I’ve always been interested in geography — at primary school I loved to learn about other places, cultures, physical entities such as volcanoes, rivers, mountains, the oceans etc. My favourite place was the town library, and I spent many hours there after school and on Saturday mornings learning about these things that had a hold of my focus. As I got older, I joined an international penfriends club and soon had letters coming from some amazing places in the world. For a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, of course there was no internet, so books were about the only way to discover more.
I was reading a post over at the Infonaut blog which got me thinking about how addresses are created. The post refers to a story in the Toronto Star about a city of 2 million people, Managua in Nicaragua, which has no street names nor house numbers. Hard to imagine how anyone could find places, but it appears that more descriptive titles are used as addresses. It’s an interesting read. Here’s an example:
“Somewhere in this lakeside Central American town, there’s a woman who lives beside a yellow car. But it’s not her car. It’s her address. If you were to write to her, this is where you would send the letter: “From where the Chinese restaurant used to be, two blocks down, half a block toward the lake, next door to the house where the yellow car is parked, Managua, Nicaragua.”
It reminded me of a friend who lives in rural Victoria, just outside of Melbourne. The first time I went to visit her was on a road trip I made from my home town (Toowoomba, Qld) to Warrnambool (Vic). Her instructions were something that would be at home in Managua: “…my house is 2 fields past the barn with the red door and old holden ute rusting in the paddock.” Now her address is a little more “normal” than that, but it was kinda funny at the time to be looking for visual signs instead of house numbers and street names.
That Infonaut organisation does some interesting work with data — they use GIS mapping to display health-related information. For example, their current map of the month shows the number of people per physician in Canada. This is a relatively new field within the geography field — health geography. The power of GIS is quite amazing, in many ways. I had a conversation with a state manager of McDonald’s recently and he told me that before Maccas builds a new store, they use data from GIS to analyse the socio-economic structure of the surrounding area — it seems that they look for lower-income areas, where the population may have a tendency to eat fast-food more than those with higher levels of income. Sad corporate tactic, but I guess they all have to make a profit.