A Block-By-Block Map Of Brooklyn, Made From Scraps Of Foraged Trash

This magpie map of the New York borough depicts each block through an unorthodox lens: its garbage.


The original cartographers did a lot of footwork to create the first maps. They took to the hills and traversed streams in order to find and then publish topographical information. (Maybe that’s why the job title back then was actually Explorer, not Cartographer.)


Today’s cartographers do this same job from behind a computer screen. Take for instance the MIT Media Lab, where a design student worked with 3 million digital data points to create a dizzying map of every person in North America (a color version from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service uses the same algorithm to show the country’s populace by race).

By stark contrast, artist Jennifer Maravillas veered from today’s data-driven cartography efforts to build her distinctly analog map of Brooklyn. We’ve seen the borough’s blocks through plenty of lenses–such as this map of each building, color-coded by age. But Maravillas has created something far more organic. With litter as her medium, the artist depicts every block of the borough–a total of 71 square miles, hence the map’s name. Each street is designated by an actual piece of trash she collected from it.

“I look for indications of culture, language, or sentiment, and I don’t judge beyond these specifics,” she says. “Never knowing the story behind the presence of the papers gives them all a simple and clear voice on the map.” This pastiche of paper is coated in printed fonts and scribbled handwriting, ranging from leaflet scraps from pizza places to phone numbers for techno parties. Even with Maravillas’s laissez-faire approach to garbage collection,
some blocks show up on the map very literally, with bits of text that nods at local countries of origin, like “Trinidad,” and some that are eponymous, like “Bed-Stuy.”

The map is a colossal undertaking. Maravillas started the 10-foot collage in February 2012, since moving from San Francisco to New York to concentrate on the project. She (smartly) uses rubber gloves to excavate the town, and describes the trash-collection walks as meditations, “shaped by the diverse lives I pass.” The map also begs viewers–Brooklynites and otherwise–to ruminate about what our litter says about us. By definition, it’s an unsung material that doesn’t serve any purpose or merit a place on a bulletin board. But as artifacts, and especially as a compendium in Maravillas’s map, garbage becomes revealing, and almost beautiful.

See more of Maravillas’s work here.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.