Maps to Dreamers' Homes: Los Angeles Geography and Image

Where We Were: Map of an island California by J. Vinckeboons (circa 1650)
| Photo: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

The excellent people at Heyday Books in Berkeley have taken on a new publishing project with the help of the Durfee Foundation of Los Angeles. It's intended to be a volume of exploratory essays and associated maps that will help Angeleños re-imagine their place.

As Patricia Wakida, the project's leader, noted in her request for proposals last year:

In particular, we are interested in representations and perspectives of the city's history and landscape that time and again, are overlooked or forgotten, in favor of narratives that emphasize LA as a place of glamour, power and their side effects. The Los Angeles Atlas isn't a guidebook, nor is it a list of statistics or "best of" LA. What we're reaching for is something that engages the imagination historically, visually, balancing the curious, amazing, and substantive through great writing.
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Nearly 150 proposals for chapters have passed through the initial review process. I've been enlisted, along with a panel of other writers, to help select candidates for a final round of review. It's been fascinating reading.

Proposals have come from all over. Many are from a post-2000, "second generation" of researchers who are deepening and extending our understanding of why we've become what we've become. They're a focused, knowledgeable group that has access to a much wider range of source material than the scholars of an earlier period. They've been better trained, too.

The proposals I've read have some reoccurring themes. Maps of food production at the neighborhood level appear in several proposals, an instance of the past's persistence. Los Angeles was once the richest agricultural district in the nation where nearly everyone did a little backyard farming. The Los Angeles River makes its way through many proposed mapping projects, not at all surprising given how much riverside development is underway already.

Maps on a smaller scale -- a downtown neighborhood, a single family's migration across the county, the cemeteries of Los Angeles -- have also been proposed. So has a map of the present and former locations of the region's radio stations and a map to the stuff written on the walls and monuments of Los Angeles and a map of the evolution of the county's beaches (which have grown and shrunk over the decades) and a map of Skid Row.

I can hardly wait to unfold Heyday's "Los Angeles Atlas" one day and lose myself in finding so much more of my place.

D. J. Waldie, author and historian, writes about Los Angeles twice each week at KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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