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Check Out This Amazing Map That Features Every L.A. Neighborhood
Ever get into a heated debate about the border that separates Echo Park and Silver Lake? Well that's old hat, and nothing compared to what Eric Brightwell (a self-described adventurer) has done. Brightwell has produced a map that outlines the borders of pretty much every neighborhood in L.A. County. While the L.A. Times has its own mapping project (which provides plenty of insightful information about the individual neighborhoods), Brightwell takes it to the next level when it comes to breaking down the territories. Downtown L.A., for instance, is parsed out as the Historic Core, Bunker Hill, Skid Row, and Gallery Row, among others.
Ultimately, the project reminds us that borders are often determined by business, politics, and everyday human whimsy. On one hand you can say that the designations are largely arbitrary, and you wouldn't be wrong. But L.A. has always been a patchwork of enclaves, all separated by highways and thoroughfares and hills, and Brightwell's map is indicative of that.
One fun thing about the map is that you'll run across neighborhoods that you've never heard about, even if you're a native Angeleno. Redondo-Sycamore? Mayflower Village? LAist spoke with Brightwell about the Herculean task he'd assigned himself.
What compelled you to do this? Is there anything about your background that ties in with this project?
Like a lot of the stuff I do; I looked for something and it didn't exist, or at least I couldn't find it. So I thought "I guess I'll just do it." When I first started it, I don't think the L.A. Times had even started their mapping project yet. And in the resulting mapping project, downtown L.A. is just, like, downtown and Chinatown; there's no Jewelry District or any of the others.
Do you have any background in cartography?
No. I went to school for film theory, but that proved to be kind of useless. I was a college student and I liked film, so I thought "OK I'll major in that."
But I did make maps as a kid for my own amusement. I guess I've been doing that since I was nine— a teacher of mine assigned us to make an imaginary map. So I've been doing it since then. And I used to play text adventure games; video games where there's just a screen and it describes a room—"a door to the north, a door to the east"—so you have to make maps to not get lost.
And when I first came out here (in the late '90s), my friend used to live in Elysian Park, and I didn't see any signs or maps of the trails or the park. And at the time there weren't any online. So I was like, "Let's just start walking all the trails and see where they all go, and we'll map it."
The big question, certainly, is who's actually designating these borders. With official municipalities, I assume there's a document somewhere that draws out the borders. But what about a neighborhood? Who defines the place and its boundaries?
In making this map I tried to go with as many sources as possible. When Foursquare was still a thing...I'd be in Silver Lake and it'd say "do you want to check into East L.A." and I'm like, "what?" Google Maps is really bizarre too. I'm sure it's just part of some data input with no human curating it.
Anyway, I've talked with people for the project, definitely. As confusing as it can be sometimes, there's also often a consensus about neighborhood borders. I remember speaking with someone about Leimert Park and they said "the eastern border is this" and no one's disputed it so far.
But with that said it can be confusing. I've changed the border between Echo Park and Silver Lake before. You can look at neighborhood council maps, or chamber of commerce maps, and improvement district maps, and they're all in complete disagreement. And in the city of Los Angeles itself; as for what's West Adams, the City Planning Department and Department of Transportation have such different definitions that they don't even overlap—they're like a mile-and-half apart. So to me there's kind of two West Adams now: the part next to Culver City that has the LADOT signs and which people are now calling West Adams, and there's the historic West Adams district. And it's pretty funny how there are two South Parks, and how there's a Rose Hill and a Rose Hills.
So some of this might not even be written down in a document somewhere. Like, it's passed down through generations by word of mouth.
I'm sure there was a lot of online sleuthing going on for this project.
Yeah. But I'll also look at old newspaper clippings. I'll talk to people from the neighborhood. And in the end I may have to intuit it. Like the border between Silver Lake and Echo Park; it's Coronado, not Benton, cause when you're walking it, it just feels more like a dividing line between the two neighborhoods.
But ultimately I don't think these borders are impenetrable; they're not walls. Some people just treat them that way.
Some of the neighborhoods I'm personally ignorant of; I didn't know they existed. Like the Byzantine-Latino Quarter?
They actually do have official borders. Sort of. I mean it has a business improvement district, and a Department of Transportation designation. But I don't think a lot of people who grew up there necessarily know it as such.
It's where St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral is. It was where the Greek community was centered around 60 or 70 years ago.
I'm looking at the Mid-City area and there's a lot going on. I see Vineyard and Victoria Park.
That area has always had its own vague, multi-neighborhood designations. I think a lot of it is also what happens in other parts of the county, like in the Valley. Like how some people don't want to be associated with what they think has a negative connotation. So it's like "Oh people might not want to move here if it's known as 'Mid-City', so let's reclaim this old tract name that was used to sell homes 115 years ago."
And if you look at North Hollywood—at some point people didn't want the North Hollywood association, so a part of it broke off and became Valley Village. And then a part of Valley Village didn't want to be Valley Village anymore, so it became Sherman Village. And with Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks, the border had been moved because it was deemed more desirable to live in Sherman Oaks. But it's all just an imaginary line.
Outside of debates about Silver Lake and Echo Park, what's another heavily contested border?
There's a lot of argument about what is and what isn't a neighborhood in the El Sereno area. Some people say Hillside Village isn't an actual neighborhood.
And this isn't necessarily contentious, but I feel that everyone's definition of South Central is so completely different from everyone else's. People speak about it as if we all used to be in agreement, like "Oh that used to be in South Central." But how far from South Central Avenue can you be and still be in South Central? [Note: the L.A. Times reported on the fate of the term "South Central"]
And sometimes people argue about how the Culver City Arts District isn't actually in Culver City. It's actually in Los Angeles, which is kind of weird. You'll see signs for it, like "The Culver City Arts District: This Way". But it's not in Culver City.
I guess it's all very...fluid.
I remember when I was exploring Elysian Valley or Frogtown. And someone got back to me and said, "I've lived here my whole life and I've never heard anyone call it Elysian Valley. No one calls it that." And then later someone said, "I've lived here my whole life, no one calls it Frogtown." Sometimes you'll find people living in the same space who are completely unaware of what their neighbors call the neighborhood.
I think that kind of sums up the situation in L.A. when it comes to place-naming.
[Laughs] It really does.
One last thing: how long did it take you to compile this map?
Oh gosh. I don't remember it at all. It's like knitting; I'm doing it but I'm doing other things like listening to a podcast or something. So it's kind of a blur.
This interview was edited for length.