Case Study: Superficial Diversity on Abbot Kinney Blvd.

A project by Iman Salehian.


[See the Neatline Map Here]

Fig. 1: Cover page of “‘Real’ Cool”, a pseudo-guide book generated from my research.

Fig. 1: Cover page of “‘Real’ Cool”, a pseudo-guide book generated from my research.

“What does it mean to know a space?” Such was the framing question of Professor Mitchum Huehls’ English 119 course, Literary Cities: Literary Los Angeles. For the purpose of the course, we read a series of literary works set in Los Angeles, familiarizing ourselves versions of LA penned by authors from Nathaneal West to Joan Didion, Raymond Chandler to Paul Beatty. For our final projects, we were asked to familiarize ourselves with a space in a contrastingly non-literary capacity and to make an argument about that space. I chose to study Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard from an experiential perspective, probing the perplexing “cool culture” the space has reputably developed and juxtaposing it with its built environment–ultimately arguing that the observed diversity of the space is, rather ironically, one of physical homogeneity. While my project culminated in a guide book (See: Fig. 1), I wanted to find a way to map my argument onto a representation of the space itself.


My project began with research into the reputation Abbot Kinney. Trying to locate the reputation it has established among the common populous, I surveyed sites, such as Yelp andTrip Advisor, sorting through reviews written about the space and paying particular attention to the subjective descriptions reviewer’s included. From this research, I found that descriptions of a “unique,” “cool,” and “artsy,” Abbot Kinney dominating the discourse, with a small minority voicing an opposing opinion–one that articulated nostalgia for a Venice of old and bemoaned the pretentious attitudes today’s Abbot Kinney patrons.

In considering how to map such ambiguous and subjective data, I opted to draw my own Neatline polygons in the shape of speech-bubbles, which I set as the initial focus of my exhibit (see below).

Fig. 2: Clicking each of these speech bubbles reveals the text of a different Yelp or Trip Advisor review.

Fig. 2: Clicking each of these speech bubbles reveals the text of a different Yelp or Trip Advisor review.


As one can see in the image above, I opted against using Neatline’s pre-set base-maps, instead editing a map of Venice building footprints. I opted for clean visuals and faded and blurred the adjacent streets in an attempt create an easy-to-read backdrop for my argument. I rotated the map so that it would match a mental map one would have of the space were he or she to have driven to Abbot Kinney off the 405 Freeway. This also allowed for the narrative to read across the space left to right, similarly to a book.

Fig. 3: This case study’s use of an original basemap represents an instance in which geo-referencing would have been both unnecessary for, and potentially detrimental to, such a localized argument.


Though Neatline offers the option of uploading personalized icons, considering how each building was to be individually tagged, I opted to use points. Each point (as shown below) was colorized to facilitate a visual reading of the “homogeneity” in building façade styles I perceived in the space.



As is seen the the distribution of building styles presented on the map, broadly intermixing styles serves visitors and pedestrians a rich visual experience that accounts for the impression of “unique-ness” many received. Concentrations of similar styles—particularly the Brick House style near the streets North-West end (Right, on the map)—create a monotonous pedestrian experience and were observed to receive less foot traffic, illustrating the necessity of visuals to this arguably superficial space.

By mapping this argument, one can view the space from a distanced perspective. Unlike maps that claim objectivity, however, this one consciously communicates an argument and narrative, exploring new possibilities in visualization that re-imagine the purpose of maps themselves.

(2013, Iman Salehian) 

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