Thursday, April 10, 2014

Not your typical, everyday city maps

What does familiarity with a city breed? Often it's a dicey, odd mix of insight and stereotype -- factors that play into what Trent Gillaspie is up to.

Besides a day job, Gillaspie, 28, is a comedian who bases his routine around stereotypes. In early 2013, he expanded his act into geography side project: an annotated map of Denver  calculated to get residents howling.

Some thought it was hysterical. Others found it offensive. The map has probably caused recurring heartburn among boosters of the Mile-High City. (A portion of his map is at the top of this page.)

To be sure, Gillaspie (photo below)  has an insider's knowledge of the city. He's originally from Lincoln, Neb., and had been in Denver since 1995.

He felt he had comedic-stereotype license to overlay tags on a conventional map, pinpointing areas like "Stinky Town" and "Cougar Town" and identifying what he perceived as neighborhood' characteristics: "Struggling Artsy Entrepreneurs," "Ex-Frat Boys," "People With Diseases Because of the Power Plants," Stroller Pushers, "Bum-uda Triangle," "Wealthy Democrats," "Every Cop in Denver" and so on.

There was something to demonize or amuse everyone.

And the map and the concept behind it went viral: Judgmental Maps ( is now a website where people try to get their own souped-up maps posted. To date, there are renditions of Knoxville, Tenn.;  Albany, N.Y.;  London; Orange County, Calif.;  Dayton, Ohio; Jacksonville, Fla.;  two of Albuquerque, N.M.;  Los Angeles;  Northern Virginia; Richmond, Va.; Memphis, Tenn.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn.;  and San Antonio.

Warning: All are offensive, to a degree, to someone. Ethnic, racial, socio-economic and religious slurs are common.

The map-to-map link is at the bottom of each page, below pro and con viewer comments.

The creators own the rights to their maps; the only one for sale on the site is Gillaspie's.

And which Denver neighborhood was Gillaspie's?

"I lived in the area labeled 'Taco Cart HQ.' Every day around 10 in the morning and 6 at night, we had taco carts going through the street ringing bells. It's a cultural distinction of the neighborhood."

Gillaspie said he's now getting 15 to 20 maps submitted each week.

But for an online atlas that doesn't aim for conventional accuracy, not all aspiring humorists/cartographers make the cut.

"I had one for Seattle that was marked 'Hipsters' over the whole city. It was funny and accurate," Gillaspie said. "I couldn't stop laughing. But it didn't fit in with a level of familiarity."

He looks for a geographic familiarity that takes 20 or so years to accumulate. He also nixes statewide maps because they don't allow the required level of details, like in the southeast corner of the Nashville map where you can place "Weird Religious College," "Poor People in Apartments," "Southern Pride," "Kurdish Pride," "NASCAR Fans," "Weird Mall" and "Strangely Normal" in close proximity.

Reactions to the maps differ from city to city. Reviewers in L.A. were positive; critics in Minneapolis/St. Paul were not.

The biggest criticism he said Judgmental Maps receives is about the spelling of the project/website: There's an "e" missing that should follow the "g."

Gillaspie also receives a lot of requests for maps of cities that are, so far, uncharted.

"But no requests from Charlotte," he said. "In fact, none from either of the Carolinas."

I only recently came across A friend who has lived and worked in exotic locales -- Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bulgaria, Nigeria and even my Charlotte ZIP code -- put up a link on Facebook to the map of his hometown of Knoxville, where he has returned.

I called Terry in Knoxville after talking with Gillaspie. What did he think of the map?

"Oh, that 'crazy map?' It was great. It was spot on."

Terry drew my attention to an area southwest of downtown Knoxville labeled "Setting of a Horror Movie."

Terry said it was a joke only locals would get: It's at a University of Tennessee property where cadavers are buried and later exhumed for forensic research.

Terry, by the way, lives near the bottom of the Knoxville map -- south of "The Crumbling Hubris of the 1970s," just north of "Desperate Car Dealerships."