Landmarks: More Than Just Navigational Aids
Are Landmarks Still Needed?
With MapQuest, Google Maps, and dozens of other navigational applications for smart phones, you would think the need for landmarks as a navigation aid has passed. During a short stint as a professional driver picking riders up from specific addresses I quickly learned that MapQuest and Google Maps don’t always agree, and in some cases both may be wrong! This is where the landmarks can be helpful. For one case in particular both mapping functions had the address on the opposite side of town, and it was only the satellite view (and the customer’s note that it was by the river) that allowed me to find the correct address.
Most mapping apps will have a map view with most streets, and some of the landmarks labeled. This will help the savvy user determine which program is wrong. Other apps will have a satellite view which is helpful in identifying other, sometimes non-traditional landmarks that can be used when there are no signs, or they are hidden behind a bush or flower bed (I saw this while moving my daughter cross country). So it never hurts to get some landmarks with that address and directions.
"You go three miles past the old Jones barn to the old flowing well, then left till you get to the telephone pole that used to be in the middle of the street...." Sound confusing?
If you ask directions in a farming community, or small town these are the kinds of responses you might get, and believe it or not, these people could even be your neighbors. The lore that surrounds the landmarks in an area is wide and varied, and the landmarks used by one person may be totally different than those used by another. My wife could only get to her grandparent's house by referring to the intersection where the telephone pole used to be, while I count corners from where we cross the canal. Local landmarks may be known by different names as well. My wife and I each knew of an excellent Mexican restaurant, but they were in different cities, and I couldn't remember the name of the restaurant I'd gone to. We would later learn that they were both the same chain.
Landmarks can be good and bad depending on how they are used. My father was a TV repairman for several years, and his biggest complaint was that people would give him landmarks as directions to get to their house, rather than an address. This works fine if someone has grown up in the area. Fortunately phone books or the internet still have addresses for those unfamiliar with the area. Maps (not mapquest, a paper or internet map) will also be handy when searching for a specific location. On the other hand, I spent over ten years working in elementary schools around the intermountain west. I always had the address, but quickly learned that the even with the address, sometimes you ‘couldn’t get there from here, you had to go somewhere else first.’ In those cases, the landmarks were a saving grace.
Landmarks can become more than just navigation aids. Behind those landmarks there are stories, both directly (like how the landmark got its name) or indirectly (such as "that used to be our old swimming hole"). Parents, grandparents and other friends can be a great source of stories about the local landmarks and how they relate to regional or family history. Children and adults alike will remember the landmark if it is associated with the story behind the landmark. The bonds of friendship can grow through such activities.
The neighborhood can take on a new appeal when it is viewed through the eyes of someone looking for directions using the landmarks we have grown up with. The stories behind the landmark can make even the shortest trips interesting.