Charting the weird

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2006, 12:00am

I remember a time, not so long ago, when the nearest thing to a map of New York City involved using the subway map while employing a little knowledge of how the grid system of cross-streets worked. It is no longer that simple. With friends due to visit for Christmas, I decided to start gathering the usual 'places to go, things to do' ideas from magazines and off the Web. And then it got completely out of hand.

It started simply enough with some maps showing me where to buy the coolest gifts or pinpointing the hippest bars and cafes. Soon I was looking at maps of walking tours, movie locations and soup kitchens. It dawned on me for the first time - perhaps I was a bit dumb about this - that everything is now collated and mapped on the internet. Suddenly, a shallow fascination overtook me and I had to search out the weirdest maps I could find.

Do you want to know where the Lithuanian community is most prominent in New York? No problem. Want to know how many people commute to work by bike or boat from a particular borough? One map will show you. Another will tell you where fuel prices are the lowest. There's even a map showing the worst potholes in the roads, and reportedly one about baby-changing facilities for men - though I couldn't immediately open that link. Soon I was tracing the footsteps of the novelist Will Self - with my cursor, at least - who walked the 30km from John F. Kennedy Airport to Manhattan this week, including through some of the poorest and toughest neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, to promote his new book.

I was also gaining an understanding of how the online social networking site MySpace could talk so confidently this week of plans to prevent known sexual offenders in the US from using its site. Within a few clicks of getting on the site, I was reading the rap sheets and other details, including photographs, of two former sex offenders who live in my neighbourhood. Luckily, there seemed to be only two within 1?km of where I live - some neighbourhoods have dozens.

It being the holiday season, I was also drawn to a map that showed there are still some places in New York City where turkeys are reared.

But the award for the weirdest map goes to's New York City Subway Smell Map. This is the same website that brought us the Gawker Stalker Map, which allows readers to phone in celebrity sightings that are then mapped. Now it's given us the smell map - a guide to the most horrific and sublime smells to emanate from the city's humid subway system.

The map tags subway stations with icons for the smell of alcohol, body odour, urine, faeces, food, vomit, mould and perfumes. Clicking on a station brings up the symbols and a reader's full 'smell report'.