Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: These ‘Persuasive Maps’ Want You to Believe

When PJ Mode began to purchase old maps in the 1980s, he set out to amass a typical collection of world maps. But along the way, his attention turned to unusual maps that dealers weren’t sure how to categorize—those that attempted to persuade rather than convey geographic information.

“Most collectors looked down their noses at these maps because they didn’t technically consider them maps,” Mode says. “But they were fun and they were inexpensive, and over the years I became more interested in them than the old world maps.”

The interest has culminated in a collection of more than 800 “persuasive maps,” as they are now called, which can be found in digital form through Cornell University’s library. Mode has sorted them into themes, from imperialism to religion to slavery, many with meticulous notes about their history and meaning. One of the oldest, from a 1506 Italian manuscript, gives an overview of hell, while more recent acquisitions include a facetious 2012 New Yorker cover of the Second Avenue subway line.

A persuasive map of the layers of Hell.
An overview of hell, as seen in a 1506 Italian manuscript. (Courtesy of Cornell University—PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography)

Marc-William Palen, a University of Exeter history professor and author of The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade, recently came across the collection. “I got lost in it for days,” he says. Palen, who specializes in British and American imperialism, was particularly taken with an 1888 map depicting the trade policy platforms of the year’s presidential candidates, Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland and Republican Benjamin Harrison. While Cleveland and his party supported free trade, the Republicans’ platform was deeply protectionist.

The map, titled “The Whole Story in a Nutshell!”, shows a jowly Cleveland below a slim Harrison, who is placed among soothing pastel-colored states, while a number of states surrounding Cleveland are a foreboding gray. The map declares that Harrison (the eventual victor) will “protect American labor” and products such as lumber, iron, rice, corn, hemp, and fruits, while Cleveland will destroy wool growers, miners, and the like. Near Cleveland, in the bottom left corner of the map, is the seal of the Cobden Club, a London-based group that supported free trade. This, Palen says, shows how phobias around free trade at the time were focused on Britain.

A persuasive map of trade policy positions in the 1888 election between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison.
Maps meant to characterize the trade policies of Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland in the 1888 election. (Courtesy of Cornell University—PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography)

Such a map is clearly persuasive. But don’t all maps persuade in some way? The oft-used Mercator projection, after all, is only one way of depicting the world. And how does Mode draw the line between persuasive and “factual?”

“I wrestle with this a lot,” Mode says. “Every map is somewhere on a spectrum between objective and subjective.” Perhaps the most plainly persuasive maps in the collection are promotional ones—those that aim to sell something or highlight a business—such as one of Greater New York City published in the late nineteenth century by the horse company Fiss, Doerr, and Carroll.

Persuasive map from a New York City horse company.
A promotional map for the horse company Fiss, Doerr, and Carroll. (Courtesy of Cornell University—PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography)

The outfit, which proclaimed itself the “largest dealers of horses in the world,” occupied an entire block of Manhattan and in 1897 sold an average of 900 horses weekly. The map gives a bird’s eye view of the city—a technique Mode says was popular at the time—and thus sends a message about the company’s scope of operations. It was intended to be posted in elevated stations throughout New York. “They were a huge company,” says Mode, “and this was the peak of their power. Ten years later, they were selling vehicles, and 20 years later, they were out of business.”

Other maps may only reveal themselves to be persuasive after careful scrutiny. Mode points to one of the British empire from 1890. A quick look shows nothing out of the ordinary: Britain’s colonies are shaded in pink. But on closer inspection, the viewer might notice that the map displays 490 degrees of longitude rather than 360 degrees—allowing it to show India, Australia, New Zealand, and other colonies twice, making the empire appear even larger than it already was.  

A 490 degree persuasive map of the British Empire.
A 490-degree map of the world, highlighting the territories of the British Empire in red. (Courtesy of Cornell University—PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography)

“Though this is a close call, it fits my collection,” Mode says. “There’s no other reason to show those countries twice.”

People generally take maps at face value. Mark Monmonier, in his book How to Lie With Maps, points out that while American students are often taught to analyze words—to be “cautious consumers” of them—they are seldom taught to do the same with maps. Persuasive cartography reveals how maps manipulate and should be regarded with a critical eye, a lesson that’s perhaps even more important in the present political climate.

As Mode recently wrote in The Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society, “[I]n these times of ‘alternative facts,’ we all benefit from a world in which the motives and interests and techniques behind all maps are rightly subject to more rigorous—and more skeptical—analysis.”  

