During frequent visits to the Planning Palace on Milvia I’ve enjoyed glimpsing, just a block away from it, our very historic Old City Hall (also known as the Maudelle Shirek Building). But very recently while casually Internet surfing, I got a rude shock when I opened the “City of Berkeley Designated Landmarks” map that’s proudly on display in the “map room” part of the Planning and Development Department’s website. According to that map and its legend, Old City Hall is a landmark that’s been “demolished”!
As I gazed at the map I found an appalling number of other mistakes. To name just four of them: The map omits Julia Morgan’s wonderful Hearst Gym. It mislabels the high school’s Shop and Science Buildings as “Old Gym and Pool” and doesn’t indicate any landmarking at the Old Gym’s real location. It confusingly depicts the landmarked College Women’s Club as including the adjacent Caffe Strada, which isn’t landmarked. It shows the California Memorial Stadium landmarking as consisting of just the structure itself, even though the landmarking in fact also included the grounds’ oak grove. I could go on and on.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve found many other planning-related maps to be comparably sloppy. The Planning and Development Department has many talented staff members whom I know and seriously respect. So why does the department often seem to be cartographically challenged?
The very process of computerized mapping may have much to do with it. While such mapping can of course be enormously valuable, there’s a danger that humans may rely too much on the software at the expense of conscious thought. To be fair to the specialized GIS persons who actually do the computerized mapping, it seems they often are perforce unfamiliar with particular maps’ subject matter (be it landmarks or whatever). But then why aren’t maps, before public issuance, seriously checked for accuracy by staff members who do know the subject matter?
John English is a Berkeley resident.