Helen Cann
Illustrator and map maker

You can tell a lot about a society from a map – how land and lives are interconnected and what features are deemed important enough to be shown; maps are always edited documents after all. As an illustrator specialising in creating hand drawn maps, I wondered what a map of a truly civil(ised) society would feature.

How would it show that the people of that place interact with each other and their environment with care and respect?

You’d see a modern, centrally-based parliament building for a start. It would house a law-making establishment and electoral system based on contemporary needs rather than tradition and the support of out-dated background, gender and regional imbalances. Different views and experiences are shared and heard. Diversity on every front is desired and celebrated…

This map would have fewer boundary markers, suggesting a more evenly spread sharing of resources. A civilised government values equality – any society is only as strong as its weakest members after all.

Therefore the map would feature centres of well-funded and prioritised care for the youngest, the oldest and the most vulnerable. The cities in this society would reflect that care through their design and the ease of finding shelter, food, employment and medicine.

The privilege of good health isn’t experienced by everyone and, if you have it, given time, it’s unlikely to last, so all social spaces are made to be accessible, regardless of physical and learning disabilities or impaired immune systems. A successful society would understand that good health and wealth are inextricably linked.

All human bodies, however smoothly they function, are valuable and would be well looked after, both by state and citizen. Our map is criss-crossed with a tangle of green transport routes and community links. This built environment has been designed to make it easy to be active – to walk, wheel or swim. There’s clearly no need to use a private car unless absolutely necessary.

Food, water and air should be fit for all to consume. Why would any happy and confident civilisation readily tolerate pollution? Our map, therefore, would be covered in green and blue – wild spaces, urban forests and meadows, clean rivers and seas. Resources are respected and not overused. This society understands humans are part of nature and not beside it; an animal that consistently shits in its nest is a sick animal indeed.

This map indicates greater parity for non-human species too. Undisturbed habitats and green corridors are encouraged so we can live and travel side by side. We share our home with many others after all and the careless extinctions we cause tip our own ecosystem out of balance.

Currently, the climate is changing catastrophically through our actions and an intelligent and grown-up society would be addressing this immediately, not in a decade’s time. We would see many more clean energy farms across the land and seascape and less emphasis on the motorway and airport. Our interconnection with other societies is understood – how we care for the climate in one place impacts the climate in another.

Alongside farmland, there’d be easy access to allotments – this society would want to understand food production from an individual home-grown experience. A greater recognition of the land as our provider would lead to a better custodianship of it.

Education would be free and accessible to all ages. Places of learning are everywhere. An actively learning community stays mentally healthier and by retaining a curiosity about its world, brings a constant supply of openness, new skills and fresh opinions to the group.

This map would highlight public art and arts venues. A civilised society values imagination and creativity highly. Maintaining the skills of play into adulthood leads to clever problem solving. Confident and responsible self-expression gives every voice a chance to be heard. Imagination allows empathy with others who are different, creating greater care, respect and understanding for all citizens. Empathy is such an underrated skill and so closely linked to supporting equality in a community.

And lastly, a civil society is a peaceful society. Citizens would understand that war is physically and mentally harmful to those involved and to be used as the last resort rather than the first. Any monuments featured on the map would reflect a culture that focuses on peace rather than past times of battle and invasion.

So here is a map of how I imagine a truly civil society would be – a society that is considerate, both to others and to the land. As an image of curated ideas, it reveals, of course, my own preoccupations.

I have no directions to the place this map represents or any idea how to reach it. Perhaps it’s not even possible to get there from here right now.

However, a wise friend once told me that you had to imagine a better world in order to change the world so, perhaps, simply by making these marks on this paper, I have a starting point at least…

Helen Cann – Illustrator and Map-maker