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: How Baby Boomers Are Thwarting Millennial Home Buyers

The Baby Boomer/Millennial housing mismatch is well known: As Boomers age, an upcoming glut of suburban and exurban homes will stand empty and unwanted, leaving both generations at a loss. Downsizing empty-nesters won’t find buyers, because Millennials want smaller homes or condos in or nearer to the city, not big four-bedroom Colonials with yards. And younger adults won’t be able to afford such single-family abodes because urban housing has become too pricey.     

There’s another angle to this story, and it implicates Boomers in the priciness. Randy Shaw, homeless advocate and director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, has penned a new book, Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, that examines how urban Boomer homeowners, in their quest to fend off “density” (and apartment renters) in their neighborhoods, have consistently—and incredibly successfully—blocked the construction of affordable housing. Such NIMBYism has hindered the building of more housing in areas desirable to Millennials, keeping stock low, prices high, and younger, less-affluent residents—as well as the working and middle classes more broadly—out.

“Discussions around a lack of affordable urban housing often focus on developers and speculators as the villains, but homeowner opposition to new apartments is a large part of the problem,” said Shaw.

CityLab recently spoke with Shaw about how this phenomenon is taking place in the country’s most liberal-leaning cities, how Millennials are fighting it, and the reasons some Boomers are starting to change their outlook.

You’ve spent decades as a housing advocate for the homeless. What made you write a book on the working and middle classes?

I was so struck by the 2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland that killed 36 people when they became trapped in a warehouse that had been informally turned into an artist collective and residence. Oakland used to be the affordable alternative to San Francisco, but now people with fewer means can’t even afford habitable housing there.

Our bluest cities, like San Francisco, are the ones pricing out the working and middle classes. This is the opposite of what these cities espouse. This isn’t just happening in historically expensive places like San Francisco. Austin and Seattle, though still more affordable, have seen their housing prices skyrocket. Seattle has had a 155 percent raise in rents in the last 10 years.

So why aren’t these supposedly progressive, left-leaning cities supplying enough affordable housing?

The bottom line is they’re not building enough. Though it’s often said that “we can’t build our way of the housing crisis,” if you don’t build the units, there’s no possible way to address affordability. If you look at Seattle, which builds double the housing of San Francisco, the city is starting to see rents and home prices slow. Of course, just building housing isn’t enough. If a city only builds upscale units, there’s nothing for working people.

It’s also important to build in neighborhoods that are already gentrified. These high-opportunity neighborhoods must serve more economically diverse residents, and cities that claim to promote inclusion cannot just relegate the non-rich to economically segregated parts of town.

Where do Baby Boomers come into this? 

A recent national study found that from 1983 to 2013 housing wealth increased almost entirely among America’s oldest and wealthiest residents. Urban Boomer homeowners are part of this trend, and they’ve made enormous profits by working to restrict housing supply where they live. Neighborhood councils and homeowners associations are usually comprised of white, wealthier Boomers, even when the neighborhoods are more diverse in terms of race, class, and age. They use their position in these organizations to impede new building such as fourplexes or triplexes. Even a neighborhood like Los Angeles’s Venice, which has a reputation for being bohemian and progressive, doesn’t build much affordable housing.

But Millennials are starting to organize and push against this trend. They’re challenging zoning laws and pushing for more housing in cities like Berkeley, Cambridge, Portland, and Minneapolis. They’ve become a real presence at city council meetings, which have long been dominated by Boomer opponents of housing. I think they’re a very talented group—they have to be to overcome the obstacles.  

Is there any way to get older homeowners to work with Millennials on this issue?  

Environmentalism is the core connector. As people of all ages work for environmental sustainability, they understand that we need to get people out of cars, and this means getting as many people as possible to live in or close to cities and use public transport. And that means making those areas more affordable. A lot of urban Boomers are also seeing that their children and grandchildren can’t afford to live near them. This element of self-interest is starting to turn the tide a bit. I do think the Millennial arguments for density and affordable housing are winning, but we need to speed up the process.

What can cities themselves do? In the book, you mention Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) program as a model.

I point out the HALA program because many states bar inclusionary zoning. In San Francisco we require a percentage of units in a new building to be rented or sold at below market rate, but this isn’t the case in most places. In such circumstances, it’s hard to curtail purely market rate housing. The HALA program supplies density bonuses, meaning that it gives developers the option to build more floors in exchange for including more affordable units. Cities across the country can implement these bonuses regardless of their states’ rules on zoning.

There are a number of other key strategies for high-rent cities, such as using publicly owned land for affordable housing and funding the nonprofit purchase of apartment buildings in neighborhoods facing displacement and gentrification.

What about the role of the federal government?

