A cartographer living in Madison, Wisconsin, Daniel Huffman makes maps as an art form. He has created typewriter maps, a chart of islands called “Round Island,” a wine country map in the style of the Oregon Trail, an unfurled map of Lake Michigan’s shoreline and an entire series of River Transit Maps.
It’s fascinating to see our waterways in this transit-focused portrayal, as Daniel describes:
Rivers have been a key part of urban life for centuries. They have provided us with drinking water, protection, and a transit network that links us from one settlement to the next. I wanted to create a series of maps that gives people a new way to look at rivers: a much more modern, urban type of portrayal. So I turned to the style of urban transit maps pioneered by Harry Beck in the 1930s for the London Underground. Straight lines, 45º angles, simple geometry.
The above map shows the start of the Mississippi River in the upper left corner, down to Minneapolis and St. Paul, and then toward Wisconsin. It’s a big river, of course, and you can follow its progress through the next installments in the series: Middle Mississippi and Lower Mississippi. Or read about Daniel’s first River Transit map creation — of the full Mississippi, shown below.
I enjoy how much these maps center our natural world. It’s a relief to see the relationships among our cities as something other than an interstate, and to consider that, in some ways, we are all connected.
As Daniel eloquently describes:
I don’t think people are used to seeing and thinking about rivers this way — realizing their interconnectedness, their importance in the establishment of settlements, or the fact that they were humanity’s original transit networks. It’s not something I’m ignorant of, but I don’t think about rivers like this regularly. I’ve lived in cities that are on rivers without ever noticing. Rivers, to me, are often just those thin blue lines lost in the background of a lot of reference maps.
One person to whom the importance of river networks is not lost on would be the infamous geopolitical analyst Peter Zeihan.
He has some oddball takes, but I think he’s spot on when it comes to his take on how beneficial river networks are for inexpensive transport of bulk goods within a country.
Daniel does indeed eloquently describe rivers as “humanity’s original transit networks”, but it’s worth noting in many ways they still reign supreme as the best option since both road and rail require far more energy to transport goods – not to mention the infrastructure investment and maintenance of those modes.
What a good point – the shipment of goods along rivers has many advantages that road/rail don’t have. I haven’t heard of Peter, but will read up on him now. Thank you!