New community map project asks how residents experience Anchorage

May 12—How do you experience Anchorage?

That's the question being asked by a project that is equal parts art, community and design.

Launched by coordinator Barbara Brown and administered by the Anchorage Park Foundation, Map Your Anchorage is based on a similar New York City effort more than a decade ago called Map Your Manhattan. It allows citizens to take a mostly blank map and portray their rendition of life in the locality.

While many people record their movements and favorite stops, not all maps fit that mold. There are maps created to depict certain scenes, sights and even speculation.

"We all live here," Brown said. "We all live in the same Anchorage but we all experience it differently."

Local graphic designer Kimberly Olmsted created the map, which took some revisions before landing on the final version.

In the Map Your Manhattan project, the maps were sparse, with Central Park floating in the middle and Broadway representing a major north-south thoroughfare.

But initially, many Anchorage residents struggled to gain their bearings with their local map, so more streets were added to give more context.

"It took about six versions," she said. "We'd test it out and they'd say, 'Is this Northern Lights?' and we'd say, 'No, that's Tudor Road.' ... In Anchorage, it was very hard for people to orient themselves."

While being able to recognize areas and landmarks is important, Brown is quick to point out this is not a traditional mapping project.

"It requires people to think about place," she said. "We're not just our roads."



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Judie Jordan pays tribute to her neighborhood — the 99508 zip code. "We have a home, a community." (Provided by Map Your Anchorage)

The maps can be revealing individually but can offer more broad demographic cues as well. Brown said asking people to map where they can go isn't just about personal preference. It can be about ability to access and range of movement, which can be guided by a number of socioeconomic factors.

"The Park Foundation was also really interested in seeing, how did they get out of where they were, and what did they see?" Brown said. "How far did they go? ... A lot of this is people's relationship to place."

Some people have dutifully filled out the maps with their movements and personal favorite stops, but others have gotten more creative, like the woman who created a map based on the perspective of her dog.

Brown said one person mapped the best placed to go on a date night in Anchorage. Another, a beekeeper, turned their map into a bee heat map, charting the places with the most bees. A third mapped bygone Anchorage restaurants.

The maps could even be useful for visitors, Brown said. The first submission included the six best outdoor metal sculptures in Anchorage.

To the dismay of some in Eagle River and Girdwood, the map only includes the Anchorage Bowl. Brown said using the broader municipal area would've rendered the maps too small to be viable. But some people have expanded on the map in identifying nearby areas like the Chugach Mountains.

Brown said organizers will collect the maps up to May 25 with the idea of displaying them at a First Friday event.

While Brown doesn't know what the broader discoveries of Map Your Anchorage will be until the project is complete, she said the engagement from residents has been revealing.

"If I go up to somebody like I did yesterday, who was sitting at a cafe, they don't say, 'Who are you? Get out of here. Get out of my face,'" she said. "They all say, 'What have you got?' I feel like already, that says something about Anchorage."

The maps can be printed out at the Anchorage Park Foundation website. Completed maps can be emailed to or mailed to Anchorage Park Foundation, 3201 C St., Suite 111 in Anchorage for submission.