cloud map

It is common practice for people in the Netherlands to consult a cloud map – a map that shows the prediction for cloud coverage over the entire country for a 3 hour period.

Consulting the cloud map involves scrutinizing a simplified map of the Netherlands, as animated clouds swirl and cascade over the land and sea – typically in the northeasterly direction

This constant reference to the map of Netherlands contributes to the high degree of spatial literacy that exists in this country. People are aware of space here: how much space there is, the distance between things, and their relationships.

Spatial literacy translates to good urban planning practice, and probably stems from the relative lack of available land in the Netherlands. While in Canada Halifax continues to struggle establishing a green belt, in the Netherlands, the Ranstad has consciously conserved its “green heart” since the 1800s.

Spatial literacy manifests in the Netherlands in many other ways.

I feel it when I take the ferry to Amsterdam Noord, to my internship at the Pop Up City – from the waters of the IJ, I see the diverse elements that make up the urban environment, and their placement as stand alone objects, well places and related within a 3D plane.

I feel the spatial literacy when I can engage in a conversation about Amsterdam’s urban morphology with someone who has no relation to the field of urban planning or architecture.

I also feel it in the name of this country, and the language spoken here: ‘Nederland’ – a constant reference to geography, a rooted orientation in this world.

And I especially feel it when I look at the copious amount of maps and spatial analyses available from the municipal government.

And I feel it when people casually consult their cloud map, and absorb the entirety of the country in a single glance. A black dot with concentric rings marks where you are when you consult the map, and this simple graphic ties you, and space and everything together.

Spatial mind

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On a slightly related note, If I were to design elements of a domestic train system, I would include a digital map in every train carriage that shows the progress of the route, and, when entering a destination station, would show a zoomed in map of the train entering the city.

This way, the rider could experience their journey outside of their direct experience of what is outside the window. Riders would feel greater connections to the places they are traveling through, and would feel more oriented and comfortable at their destination station.

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