

Published Sunday, June 4th, 2006

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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