Fruitful and intense week in Manitoba

With a couple of hours free last night I was finally able to see the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

With a couple of hours free last night I was finally able to see the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

An all-day cartography workshop, a half-day workshop, and a 1-hour talk were on the agenda for me this week in both Winnipeg, Manitoba and Brandon, Manitoba. It was a jam-packed schedule considering the long drive to Brandon and back, but absolutely worth it for me and, I hope, for those in attendance at the cartography events.

Thank you to the Manitoba GIS User Group (MGUG) for hosting me for dinner Tuesday evening. Good conversation, good food. Thank you to the Manitoba Municipal Government for hosting the super constructive all-day workshop in Winnipeg, and the Manitoba Planning Conference and attendees for a fruitful half-day workshop and another talk the next day (attended by perhaps 150 people).

As often happens, there was a mixture of people in my workshops and talk, from absolute beginners to seasoned GIS and cartography technicians who make maps day in and day out. For an added interesting twist, my workshop and talk in Brandon also included a fair amount of municipal leaders who aren’t map makers but who commission maps, review the maps that their departments put out, and who generally are involved in the decision making.

While it can be difficult to tailor material for all these audiences I am hoping it was friendly enough for the beginners, and informational enough for the power technicians, while simultaneously giving the policy makers a good overview of the challenges we face and the user-oriented outcomes that we aim for.

The focus throughout was on planning maps. The main challenge is adequately presenting the sometimes dense zoning and planning development categories on small pieces of paper that go in the official by-law documentation. They’ve moved away from large fold-out maps due to their unwieldy size causing them to get separated from the original document, lost, or ripped. We discussed atlasing as a possible solution though there was some dislike of splitting up towns over multliple pieces of paper when they look better centered on a single page.

Color choices are always difficult because color is potentially the best way to depict the zoning and development plan categories, but in certain locations there can be a large amount of, for example, residential categories, that all need a slightly different yet related hue. And of course what then comes up is how can these be adequately represented in a pleasing way not only for normally sighted individuals but those with color deficiencies as well.

I brought up the usual tools for color deficiency such as vischeck and colorbrewer palettes but forgot to mention that Cartographer’s Toolkit also has deuteranopia simulations. Another method that I mentioned was running off the map on a black and white copier or printer to see if the shades are still distinguishable.

I mentioned that I’m not a fan of the most common zoning map style, which to my eyes appear as large blobs of color in tentacle-laden seas.

Examples of typical zoning maps with highway tentacles.

Examples of typical zoning maps with highway tentacles.

The highway lines are often left on the page to give a broader location context but there’s just a quality about them that appears off. I believe it is due to the low density of information. A few highways are not enough if you’re after spatial context. A better thing to do would be to increase the density outside the main focus area by also including faded parcel lines, an elevation surface, an ortho photo, or some other dataset(s) that provide a spatial continuity between the foreground information (i.e., zoning or development plan designations) and the background information (e.g., outside the town or city depicted).

An example of a map with visual continuity between the foreground and the background.

An example of a map with visual continuity between the foreground and the background.

In one of the workshops we used sets of GISCI contest maps from the 2014 and 2015 map contests to gain an understanding of the wide variety of methods people employ when making maps. We looked at them specifically from a typography and symbology point of view to determine what worked and didn’t work. Not only was it good to get up out of the chairs and walk around to look at the maps, it was also good to find out that there was a real variety of personal likes and dislikes among the workshop participants. There was no clear favorite when it came to typography or symbology, though there was some consensus on certain practices they’d like to avoid (e.g., too much text, circle symbology that gets hidden when points overlap, background photos that overwhelm the page, and so on.)

In all, I found that the cartographic technicians have great respect for those who will be reading and using their maps and they are keen to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to make that happen. At the same time, the policy makers were cognizant of the great deal of time that a cartographer needs to make all the little details come together in a coherent way.

Thank you to everyone who attended the workshops and the talk. I hope you learned a few new things . I’m grateful for the opportunity to dialog about these particularly important types of maps and I learned a lot of new things along the way as well.

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