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PLACES OF EARTH

 

O.T. FORD

 

Below is a map of places around the world. There are innumerable places that humans have identified, so the map contains just a miniscule fraction and is, and must always be, a work in progress. Nearly all of the places in this project at present are of human settlement.

File: Places of Earth
Updated 2020 February 17

The map is in keyhole markup language (KML), for viewing in Google Earth (see bottom for instructions).

Places as humans use them are almost always regions; that is, when humans identify places, they generally have in mind something extending in two (or three) dimensions, rather than a dimensionless point. Even places that can be described as points, such as the North Pole, are mostly understood to include the region near the point as well as the point itself.

Regions must be located somewhere. The location can be by means of boundaries, but it can also be by means of a central feature — a point, a line, or even another, smaller region. A bounded region is the expanse lying within a set of boundaries. A radial region is the expanse lying near a central feature, and its extent is therefore approximate: the meaning of ‘near’ depends on context and on the person speaking. A region can also be a hybrid of a bounded and a radial region, located near a central feature but bounded in one or more directions.

For a discussion in more depth: Parallel worlds: empirical region and place

Human settlements are fundamentally radial: they start from a small original settlement and spread from that point. As they spread, the original settlement location typically remains economically and culturally significant, as a center or focus of the region.

Places (and place names) associated with human settlement (including parts of larger settlements) should mostly be understood as radial for this and other reasons. First, as population growth continues, the extent of the region will also grow, but the population will be distributed unevenly, with density usually being highest at the point of origin. Second, the absence or ignorance of place names for some areas (particularly uninhabited areas) often leads to the extension of known place names through an intermediate stage of proximity (that is, first an area is said to be “near” a known place, then “in” it). Third, better-known place names, and especially more-prestigious place names, will spread, as convenience or desirability leads residents or other users of place names to expand their application.

Not all areas of settlement will have an identifiable center; for example, a modern subdivision (a large property, such as a farm or ranch, that has been divided into smaller plots and sold for houses) begins as a bounded region and is usually planned to be and will remain uniform within its boundaries. Such subdivisions can serve as the origin of future growth, however, and if subdivisions develop into prominent or prestigious neighborhoods within larger cities, their names will be applied more broadly than the original planned region.

The centers identified in this project are more specific than “downtown”, which would also need to be defined and located in space. In other words, a downtown is itself a region, which must be located by some combination of center and boundaries. Since downtowns would presumably be fundamentally radial themselves, if a larger settlement is centered on “downtown”, it is more specifically centered on the center of downtown.

Centers have been identified using some or all of three criteria:

1. The location of the original settlement from which the larger settlement grew, or drew its name.

2. A point of reference, typically the origin of the directional or street-numbering system.

3. A perceived or symbolic center. This is inherently subjective; as places and place names are themselves subjective, it is often necessary to recognize that a perception can be more important. This perceived center can be a major crossroads or a notable feature, such as a building or a public square, especially as a focus of civic life, whether trade, public engagement, or festivities. Occasionally it can be a physical feature associated (by name, generally) with the settlement.

The central business district is often the “downtown”, with the specific center identified by the primary street (or the intersection of primary streets) on which businesses are located. In smaller settlements (of a type common in the US but not confined to it) there is often a single strip of a block or a few blocks on which the dense building fronts (and often the variant parking) reveal the cluster of businesses. In larger settlements the central business district is generally centered where the skyscrapers are located.

In some cases, perhaps in many cases, multiple, distinct centers together constitute the central reference for a region. Because KML does not allow a convenient method of tying a single label to a group of features, I have generally included such features separately, and assigned the main label to the feature I judge to be the most important. I must emphasize that having these different criteria means that the centers are not a representation of one consistent definition. Each center is determined by the circumstances of its own location.