In 2000, I wrote an article about how housing wasn’t being covered in the presidential race. I could have simply republished it during the 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 elections. The federal government’s disregard for affordable housing has created so many homeless and a crisis of family housing. We need to fuse the federal and the local and private housing push and make it a national campaign to deal with the affordability crisis. I’m heartened that Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have put some focus on housing recently.

But in the meantime, localities can build thousands of units that will make a difference. There’s nothing stopping us; it’s just political will. Cities can make these changes now.

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: The Selective Singapore of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

City-as-film character is an oft-used device: Think of how New York shapes Manhattan or the way Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood serves as a companion to the lonely heroine in Amélie. But when Hollywood invokes non-Western metropolises for this purpose, the portrayals can be shallow—though this may not register with or feel significant to Western audiences.  

The 2003 film Lost in Translation, for instance—the story of two forlorn Americans befriending each other in a bewildering Tokyo—was roundly adored in the United States, earning an Academy Award and three Golden Globes, but in Tokyo it played in only one theater. Japanese viewers and critics (as well as Asian-Americans) found its depictions of Japanese people (short, eccentric, unable to pronounce English correctly) and urban life (alienating, hypersexualized, and either ultramodern or nostalgically traditional) discriminatory and insulting.

Crazy Rich Asians cast members speak at an event in New York. (Evan Agostini/AP)

The latest case of city-as-character: Singapore in the new rom-com, Crazy Rich Asians, based on the 2013 novel by Singaporean-American Kevin Kwan. The Southeast Asian city-state’s lush green spaces and modern architecture serve as an apt co-star to the equally beautiful and polished 1 percent at the center of the plot, which concerns a Chinese-American woman who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s insanely rich and snobbish family for the first time.

While the depiction of the city and its inhabitants may not cause the same kind of offense as Lost in Translation, does this Hollywood portrayal do Singapore justice?

As someone who lived in the city-state from 2011 to 2013, I took great pleasure in recognizing beloved spaces I once frequented: acacia tree-lined highways, inexpensive open-air food and drink complexes called hawker centers, streets lined with shophouses. But I was struck that I didn’t see what I most associate with Singapore: public housing, public transportation, and a diverse ethnic and religious population.

American audiences and critics have given Crazy Rich Asians rave reviews: Brian Truitt of USA Today heralded it as a “shining, redefining example of what the romantic-comedy genre can do best,” and others have called it “deliriously glossy” and “hugely enjoyable.” Many have also pointed to its groundbreaking all-Asian cast who don’t look or act like the usual Asian tropes of American cinema. Washington Post reporter Allyson Chiu, who is Chinese American, wrote of the thrill of seeing the film’s trailer: “It’s an entire movie about Asians without martial arts or stereotypical nerds…a film with Asian characters who are more like me.”

Some Singaporeans have responded less enthusiastically, offering critiques that I tend to agree with: Journalist Kristen Han noted that the film’s depiction of Singapore is as realistic as Gossip Girl is of America, and pointed to its lack of ethnic minorities (except in a few appearances as servants), though 15 percent of the country’s citizens are Malay and 6.6 percent are Indian. “The film’s producers are well-versed in American racial politics and white dominance but don’t seem to have realized that, in the Singaporean context of power and privilege, Chinese Singaporeans—especially the superrich ones—are the ‘white people’ here,” she wrote in Foreign Policy.

A vendor in Singapore’s Little India neighborhood sells flowers in preparation for the Festival of Lights, or Deepavali. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

And while CNN reported that a Singaporean audience appeared to enjoy the movie at a showing this week, comments from the viewers were mixed: “The movie did not depict our culture in all its depth,” said one. “Not everyone is rich here, a lot of people live normal lives,” said another.

When it comes to knowledge of Singapore, Westerners are often working from a blank slate. The city-state is sometimes confused with being part of China—a notion the film strengthens with an opening quote by Napoleon: “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.”

I’ve noticed that Americans generally know two things about Singapore if they know anything (and I admit to knowing very little myself before moving there): that it has immense wealth and that it has strict laws, such as high fines for selling gum or spitting. Crazy Rich Asians reinforces the wealth cliché, and the portrayal of Singaporean urban space affirms this one-dimensional view of the city and its people.

Though an early scene is at a hawker center, the rest of the film is full of the shiny parts of the city-state, parts practically made for a movie about the superrich: the luxury casino and hotel Marina Bay Sands, the fantastical Gardens by the Bay, the Disney-like Sentosa Island, and the gleaming colonial Raffles Hotel, to name a few.

