Mapping Main Street

Remember when Jesse Shapins and Brian House showed us how citizens of all stripes could magically morph into “critical media artists,” using a handy little experiential dictionary as a point of departure? Well now Jesse has teamed up with Kara Oehler, Ann Heppermann and James Burns and the team has focused their collaborative documentary efforts on that most ubiquitous of place names – one often evoked by moose-hunting culture warriors and erstwhile vice-presidential candidates – Main Street. This just in: the Main Streets of America are as various as the country itself. In fact, the central places in our cities and town might be as good a place as any to showcase our country’s baffling internal diversity. Check out the new website they just launched and then read on below as they announce, in their own words, a bunch of fantastic media corollaries.

NPR Weekend Edition Series
As part of the project, we’re producing a series on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. Our first story was about Chattanooga, TN, where part of Main Street is a prostitution strip. Our second story explored San Luis, AZ, where Main Street is a border crossing. This Saturday, tune in to Weekend Edition, where we’ll raft under Main Street in Lewistown, MT. (Check out to see when you can hear the show on your local member station.)

Mapping Main Street Songs
We’ve also commissioned four musicians to create original songs based on actual Main Streets. Listen to songs by:

A Collaborative Documentary Media Project
Mapping Main Street is an experiment in the new genre of collaborative documentary media. Anyone can contribute to this project. The only requirement is that all photos and videos must be taken on a street named Main. You can explore this interactive documentary on our website Already, hundreds of people have contributed photos and videos from more than 400 Main Streets in all 50 states. The site is organized around geographical and thematic routes. We think some of the most interesting are:

This is just the first phase of the project. Now, we’re currently working with WNYC’s Radio Rookies Short Wave on a workshop to produce radio stories and take photos on Main Street in Flushing, Queens. And this winter, we’ll be journeying along the Main Streets of the Puget Sound region to produce stories and interactive features for KUOW’s Program Venture Fund, along with special experimental pieces for PRX’s Remix Radio Sirius stream.

Mapping Main Street is produced through the generous funding of MQ2, an initiative of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, Inc. with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The project is also supported with funds from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The website was designed by the Mapping Main Street team and Local Projects.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.


James October 15, 2009

Fantastic work, guys! An ambitious undertaking and an excellent approach: rather than one book, movie, or audio series, it’s exciting to see the chaotic sweep of America plugged into one network and then fed back into a variety of different channels. Looking forward to the Montana adventure…