This conception of regions as radial is frequently in conflict with the conception of regions as bounded, considering the common feeling that all regions are inherently bounded. However, while the ordinary person will commonly take regions to be bounded in the abstract, and thus might believe that there is an authoritative boundary somewhere, the same person will frequently disregard this in practice, using place names that have only ever been approximate, and freely extending places names for convenience or prestige.

Centers, like the regions they help define, have scales, and sometimes hierarchies. Cities have neighborhoods; larger cities have suburbs, which may themselves have neighborhoods. These are reflected in the file’s label hierarchy (indicated by type size). If regions contain smaller regions, the centers of the larger regions are labelled as higher-level regions. If regions are used as reference for other regions, they are labelled as higher-level regions as well. Thus, Palm Beach is considered a higher-level region than West Palm Beach, even though the name ‘West Palm Beach’ is used for a much larger present-day municipality.

Labels in parentheses are historical, for names no longer used, or now used for other regions (sometimes nearby). Labels with a question mark indicate existing places whose exact location is uncertain to me; such uncertainty is usually limited to small distances, though, often no more than a few city blocks.

The number of bounded regions included on the map is relatively small, since this project mostly deals with human settlements, and human settlements are, again, fundamentally radial.

As with most pages on the Stewardship site, the Places of Earth map uses native names. Notably, native names are the names used by those who live in or near the place itself — in the actual local dialect. Many cartographers, including those at Google, purport to be using native names, but are in fact using names in the official dialect of the state (“country”), so that, for instance, Kurdish-majority cities are labelled by these cartographers not in Kurdish but in Arabic.

The regionalization of this project — specifically, the grouping of places into folders within the larger file — is done only of necessity, to make the large number of places easier to manage. I have deliberately avoided conventional regions as a basis for this grouping when suitable alternatives were available, even if the conventional regions would have been more recognizable (which, being conventional, they tend to be). Fully committing to conventional regions — political or pseudopolitical regions, for the most part — would involve breaking up cross-border metropolitan areas, which is contrary to the spirit of a project on human settlement. The regionalization is necessarily exclusive; the mark for a radial center is placed in one region or another but never more than one, whereas the real places these marks represent can and should be considered a part of many regions. At this stage the regionalization generally uses continuity, though there could be reasons to group discontinuous areas in the future. But in areas where discontinuity in human settlements is not present (or not clear), other historical and cultural cues have been used.

As an example, the northern portion of the US state of Florida is culturally and politically connected to the South, but peninsular Florida is distinct. The distinction is imperfect and the transition surely gradual; the border between them in this file has been drawn through the area of greatest settlement discontinuity, the Okefenokee Swamp, following to the west the Suwannee River (but not in its entirety). To the east the clearest (though imperfect) discontinuity would be the swamps north of Saint Marys and Kingsland, in Camden County Georgia. Folkston Georgia is more obviously connected with peninsular Florida in terms of development. Thus, though these parts of Georgia, and Jacksonville as well, may culturally be closer to the South, they are included in Florida to avoid breaks in settlement.

Because this map is a work in progress and the work, at present, of just one person, it is limited, and geographically concentrated. It gives emphasis to larger regions that I know better, such as regions where I have lived. It favors parts of the world where there is more information available, particularly the industrialized West, and disfavors parts of the world where my knowledge of urban and human landscape patterns is weakest.

If readers would like to propose additions or corrections, those would be welcome: project @ the-stewardship.org. Additions or corrections are particularly welcome if they come with a brief rationale: why do you believe a place is located where you say it is? Note the numbered criteria above. I’m more likely to make an addition or change if I understand it, obviously.

 

To use this map on Google Earth
After downloading the map above, it can be viewed in Google Earth in either of two ways.
— Option one, on the web: Visit the Google Earth main page, click on “Launch Earth”. Open the menu (top left), choose Settings, then Turn on KML file import. Next, choose the Projects button on the left, then Open > Import KML file from computer, and navigate to the folder where you saved the map.
— Option two, as a desktop program: Download Google Earth Pro (free). After opening the program, choose File > Open, and navigate to the folder where you saved the map.

 

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