• Adam Mattinson

Mapping Melbourne

My name is Adam Mattinson, and I’m a cartographer who, along with 4.5 million other folks, calls Melbourne, Australia home. While most of my fellow Melburnians might visualize the city in the manner of Google Maps or the Melway street directory (an International Cartographic Award-winning mapping icon of our city, responsible for introducing many Melburnians to the world of cartography), my perspective, however, is overlaid with a complex network from an alternate dimension.

If you’re unfamiliar with the city, here’s the crash course: Melbourne is Australia’s second largest, but we get the number one spot in some very choice categories, as we have the world’s largest tram network, we invented the world’s #1 best sport (AFL, of course), and since 2011 we’ve been ranked by the Economic Intelligence Unit as the world’s most livable city - something the local newspapers love to turn into a headline on an annual basis, and the politicians use to justify infrastructure projects. But if you asked someone on a morning peak train in suburban Melbourne if we’re the most livable city, they might politely disagree.

During the 1950’s Melbourne started a love affair with the automobile, and began work on what would become the most extensive freeway network in the country. The consequence of this is that investment in rail slowed down in the 60’s, and apart from an underground loop built in the centre of the city during the 80’s, not much love was given to the rail network.

It was this neglect that inspired me to get involved in the world of ‘fantasy transit maps’, which is a branch of geofiction where you try to take the fictional maps in your mind and put them on paper. My own personal interest in maps started as a kid, from delving into atlases and street directories, to creating my own maps on a sketch pad, to eventually entering a career in mapping. I am a full-blown, 100% shameless map nerd, and a bit of a rail fan. So, of course, I started drawing a map of a futuristic version of the Melbourne rail network.

Making these maps has been such an entertaining challenge; creating this alternate dimension is like creating a language that only you can speak. The reason I’ve made them and shared them is to spark debate and open up people’s imagination about how we want our city to operate and look. Maps are a form of communication, and while they traditionally tell the story of how the world is in a fixed point in time, I think they also have the power to challenge our perception of the world. Melbourne is a beautiful city, and having done quite a lot of travel myself I can see how it’s been so consistently awarded as such, but from a personal perspective these maps have been a bit of fun in terms of imagining if my city could be even more livable.


With the slowdown in rail infrastructure over the last few decades, I wondered what a network with a lot of the popular rail project proposals might look like. I created a ‘New York style’ letter route system for the rail lines, plotted locations for new stations, and integrated it all with a futuristic tram network; it was lots of scrawled notes on paper, and some undeniably nerdy spreadsheets involving network connectivity. The end result was a mix between the 2016 Melbourne rail map and more famous transit maps of New York and London. It was the start of this alternate dimension that exists in my mind, and on the map. I’ve stood at the fake entrance of a fictional station and would be able to tell you where the trains at the station go to.

The image below is an example of the spreadsheet I put together to help build the map.


In my daily web trawling, I came across a map from 1927, with a proposed tram network project, that when compared to the 2016 network, looked a lot larger. Building on the 'alternate dimension' created with the rail network, I created a map that combined the 1927 version, the real life 2016 version, and various other proposals brought to the political stage over the last few decades. The challenge of these types of maps is that my background is in cartography rather than infrastructure planning, so when taking information from the 1927 map you have to get into a planning mindset to determine where these routes were intended to go, then you put on the cartography hat to work out which colors to use to represent these newly created fictional routes.


I've been to Tokyo a couple of times now, and I'm enamored with the subway network--not just the efficiency of it, but also the map, the signage and overall design--so I thought about how that Tokyo aesthetic and the connectivity of a subway might look if it was plonked into Melbourne. This has been the biggest challenge of these projects; everything was from scratch, with the objective of recreating the aesthetic of the Tokyo system. I started by using existing activity centers and I plotted rail alignments to complement the existing above-ground rail system. The new lines and the stations were integrated into the fantasy tram and train universe, but this was the most detailed version of the universe, in terms of route labeling, signage and connectivity. The more detailed the universe becomes - and when I was designing routes and station exists for various stations it was becoming quite detailed - the easier it is to escape to that universe.

(Detail of center of TKYxMEL Fantasy Map)

All of these ideas are a result of constant observation and interaction with my city, seeing how people move around, acknowledging the gaps and constructively - albeit sometimes fantastically - thinking about the ways to make a better city. This is not just looking to our future, and the ideas proposed by politicians via consultancy firms, but looking into our city’s history, and in some cases pushing beyond what we think is possible, if for no other reason then to get people talking and thinking. As geographers we’re forever engaged in an analysis of the places we live, and we may as well have some fun with it sometimes.

Adam Mattinson is a GIS Analyst, and spare time cartographer. His website is admaps.tumblr.com, where you can find maps ranging from pub crawls, road trips and surviving the zombie apocalypse.

#Maps #Australia #Mattison


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