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Poster Puts Toronto on Neighbourhood Watch

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A total of 178 Toronto neighbourhoods are mapped out in Jenny Beorkrem’s city poster.


With ridiculous East v. West turf wars promoting regional competition, Toronto could use a little urban unity. That’s just what Chicago-based artist Jenny Beorkrem delivers with her city posters, which map out the entirety of a city’s neighbourhoods while squeezing their names into their respective spatial boundaries. While most Torontonians can rattle off the titles of locales like the Annex or Leslieville, our beloved Big Smoke, as depicted by Beorkrem’s Toronto design—which goes on sale today—actually boasts a whopping 178 different ‘hoods.


Freelance designer Beorkrem founded Ork posters back in 2007 when she created the first print of her hometown. “I made the first Chicago poster for myself, because I wanted one and I couldn’t find one that already existed,” she says. “It’s intriguing to me to reduce a city down to nothing but those neighbourhoods—we’re not used to seeing it that way.”
Through the visual presentation of the amalgamation of different parts of a city, Beorkrem’s designs reflect both individual stomping-ground identity and connections to the broader urban community. “We use neighbourhoods to locate things, we attribute personalities to them, and we make generalizations about the people and businesses there. They’re part of our daily communication and we assume the ‘personality’ of the neighbourhoods where we live or spend our time,” Beorkrem says about her designs. “A person can easily see their part within the whole of a city, and I’m very particular to include the entire city—nothing more and nothing less—in the maps.”
When it comes to the range of different districts, Toronto’s sheer number made it a significant challenge for Beorkrem. While she’s mapped out twelve American cities and areas from Manhattan to L.A., Toronto was her first project outside the U.S. and the city with the highest number of different neighbourhoods. “I think I first announced the Toronto poster eighteen months ago, so I’ve been working on it on and off for that long. Generally it’s a six-month process or less,” she says. Beorkrem partially chose Toronto based on its proximity to her hometown of Chicago and its design culture, but also because it was in high demand. “I received a lot of requests for [Toronto], and what the people want, the people get!”
Beorkrem claims that the success of her design was simply a “fluke” fostered by word of mouth and blog buzz, resulting in Ork garnering a significant following without having spent any money on advertising or publicity. (The enthusiasm in other cities is evident on the site’s I Spy Ork! page.) While offers have rolled in from mega-companies like Urban Outfitters, Beorkrem has declined in favour of keeping her business local and selling the posters through the Ork website. While she maintains that running a small business has been a challenge, she credits “the internet and the popularity of the DIY culture” as keeping the company sustainable. “You don’t have to convince a big executive or financier to take a chance on you, or rely on someone else to sell your product,” she says about her business philosophy. “You just have to take a chance on yourself and be willing to do the leg work.”
Beorkrem plans to map out more cities in the future, as well as working on other prints that are also available on the Ork site (anatomical drawings of a heart and brain are particularly popular). For the time being, she’s glad that her art can promote education about the streets and sidewalks we call home. “Sometimes that means realizing just how small your immediate world, or neighbourhood, is in comparison to the entire city,” she says in reference to the cheeky ward rivalries in Toronto. “No matter how many places you’ve lived or visited, they leave an impression on you and become part of your story.”

CORRECTION: APRIL 20, 2010 This article originally said that Beorkrem’s poster included a total of 140 neighbourhoods—the same count as the City’s; in fact, the poster actually includes 178 neighbourhoods. Additionally, this article also misspelled Jenny Beorkrem’s last name as “Boerkrem” throughout. Torontoist regrets the errors.

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