The City

How does our environment and the space around us get constructed? The city is often considered an undesirable space where normative borders and divisions threaten to break down our conventional, comfortable understanding of the world. But the city can also exist as a liminal space between that which is expressible through language and that which radically resists expression.

To live, work, and dwell in a city is a lifestyle that is often desired by people who long to live a “fast-paced” life. Walking access to restaurants, bars, and shopping centers can also be seen as incentives for people to live in a city. However, these lively metropolises are often portrayed as trashy, dangerous “ghettos,” poverty-stricken, dirty places where homelessness, crime, and disease live. Rhetoric about cities that emphasize struggling communities can sometimes overshadow the vibrancy that a city has to offer.

Within this theme, a map is used to display one medium of persuasive imagery that captures how a city can be viewed as a distasteful wasteland. It is important to note that William Bunge, the creator of this map, was a “radical” advocate for equity and justice and utilized his geographical expertise to rethink what a city really is. Furthermore, in an effort to reclaim the city as an epicenter of vibrancy, designers such as Margaret Dunn have used physical, “negative” specimens of a city and turned them into tangible fashion and art.

Region of Rat-Bitten Babies
Region of Rat-Bitten Babies
Created by William Bunge

Collection: Cornell University - PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography

Creator: Bunge, William

Date: 1988

ID Number: 2155.09

Titled “Region of Rat-Bitten Babies,” this map exhibits a record of babies bitten by rats in the city of Detroit during the years 1967, 1969, and 1970. Currently housed in the Cornell University Library Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections Persuasive Cartography The PJ Mode Collection, this map captures the fear associated with city rat dwellings that ultimately contribute to the common misunderstood nature of a city. William Bunge, the creator of this map, contributed greatly to the “advancement of geography and to its social relevance to addressing social inequity and injustice.” With expressions including “slum ghettos” and descriptions of rats as “predacious carnivores” that want to eat infants’ toes, this map overtly captures the nuances of city life being seen as dangerous and off-putting. However, this map also encourages viewers to rethink personal opinions about a city, and arguably recognize the monstrous things that can be said about a city that are not always necessarily true, or even lack context.

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Rat Dress, Cornell Fashion Collective

Rat Dress

Designed by Margaret Dunn '20


Cornell Fashion Collective

Level Two Theme: Monsters

As a measure to reclaim what it means for a city to be occupied by rats, and to recognize this concept as something other than life-threatening, Dunn used rats as a form of fashion and art. This dress was designed in 2020 at Cornell University as part of the Cornell Fashion Collective. The dress has different fabric panels of various length in the middle and a side seam zipper. The taxidermic rats stitched throughout this dress were created by Rachel Rohwer.

"Consumerism is a disease that has spread through the weaknesses in human nature. Through these garments, I personify the greed and wastefulness that drive our society, and portray the haunting contradiction of how defining success as unlimited growth will only lead to the downfall of the Earth."

Margaret Dunne '20
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Rat Dress detail image
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Rat Dress back view
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Rat Dress detail image