'Unlandmarks Map' Tracks All Those Isaly's That Aren't There Anymore

Jul 31, 2017

Shortly after Connor Sites-Bowen moved to Pittsburgh in 2004, he got a little lost trying to get to Greenfield.

“I stopped and asked someone, I said, ‘I’m trying to get over here, which way do I go?’” Sites-Bowen said. “He said, ‘Oh, you go across the Greenfield Bridge right here and you go left where the Bruster’s used to be.’”

It was the “used to be” that stuck with Sites-Bowen. He said just like in any city, people rely on landmarks to get from one place to another, but in Pittsburgh, it doesn’t matter if the landmark exists anymore.

The concept is the inspiration behind the new Unlandmarks Map, an interactive website that tracks trees, buildings, restaurants and anything that once stood and is no more.

“I do think this map will be valuable,” Sites-Bowen said. “Looking at what has been built and what did exist and sort of, how big did things get and what this place looked like.”

The map is a project by Code for Pittsburgh, the local Code for America group, for which Sites-Bowen is the head. They work with cities to create computer programs and codes that help government run more efficiently. But Sites-Bowen said every once in a while they do something a little more whimsical, like a Fish Fry map.

The Unlandmarks map, he said, may seem less serious than something like their police blotter project, but he sees a useful future for it.

“Hopefully it can be this way for families to connect over different generations or different eras,” Sites-Bowen said.

He said one tool he’d like to include is a toggle that shows when places opened or closed. For example, he said, someone could figure out where their older relative lived and when and ask them if they remembered a certain butcher shop closing. He said the conversation could be therapeutic for families.

While the details of the map rely largely on the submissions they receive, Sites-Bowen said he’d ideally like to have it give directions.

The team will be taking submissions on a rolling basis and will keep most of the data they collect in the public domain.