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Map quest (continued)

Q: I would imagine that changing technology has drastically affected what you do.

A: It has. The GPS, the ability to actually go out and grab our own information if we need to ó thatís made things a lot easier. Different software that we use has become better, and the ability to do more is there, so we need to upgrade and make sure that we have the appropriate software to do the appropriate analysis. And then there are agencies ó local, national, federal agencies, both in the private and in the public sector ó that have data that they also maintain, so sometimes we may refer to Mass GIS, which is the state data center repository, which collects data for the whole state of Massachusetts, and we may get information from them that may be helpful for work that we do. There are a lot of resources out there that we can take advantage of, so we make sure that we have what we need to do our work.

Q: How does the general public benefit from what your office does?

A: We are the planning agency for the city, so we maintain the zoning maps. The zoning maps are the maps that support the zoning code. So when people need to refer to the zoning regulations, they will most likely ask for a map. We maintain those boundaries on a map, and weíre able to distribute those to the public. Itís public information, so the public can get the information free off the Web site. Or, if they want a large map printed out, we can do that for them. And then we are hoping to improve our distribution of data digitally, off of our Web site. It would entail redesigning our Web site so that we are able to distribute data a little more easily. And we have a mapping program called the Boston Atlas.

Q: Whatís the purpose of the Boston Atlas?

A: We scanned in a lot of the historic maps that weíve had. Before computers were used in planning, a lot of the mapmaking was done by cartographers by hand. So we have a lot of old maps that have valuable information on them: anywhere from old historic maps that were done in the 1800s to 1924 zoning maps. Weíve scanned those in and created digital files, and now weíve rectified them, which means weíve geo-referenced them to the ground, so we can use those as a layer, another bit of information to put with our GIS system, and now theyíre available on the Boston Atlas. So people can do a historic change over time. The Fort Point Channel, for instance, you can see when you go to one of our links how the geography has changed over a period of time due to man-made structures and infill. Itís valuable information. We can also put historic images on there, photographs, documents, and we can have them all linked to a location. Weíre in the process of improving that Boston Atlas Web site, to make it a little easier for people to find things, to print maps out, to get the information that they need. They can print out a map from the Boston Atlas, and they can download the actual data. [There are] educational needs for that information in the universities, our local schools, the architectural sector ó they use a lot of the information too. Weíve got utility companies and legal offices [using it also]. Itís used by a wide range of people. Our neighborhood planning groups ó Main Streets and other neighborhood planning groups ó use that information too.

Q: Why do you think people love aerial photos so much?

A: I think itís just another visual aid for people. They like to see things from different perspectives. When you can see something in its geographic context, I think itís valuable information. It allows you to reference yourself on the ground. People like to be able to see that.

Q: What do you think makes a good cartographer?

A: Itís understanding spatial relationships. And really itís an art. Knowing how to put information down so people can understand it on a map. What colors to use, what scales to use. That, I think, all makes a good cartographer. They have a certain eye, an artistic way of showing the data that makes it easy for people to understand.

Q: People from other places often complain that Boston is so difficult to navigate. Do you agree with that?

A: From a historic perspective, itís because itís got so much history here, and because there are certain design elements in Boston that you wouldnít find out West, where youíve got a street layout which is your typical grid. In Boston, things are done a little differently. In a way, I think that makes us unique, and special. It is kind of hard to find things, but once you get used to this city, itís not hard at all. And itís actually not a very large city to get around. I like the fact that itís got the historic perspective that makes it kind of crazy in a way, because I think it adds a lot of character.

Q: Given what you do for a living, do you have a hard time asking for directions?

A: I donít have a hard time asking for directions. And I do, quite often. But I do think I have a sense of which direction Iím traveling [in] at a particular time.

The Boston Redevelopment Authorityís Boston Atlas is at www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org/atlas. Tamara Wieder can be reached at twieder[a]phx.com

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Issue Date: March 4 - 10, 2005
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