29 Sep Really Good Maps to Connect to the Good in a City
Ever since my good friend Zoë Melo showed me the first Really Good Map, I have been wanting to hear more about the project. So I asked for an introduction, and … the rest is history! I asked Jenafer Matthews, the artist and entrepreneur behind Really Good Maps to tell me more about her recently-launched city adventure guides in a map-zine format. Ready?
Aurora Meneghello: How did Really Good Maps come about?
Jenafer Matthews: This is an experiment in how to empower kids (and adults) to know, experience, and imagine cities through a lens of wonder and possibility.
One of my favorite ways to spend time with my four-year old son is to explore the city together. I point out elements aimed at making the city a better place and he points out things like a crane that looks like a giraffe carrying a port-a-loo. (chuckle). This is what I love most about being a mom, the sense of wonder in levity so readily accessible with kids at every moment. It is a beautiful gift to adults.
I was inspired to ensure the illustrator capture this real-life moment in the whimsical map illustration of issue 1, which invites kids to explore what ‘getting around’ Portland could look like by the time they are a grownup. It takes readers on an adventure to South Waterfront, the best place in Portland, at present, to see innovative transportation design in action…in addition to tons of construction cranes.
Aurora: What is a map-zine? And why a paper map when we can use our phones?
Jenafer: A Really Good Maps map-zine is on one side an illustrated map and adventure guide and on the other side a magazine/zine type story to the featured topic and includes an activity to prompt creative thinking and application of learnings. Each whimsical map is illustrated by a different local designer. While minimal in size (11×17 folded to 5.5×4.25 pocket size), it is packed with tons of valuable information.
While we live in a digital world, I think there is general sentiment that we are tethered to screens more than we feel is healthy. And it is a common challenge for parents (myself included) to have the phone down and be fully present. The intent with the paper format is to support having new experiences with our kiddos – forming memories and guiding them to learn life-skills like map reading, knowing community, and creative thinking – in an applied, real life setting while holding a piece of paper, not a device. I can guarantee walking away with learnings and perspective that change the way they…and we…see our world.
My child will grow up with screens, but I also want him to be able to navigate and appreciate the amazingness of this real world.
Aurora: How has this project changed your experience of Portland?
Jenafer: I discovered pockets of the city I was totally unaware of, even in my own neighborhood. And I’m already seeing in my son, and myself, a greater sense of awareness from using the maps together.
I honestly was a little afraid of bees, as was my son, prior to exploring issue 2 about what people are doing to preserve and create bees and pollinator habitats in urban Portland. And now we watch them in total awe (Have you ever noticed a pollen pocket on a bee’s back legs? It’s incredible!) And my son pointed out to me just a few days ago “Mom that sign/(signal) light is just for bicycles”. And this was in a completely different part of the city than where we learned about bike signals from issue 1. These are just two proof points that lead me to believe that this experiment is working.
It’s certainly bringing more awareness to my life – to slow down and be in awe of the world we live in…especially when around my son. And that’s kind of magical in this day and age.
Aurora: How do you find the businesses and places to include in your map?
Jenafer: In sum – conversations with topic experts, who were so gracious to go on this uncharted adventure with me. They took a leap of faith, based off of a pencil sketch. It evolved from there, as onsite explorations of the areas unfolded, and one conversation led to another and introductions to other passionate experts. It was definitely a lot of leg work, but what a blessing it has been. I’ve gotten to know some pretty special people in the process. I’ve gotten to know my community better.
Aurora: What are some of the major influences on your work?
Jenafer: I’ve always been drawn to maps. I recall being fascinated with my father’s old USGS or Army Corps of Engineers book and glasses on legs that enabled seeing the typography in 3D on the pages below. I’ve remained visually drawn to maps as way make sense of place and ideas, as well as invite the excitement of wanderlust.
My way of seeing cities through placemaking/sustainability efforts (like public arts/spaces, food system, architecture, urban design and planning, transit) is grounded in the happenings and changemakers I was exposed while doing a Master’s program in Melbourne, Australia (an amazing city).
Specific points of inspiration to guide the design of this project were:
Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day” – levity/humor, how the world works
M. Sesak’s “This is New York/Australia/Paris” etc series
The childlike wonder and creative courage of Michel Gondry & Bjork
Neat Places – New Zealand map guides
Australian artist of Malaysian Chinese heritage Emile Goh’s “mapkin” series commissioned for a 2006 New Zealand art biennale, that highlighted the ways that places were negotiated and understood according to personal associations.
Limited color palette/rizograph look
Aurora: So far you have been mapping Portland. Are you looking to expand to other cities?
Jenafer: These first two issues are an experiment – prototypes/proof of concept – to see if and what resonates with folks. I put them out into the world around August 1, and am conducting listening and exploration conversations with target audiences, potential partners, and distribution channels.
This fall I plan to fine tune/make some tweaks to make it most relevant to the market. And while starting in Portland, I plan to scale to and experiment in other cities (L.A. is on the horizon).
Aurora: Can’t wait to get one of your maps in LA! Did anything surprise about this whole process of creating Really Good Maps?
Jenafer: Something I didn’t see coming with this project was how much I adored working with the young designers/illustrators (two were finishing up design school and 1 recently graduated). In addition to the opportunity for a paid, real-life client job, I partnered them with an experienced freelancer who walked them through tips and tools for how to show up as a strong professional freelance designer. It was well received. So embedding an empowerment component into the continuation of the project is a must for me.
And if you need design work – check out these talented, gorgeous human beings – Vee Chinting Qian Issue 1 illustration & template design), Chloe Kendall Issue 2 illustration & layout), Karalie Juraska (Brand identity).
Aurora: Where can people get your maps? And are you available for custom work?
Jenafer: Really Good Maps can be purchased directly on the website reallygoodmaps.com. If in Portland – check out the list of beautifully curated retailers on the site. I am also open to conversations about custom work.
Lastly – will you take 15 seconds to join a growing community of parents, artists, architects, designers, geographers, planners, change-seekers and urban explorers ready to empower the next generation to understand and ultimately create better communities? Go to the website and sign up for the newsletter. We’ll be in touch with how you can help co-design how this project and adventure unfolds. I also welcome any thoughts/ideas based on what you’ve read above, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A little more about Jenafer Matthews:
Jenafer Matthews has fifteen years of experience supporting social and environmental change by developing and managing programs, campaigns, storytelling/communications and marketing efforts for city government, corporate, start-up, and non-profit organizations in global cities, now based in Portland, Oregon. Jenafer holds a BA in Sustainability from Appalachian State University in North Carolina and an MA focused in urban regeneration from the University of Melbourne, Australia, pursued while on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.