In the summer of 2021, I had just been named “Best of the Valley” for maps by Phoenix Magazine. I was feeling pretty special. Thanks to that article, Jamie Cowgill from JRC Design approached me to create a new, fun map. It would loom large over the Roosevelt Row area, as part of the new APS Evans Churchill substation.
This Street I Thought I Knew
My history with this area goes back pretty far to when I just started venturing out in my 20s, looking for art spaces. I had become one of the founding members of Eye Lounge which eventually landed its spot on Roosevelt, next to Modified Arts. Most of the area seemed pretty quiet, without many businesses. If we were installing a show at Eye Lounge, our only option for walking to get food was Carly’s. The only coffee was the spot that is now Fair Trade Café. Many of the historic homes were being moved out of the area, most likely to prep for the then NEW downtown ASU campus. There was no light rail and no crowds of people swarming the streets. Nighttime was dark and QUIET.
It’s always interesting to work on a map of an area I thought I knew. After 20 years of being involved in the area around Roosevelt and 7th Street, it was strange to realize that maybe I don’t know the area as well as I thought. I still think to go to Jobot for coffee, even though it’s not on 5th Street anymore. And I still think of the townhouses on the north side of Roosevelt, west of 7th Street as “new.” (They went up over 15 years ago.) While recently out running in downtown, I got turned around and wasn’t even sure what street I was on. From 3rd Street and Roosevelt, I could no longer clearly see down the street.
I’m not exactly reminiscing for the “good old days” when there was no shade, no bike lanes, no place to eat and no other people around. But, it is definitely strange to at one moment feel confident I was mapping familiar territory, only to realize I needed to do the same research as everywhere else.
Make it Last for 10 Years
This was a directive. But really…how can you make a map be accurate for 10 years? Cities are in constant flux where sometimes the trees or saguaros are the ones that outlast the built structures. This is part of the reason why I wanted to create the Phoenix Cactus Map. If I was always going to be updating urban maps I made, why not make it something that is guaranteed to grow and change?
Jamie at JRC said her client wanted this map to be something that could last 10 full years. Jamie is a pro at wayfinding and signage. She decided we should put things on vertical and horizontal coordinates so that as businesses come and go, a key could be updated. But, what could I actually put on the map that I could be sure would exist 10 years from now? When I think back to Roosevelt Street ten years ago, I think of a very different landscape. All you need to do is look at Google Streetview and use the timeline to scrub back to 2012 to see what I mean.
We made a list of places that would most definitely, probably be there in ten years. That included the Burton Barr Library, Art Museum, Kenilworth School, Hance Park and others. Although writing my most random thoughts about places has become a standard on my maps, I mostly kept text off this one. With the exception of street names and a few, select notes, I left off business names, too. I stuck with iconic architecture, landmarks, plants and general hints at what you could find in certain zones. I learned about new high rises I didn’t even know existed! It’s…unlikely that they’d tear down a high rise ten years after building it…right? Right?
One. Giant. Map.
Another challenge with this map: this thing is huge! The final print size was twelve feet by twenty feet. Normally, I draw my maps at approximately the size they’ll be printed. With the Roosevelt Row Map, that wasn’t going to be possible. So, I did the original pencil sketch at about as large as I could manage on my work desk: 3’x4′. For proofs, I scanned these in sections and used Photoshop’s photo merge feature to stitch them together.
After my client approved the pencil drawing, I enlarged the file up to 50% of the final print size. Then I printed it out on paper, matched and taped those parts together and started tracing and inking those sections. Ultimately, I spliced THOSE sections together into the full, 50% size map. The high res scanning of this portion of it is such a long, boring story, I won’t even get into it. But, suffice it to say that this project prompted me to finally splurge on a Wacom Cintiq Screen to do my “inking.” This eliminates my whole janky step that involved so much splicing and additional Photoshop work.
After months in production, I got to finally witness my giant map going up at the corner of 6th Street and Roosevelt. It was split into several segments, embedded into a graffiti-proof material.
I love thinking that people will come to visit Phoenix and use this map as their way to navigate these streets I know so well. I like that I can use it, too. With so many changes and new businesses coming into this area, I need to constantly update myself on what’s there now. This project was a HUGE re-education of the Evans Churchill and Roosevelt neighborhoods. Like always, I learn something new with each project.