Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt

Wansoo Im, an adjunct professor of urban planning at Rutgers University, came to town the other day with a bold agenda. His plan was to cure one of Manhattan's oldest civic ills--the difficulty of finding a public rest room--by applying one of the coolest new tools on the Internet: Google Maps. (Other recent applications include pinpointing the whereabouts of both celebrities and baby-changing tables.) Arriving by train at Penn Station, Im stood outside the large public toilet to the right of the Amtrak ticket windows, elaborating on his idea: a map of available toilets in Manhattan, compiled Wikipedia style, and employing the free aerial photographs and street grids supplied by Google Maps. "If everyone contributes information to the map, pretty soon there will be no more rest-room problem," Im declared confidently, in Korean-accented English.

Assisting Im was a twenty-two-year-old Rutgers senior, Ian Kraut, who last term took Im's Geographic Information Systems course. Inspired by his professor's vision of spatial mapping, Kraut had already lined up a post-graduation job mapping properties for a real-estate agent in his home town, Columbus, Ohio. The geographers were joined by Ian's father, Robert Kraut, a professor of philosophy at Ohio State University, who happened to be in the city for a conference at Columbia on music and the mind. "I just want to hang out with my son," Kraut said.

Im had already plotted the Penn Station toilets on his site,, but he went in anyway. "I really have to go!" he said, undaunted by the sleeping people who could be seen through the slits between stalls.

After some confusion over the subway map, the expedition set off for the Upper West Side. First stop was the Beacon Hotel, so that Robert Kraut could drop off his suitcase. Im made an inquiry and was told that there was a rest room upstairs. "Upstairs! Interesting!" He came down beaming.

"Nice rest room. Small--only one seat. Warm, too!" He took a photograph and made a note of the address. Until recently, he explained, he would have needed his G.P.S. to plot the rest room's exact coordinates, but now Google Maps would do that for him.

Leaning into a cold wind, the party set off for Central Park West. As the three men entered the American Museum of Natural History, the philosopher looked up at the barrel-vaulted ceiling and exclaimed, "It's mind-blowing what man can do! …

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