The vast majority of Singaporeans live in public housing. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

More than 80 percent of Singaporeans live in public housing blocks called HDBs, but we never see one. We don’t catch a glimpse of bustling areas like Little India, where the country’s foreign workers spend time on their day off. And we don’t witness how most of the population gets around. As only approximately 15 percent of Singaporeans can afford a car, buses and subway lines are ubiquitous.

One might argue that because the film is about Singapore’s 1 percent, it’s logical to only show elite spaces. But the result is a sense of place so wealthy and ethnically Chinese it feels hermetically sealed from anything—or anyone—else.

Such portrayals are significant because the West has “othered” the East for centuries, representing it and speaking on its behalf from a standpoint of Western authority and supremacy. Nowhere is this more true than in Hollywood.

Crazy Rich Asians appears to do the opposite by putting Asians at the center of a story of success and romance, giving them the roles that would usually be played by white people—and this is what has understandably pleased and excited Asian-Americans. Yet, as Mark Tseng-Putterman writes in the Atlantic, the story is one of white norms, when “representation means literally swapping Asian faces onto white bodies.” And those Asian faces are of a certain kind: ethnic Chinese, Christian, and educated in the West. What is sacrificed is the fuller character of Singapore, one with brown South and Southeast Asians as well as city spaces that aren’t quite so deluxe and perfect. And so the West again speaks for the East.  

The film’s director, John Chu, responded to criticisms in a press conference by pointing out that no movie can do everything or please everyone. “We decided very early on that this is not the movie to solve all representation issues,” he said. “This is a very specific movie, we have a very specific world, very specific characters.”

Singaporean writer Pooja Nansi responded on the China-focused website Inkstone: “You can’t have your dim sum and eat it too,” she wrote. “You can’t position yourself as a vehicle for representation and then wash your hands of that role when questioned about those you are eclipsing.”

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: How to Build a Space to Support Abused Children

On a recent visit to Safe Shores, a Washington, D.C., center that supports victims of child abuse, executive director Michele Booth Cole told me about a 10-year-old girl who came to the center after her father sexually abused her.

During her first five therapy sessions, the girl didn’t speak at all. In the sixth session, she began to use a sand tray—in which children use toy figures to create scenes. The first scene she created showed her alone and isolated, with a bridge separating her from a cl…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: The Seductive Power of a Suburban Utopia

CHATTAHOOCHEE HILLS, GEORGIA—On a recent drizzly morning, I tromped through pine needles and mud past a couple of glowering llamas and through a wildflower meadow until reaching Selborne, one of three neighborhoods in Serenbe, a 1,000-acre intentional community southwest of Atlanta. Around 600 people live in Serenbe’s 350 homes, and plans are afoot for many more.

The community’s founder and developer, Steve Nygren, has built Serenbe over the past 15 years. At 71, he easily outpaced me on our two-…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: When Teens Protest, Race Matters

In the spring of 2016, African-American children as young as 11 marched in protest against the gun violence in their Miami neighborhood of Liberty City. The low-income area had lost 13 teens and children so far that year to guns. The kids demanded the right to play outside safely; they held signs and chanted slogans like “We want to live” and “We want to see another day.” Phillip Agnew, leader of the Florida-based Dream Defenders, a youth-led group fighting for racial justice, said the demonstra…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Why Puerto Rico Is Pushing to Privatize its Schools

SU Matrullas is a small K-9 public school in the mountains of central Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria roared over the island last September, the school was without power for five months. Recently, the school’s director gave up hope of reconnecting to the territory’s electricity grid and decided instead to rely on a microgrid—a system of solar panels and battery storage—to keep the lights on. SU Matrullas’s plight is hardly unique: Hundreds of other schools still remain without electricity. Ot…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Where American Kids Are In Crisis

After last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the young survivors underwent a routine that has become all too familiar: Teams of crisis counselors were dispatched, vigils and funerals were held, and local officials debated what to do about the physical aftermath of the massacre: inspecting the school’s buildings and deciding when (and if) the campus would re-open for classes. The psychological damage may be harder to assess. Among kids exposed to traumatic violence, short-term symptoms…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: How to Design Cities for Children

There’s a device called the Mosquito that emits an annoying sound at a very high frequency—so high that only young people can hear it. It’s marketed by its manufacturers as a means of discouraging kids from loitering in streets and other public spaces. (Shopkeepers have blasted Barry Manilow, to similar effect.) The UK’s first children’s commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley Green, called it “an ultrasonic weapon designed to stop kids gathering, ” and cited its use as proof that the nation’s attitude tow…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: When White Parents Won’t Integrate Public Schools

In an interview with Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg last month, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones talked about how liberal-leaning white Americans may claim to believe in racial equality and integration, but they act in ways that maintain inequality and segregation. Case in point: where they send their kids to school.

