Baltic Avenue and Beyond: The Geography of Entertainment


We could use a little imaginative distraction these days, but of course we want to keep our geographic awareness. In previous articles I have written about the geography of sports, music, libraries, and museums, all of which can be viewed as entertainment. (And for many of us, all that has to do with maps and geography is entertainment!) Now I’m going to expand the scope and look at some other types of entertainment that include maps and geospatial technologies in many types of media.

There’s entertainment on the small screen …

I’m not a big TV viewer, but those hot, smoky weeks in southern Oregon gave me an excuse to stay inside. (I mostly catch up on reruns of “Jeopardy,” good for the geo-brain.) Geospatial technologies are popping up in surprising places along with “Jeopardy”. For geo-geeks like us, we pick up on any reference to geospatial technology, even something as mundane as two city officials are talking outside the GIS office in the fictional town of Pawnee, Ind. in “Parks and Recreation”.

Most of the time, however, geospatial technologies appear in crime novels and action dramas, such as “Unbelievable“and the” CSI “franchise. There is one short thread on where people post their favorite GIS scenes in these and other shows. While not always authentically presented, these examples are helpful in illustrating how maps can solve, or at least address, various problems and challenges. An authentic example was CBS’s “The District,” a police drama set in Washington, DC. It was a collaboration with Esri and they used real operations in ArcView 3x. If you look at clips from the episodes (and remember ArcView), you can see that they are actually doing GIS tasks. Buffers and “Select by Location” appear frequently.

There are also many cards Above TV country. Different versions of “The Most Popular TV Show in (or Set in) Each State” appear on Floss, Business Insider and wealth. The methods are different, as are the data, but they are interesting ways of engaging people with geography.

… and on the big screen:

Every film is set somewhere and every film is shot somewhere. But … are these places the same? Sometimes they are filmed on location, but not always. In the early 1900s, when the film industry began to explode, Southern California became America’s film capital. Along with many other geographic benefits (mild climate, easy transportation, and plenty of extra land), Hollywood offered what few other places can offer: access to incredible geographic diversity. A fold-out map in the Sunday Los Angeles Times 1934 shows how the Sierras could be Siberia or the Alps and the Central Valley could be Kansas or Chinese rice fields.

In this digital age, a place can be built from nothing. At the 2017 Esri conference, Disney’s Imagineers team demonstrated how they developed the city of Zootopia using Esri’s CityEngine software. This is another example of how geography moves us from the known to the unknown or even create the unknown.

Cards on the screen and on the table

Games of all kinds stimulate the brain, whether digital or analog. The psychophysiology of this is well beyond the scope of this article, but many studies have shown that certain parts of the brain respond to spatial stimuli.

I haven’t played video games since the Atari 2600 days, but I’ve spent enough time with my nephews to see a lot. One of their favorites is Minecraft, which allows you to create maps of entire worlds. The details are way over my head, but I’ve found plenty of forums where people from different games share cards and tips on how to create them.

Long before digital gaming, I learned the basics of cartography by playing Dungeons & Dragons. Do not laugh! With graph paper and colored pencils I taught myself the basics of scaling (a square is three meters), classification (brown is desert, green is forest) and symbolism (black triangle is a cave entrance, red point is a trap, blue line) influence). In the early digital age, I learned the spatial and temporal geography of the Caribbean basin in Sid Meier’s Pirates! (which actually helped me with a capstone project in an anthropology class).

Then think about how board games taught us spatial literacy. Obviously there are the war games like Diplomacy and Risk. Most board games, however, have a geographic component, including versions of Monopoly for college campuses and national parks. Clue leads the detectives from room to room. Candyland also requires spatial awareness!

“… nine miles long and five miles wide, shaped, you could say, like a fat dragon rising … ”

This is how Treasure Island is described in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel. The map itself defines the entire plot and goes from hand to hand between hero and villain. How many books tell stories of journeys through land and water, both fictional and real? “Lonesome Dove” takes us from Texas to Montana; the Sherlock Holmes stories show us the other side of London; The epic “The Lord of the Rings” encompasses an entire fictional world that has been meticulously mapped.

As exciting as the books are, how do we contextualize these epics, especially for students, and illustrate the connection between literature and geography? Fortunately, the brilliant people on Esri’s education team have developed a series of standards-based lessons that Geo inquiriesto do just that. These are short exercises in ArcGIS Online that only require a web browser. Topics range from banned books to Mark Twain’s travels across America.

Entertainment and analysis

One of the first cards I ever put on my wall was a souvenir – a visitor card from Kings Island Amusement Park in Ohio. It was a cartoon, of course, but like all natural park, amusement park, and museum visitor maps, even shopping malls, it was effective enough for navigation. (Not that I navigated a lot when I was six.)

I delved into this topic and searched for “amusement parks GIS” which came up with some interesting results such as: how to make amusement park style maps in Arcthat might come in handy for public gatherings and laypeople, and lots of links to AGOL cards. There were also hundreds of references to various story maps and web maps, such as fast food locations in theme parks.

Another search, this one for “Amusement Parks Mapping”, mainly yielded the usual cartoon schemes. However, there were a few others I explored, many of which used amusement park design to teach spatial skills in the classroom. An example is Erin Britman’s lesson on teaching spatial skills through amusement park design on

According to the International Cartographic Association’s Commission on Map Design, an artist works for Walt Disney Corporation created the first cartoon map of the theme park, primarily as a marketing tool to attract investors with Disney’s grand vision. I discovered that while reading Barbara Kerby’s article.Amusement park cards save the day“Which is really interesting read. Not only does Kerby touch the history and techniques of amusement park maps, but also their power to literally change people’s minds. It’s an inspiring story about how a young man with Asperger’s got the head of a card.

As much fun as they are, theme parks are big business too. People love to be entertained and get away from reality for a day or two and happily pay for the experience. Esri even has a platform for businesses to use demographic data to find potential markets. Although the data is a bit out of date, it illustrates how GIS is scalable and can be applied to almost any undertaking.

On a more detailed level, a team from Disney Research Zurich developed “A simple framework for simulating the mobility and activity of amusement park visitors“They mainly focused on Wi-Fi capacity and used simulation software to model human movement and facility capacity, which provided an interesting perspective on spatial technologies in the building environment.

Entertainment is all about people.

Obviously, Disney’s marketing map worked as they are now one of the largest corporations in the world. In my extensive research, I did not find what I really hoped for: up-to-date GIS maps. The maps I found showed what was on the ground but not what was under or behind the walls.

On further research and still hoping to find GIS information, I discovered that Disney has many other areas of activity besides its media empire, including global security and event management. Disney manages the Global security communication center, using geospatial technologies to facilitate security during emergency and non-emergency events. Thousands of people can be in a single location at the same time, and those locations are alongside hospitals, dams, and many other critical infrastructures.

These are just a few examples of how entertainment can lead to enlightenment. Every story has a place and every place has a story. And I finally found one Map of the legendary tunnels under the magical kingdom!


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