$50,000 worth of mapping for less than $10

Grab the deal while you can.

People who love maps love US Geological Survey Topographic Maps.  Sadly, an inexpensive, attractive, top quality detailed map for each and every place in the country, once taken for granted, even if out of date, is becoming another Nice Thing we can not have.

This unsentimental article tells why. The author estimated that compiling, drafting and printing the roughly 60,000 maps that blanket the conterminous 48 states cost $50,000 in recent dollars per map. No wonder they do not make them like they used to. The article ably presents the advantages and drawbacks of traditional printed topographic quadrangles and the new generation US Topo map. Here is what it says about “The Meaning of Quality.”

It is clear to most map users that the old topographic maps have higher visual quality than US Topo maps. The old maps show more features, have better text design and placement, better visual integration, and a more graceful overall appearance. A traditional hand-drawn map is a marvel of data presentation, facilitating human processing of large amounts of information quickly and accurately. US Topo maps, although superior in this regard to a typical GIS display or plot, fall short of traditional map presentation standards.

So, when it comes to Faster and Cheaper, the new technology wins spectacularly. Better? Well, the “Marvel” part now appears to be a happy accident, a mere byproduct of painstaking manual labor’s unavoidablity. There can be maps that make people actually want to own and read them and there can be technology that supplies essential geographic facts. For a long time these were one and the same thing. Then it became possible to avoid manual labor in mapmaking.

There are ways in which the new maps are better. Those ways would not suffer at all if the new maps were also marvelous. It is just a matter of money.


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