Some thoughts on maps.

M.J Downing.

            Looking at the map above, you see where my focus lies these days as I work on the last third of Sherlock Holmes: The Ghosts of Savannah. What you see is a structure map of the city of Savannah in 1884, just four years prior to the time that my book’s action takes Holmes and Watson in to those streets on another case.  

            Maps such as these have been my constant companions since I took up the chase with Watson.  First, there were maps of London’s Whitechapel, Spitalfields, and Limehouse districts as near to the date of my action as I could get them. Streets change, buildings go up and down, through fire and decay, and city’s morph.  It doesn’t look like it when you live in that city, but it’s happening all the time, slowly.

            Old Savannah retains the same streets as the newer on does, though some, no doubt, have undergone change.  The thing that draws me to such maps, though, is that they “map” the lives of people who make a city work—or fail.  This particular map of Savannah, from a fire insurance company, is a wonderful tool, for it gives a sense of the businesses that operated there, then, and shows the manner in which people’s lives push against the constraints of the places they live.  Many of Savannah’s most notable structures, as well as her squares, can be found on this map, owing, I think to a desire to have the origins of Savannah’s city plan survive.  For, its founders wished to create a place for people to thrive, and though the darkness of slavery haunts it, the spectre of industries that abused people still stalks its streets, you can still see something of Oglethorpe’s vision—one that sought out people from many walks of life who desired to work—in its current look. Its is a rich place, I find, but its greatest riches lie not in tourism alone but in the spaces that were planned as part of its fabric, its homes and city squares.            It was and is a city built for people, common people, middle class, who came there and acquired wealth over the years.  I’d like to think of my own home, Louisville, Ky as such a place, but we are now in a time where maps need to change and reflect the need to exorcise those old ghosts so that people, common people, like me, can live and work and seek to do good for one another. Taker a look at a map of where you live and see the dividing lines that separate people.  The one above shows shanties rising on lots next to brick homes. Now, all you will see in Old Savannah are the fine homes.  Many of them are supposed to be haunted, yet they are most often hauntings of the same kind of things in all cities, racism, classism.  Look at old maps and ask yourself if it would not be better to see fewer divisions, fewer ways to exclude.

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