In many U.S. cities, enrollment in urban public schools is dominated by kids from lower-income households, often black and Latino. More affluent white urbanites who’ve moved to gentr…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Here’s a Surprisingly Rational Planned City in the Persian Gulf

The petro-states of the Persian Gulf do not lack for outlandish and ambitious urban projects: See the man-made islands of Dubai, a supertall curved skyscraper in Kuwait, or the enormous clock tower in Mecca that’s the size of six Big Bens. The region also has a particular penchant for planned cities—scratch-built instant metropoli built in the hope of diversifying economies that now rely heavily on oil.

But these projects don’t always live up to their lofty expectations. After more than a decade,…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: When It’s Too Cold For School

As temperatures dropped into the teens in Baltimore this week, the city’s public schools became the focus of national outrage: Images of kids in parkas huddled together for warmth in city classrooms quickly went viral. Sixty public schools—about a third of Baltimore’s system—reported problems with heating, prompting the city to close all schools on Thursday and Friday.

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: A Bus Rescues Drunk Subway Riders on New Year’s

In Japan, there’s an expression that signals the importance of drinking with colleagues or clients after work: nomunication. It’s a combination of the Japanese verb nomu (to drink) and the English word communication, and refers to the uninhibited talk that occurs under the influence of alcohol. The idea is that drunkenness allows colleagues to bond and hash out problems, and builds trust between business partners: If you’re willing to let your guard down completely, you’re honest—as is your drin…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: What Happens Next in Jerusalem? Watch this Space.

When Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was elated. So were other right-leaning political leaders in Israel, and many (but not all) evangelical Christians in the U.S. (about a third of whom believe in a rapture scenario that requires a Jewish capital in Jerusalem). This week, the UN Security Council and a large majority of UN members condemned the move. So has th…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Teaching Civility in the Age of Trump

On a recent Thursday morning at Arundel High School south of Baltimore, Tiara Colbert divided her ninth graders into groups and asked them to write down all the stereotypes they could think of. “They can be awful,” she instructed, doling out markers to use on big sheets of paper tacked up around the room.

The kids milled around, jostling and joking with each other. And the sheets soon filled up: “Muslims bomb everything.” “All blacks are in gangs.” “Cheerleaders are stuck up.” “Asians are smart.”…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: When Teachers Punish Black Kids More Severely Than White Kids

Several years ago, Jason Okonofua, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted an experiment on K-12 teachers. Two sets of teachers were given records about misbehavior from a student, but one group thought they were reading about a student with a stereotypically black name (Darnell or Deshawn), and the other group thought the student in question had a stereotypically white name (Greg or Jake). The teachers who read about Darnell or Deshawn expressed a desire t…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: The Long Shadow of Childhood Trauma

Punishment—or the threat of it—is generally considered an effective way to shape human behavior; it is, after all, the foundation of our criminal justice system. But what if there’s a subset of the population for whom this paradigm simply doesn’t apply? New research suggests that there is such a group: survivors of childhood trauma.

University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Seth Pollak worked with over 50 people around the age of 20, and found that those who had experienced extreme str…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: The Future of the Rust Belt Depends on Its Youth

Earlier this year, Urban Institute researcher Rolf Pendall and several co-authors issued a report on industry and labor for the states that surround the Great Lakes—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Their conclusion: Though the region has long been synonymous with post-industrial decay and an aging, shrinking workforce, it can recover. But its salvation won’t come from luring in those much-sought-after new younger workers that cities are always vying for: “The secret f…

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: The Corporatization of Kindergarten

The $20 billion company WeWork is best known for renting sleek co-working spaces to entrepreneurs and freelancers in cities across the globe, but in the past two years it has branched out into furnished apartments (WeLive) and a gym/spa (Rise by We). These forays into other facets of daily existence fit the company’s mission of conflating work and life. Rebekah Neumann, who co-founded WeWork with husband Adam Neumann, told Bloomberg that “there are no lines” between home and office in her family…

Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Staunching the School-to-Prison Pipeline

In 2014, when Kalyb Primm Wiley was 7 years old, 50 pounds, and not even 4 feet tall, he was handcuffed by his school’s law enforcement officer after he cried and yelled in his Kansas City, Missouri, classroom. Kalyb, who is hearing impaired and was teased regularly about it, was reacting to a bullying incident. When the officer took Kalyb out of class and he tried to walk away, the officer handcuffed Kalyb and led him to the principal’s office. Kalyb’s father said his son was left cuffed in a c…