Maps as Media 2017 Final Projects

We just wrapped up round three of Maps as Media. We visited the NYPL Maps Division and enjoyed a guided tour of the Maria Thereza Alves exhibition about migration, mapping, and ballast. We welcomed a number of guests to the classroom: cartographer and historian of science Bill Rankin spoke with us about his own work and about cartographic epistemologies; Amir Sheikh, a US Forest Service Environmental Anthropologist, discussed how indigenous cartography informed his team’s work on the Waterlines mapping project in the Pacific Northwest; artist Nina Katchadourian shared her inspiring map-related projects; and Bert Spaan, software engineer, talked about his work as head engineer of the NYPL’s Space/Time Directory. We talked about mapping’s histories and futures, about cartographic technologies and intelligences, about sensory and indigenous mapping, about aerial imagery and GIS, about the mapping arts and the limits of cartography.

And all throughout the semester, our 17 students (alongside our extraordinary TA, Emily Sloss) created atlases: collections of maps that allowed everyone to examine the spatial and temporal dimensions of their thesis projects or other long-term research interests. Here’s what most of them did (some students are exploring sensitive topics and have asked that we keep their work private):

Andrew explored the history of ecological transformation and the politics of conservation in the “manufactured baylands of Silicon Valley.” He started with the story of a single protected species, the snowy plover, then scaled up and out to examine the plover as an emblem of larger political and ecological dynamics.

37 29’49.26” N 122 08’47.02” W elev 0ft eye alt 8227 ft from Andrew Strong on Vimeo.

Ayesha explored development and displacement in Cape Town, South Africa by mapping across three “scales”: people, place, and possibilities.  

Claudio détourned the real estate marketing brochure to examine real-estate development in Long Island City — and particularly how that aspirational marketing vision erases local culture, and how we might employ community-oriented mapping practices to chronicle and reinforce local knowledges.

Danielle reimagined James Bridle’s dronestagram project in order to highlight the myriad humanitarian and environmental uses to which drones are being put. Put simply, she mapped “the good drones.” Danielle created a StoryMap, a dronestagram2.0 Instagram account, a drone timeline, and an app mock-up.

Jessica mapped the connections between “resilience” and urban inequality. Her atlas of layered transparencies embodied the intersection of myriad political, social, environmental, and infrastructural factors in determining a neighborhood’s preparedness to face climate change. She took the Lower East Side as her case study.

Juana, who grew up in Colombia, was haunted by a set of spreadsheets that tabulated the massacres, murders, landmines, displacements, kidnappings, and disappearances resulting from years of battles between FARC and other guerrilla groups, government forces, and the paramilitary. She aimed to transform those spreadsheets into maps: “to organize the information and give it some sense of spatiality and care, to visualize the effects of conflict and honor the victims.” Juana embroidered her maps on burlap, an integral part of Colombia’s economy and material culture.

Julia, a fan of horror movies, sought to map landscapes of fear. She ultimately homed in on the house and, through a content analysis of a dozen horror movies, heat-mapped the most vulnerable sites in haunted houses and the bodies of their inhabitants.

Larisa wanted to find out where all the smart cities are — and what makes them so smart. She did a content analysis of an extensive body of smart cities literature to find out what and where these elusive creatures are.

For her Design + Technology Masters thesis, La Tricia is not only designing a sports bra for well-endowed athletic women; she also aims to design a process that facilitates its custom design and fabrication. She used her atlas to explore the global history of undergarments and the geography of sartorial customs.

Reem wanted to better understand the migration and refugee crisis around the Mediterranean, and to “convey the severity of a population’s distress.” She sought to spatialize migrants’ stories on both a micro and macro scale, and, like Juana, to acknowledge their humanity and dignity. In painstakingly hand-plotting people as individual points, she transformed her map-making into a contemplative and ethical practice [the following is an animated gif].


For his thesis, Sarath is studying informal settlements in Chennai, India, and “associated urban renewal processes such as the relation, rehabilitation, and redevelopment of … newly sterilized zones for capital appropriation.” He aimed to use his atlas to examine how a city works as both a formal and an informal entity — and to show urban dynamics both from a high level of abstraction and through their on-the-ground texture and granularity.

Sophie’s thesis is examining non-consensual pornography — so she used her atlas to study the phenomenon’s legal and cultural landscapes, its discourses and media representation, its histories of activism, its technologies of enactment. As she writes: “Mapping Nonconsensual pornography has liberatory potential. As well as raising awareness and lobbying for better protection against the practice, mapping could force perpetrators out of the dark and guide victims and activists towards each other in solidarity.”

Taeyeon’s thesis focuses on the design of outdoor recreation and exercise spaces — “playground” — for mixed-generation groups, and particularly for seniors. She used her atlas to explore the history and geography of NYC playgrounds, as well as the cultural geography of urban seniors — and to propose a new playground design.

And finally, Tim is studying ecologies of trash — or, as he puts it, “plastic and organic ecology in the anthropocene.” His atlas aims to situate our waste management systems, particularly the collection of compost and the recycling of plastics, within “the vastness of geological time.”

Examining modernist modes of planning and functioning of a city – Through Mapping Time.

The idealized modern city is orderly: activities are categorized and assigned to intentionally designed and thereby designated spaces. For Example, Commerce is planned to occur in spaces such as shops, stores, malls and markets. Similarly, activities of recreation are planned in the form of parks, gyms and sports fields. These modes of functioning are situated/dispersed in between the primary form of urban functioning – the dwelling.

So, how do we connect these seemingly separated functions of modernist planning and make these spaces more accessible and thereby allow for the effective functioning of these spaces. This is usually achieved through the streets, sidewalks and modes of transit – the effective use of public space – an interesting contradiction to the intent of modernist planning to define, frame and thereby produce exclusive or private spheres of functioning.

With mobility being the connect between the various modes of functioning in the city, I would like to explore on the ability of the map to form the basis of efficiency through mapping time, irrespective of the space it is functioning upon.

A static Isochrone (maps that measure distances in ‘Time’ rather than spatial geography). Here the geography is fixed and the time map takes an amoebic form of representation.

A Dynamic Isochrone (The possibility of mapping time irrespective of its geography):

The Haussmann’s Model of Urban form may not be part of the modernist movement in planning and architecture, but it preceded and definitely set the tone for formal planning during the modernist era.

Info: One of the most intricate and dense underground networks in Europe, the metro is a central component in the daily life of millions of Parisians. As a result, the official metro map conditions the very way commuters approach time, and space, as they tend to select their journeys based on the perceived smallest distance between two points This visualization offers to challenge this conventional view. Metropolitain takes on an unexpected gamble: using cold, abstract figures to take the pulse of a hectic and feverish metropolis.

Time View: Here, the time is represented in the form of concentric rings with 10 minute intervals. Clicking on any of the stations modifies the physical geography of the city with respect to the time it takes to travel in the city, with the station of interest as the nodal point. We can also select the train line that we are interested in, or the lines that we would be transferring to as well to get an idea of how long the commute would take. We can get more specific with the time using the slider below, as the interval between the trains would change over the course of the day with respect to the passenger traffic that the line would be handling.

Crowd View: This represents the number of people who use the various stations on a daily basis. Here, we can read the geography of Paris through the high mounds as being areas of high concentration, usually defined through architecture, urban design, zoning and other land use policies. These high concentrations are usually regions of commercial/recreational interest that require the accumulation of labor/capital to allow for the most efficient appropriation of space for the production of surplus value. The smaller mounds and lower heats on the rest of the map shows primarily residential use, with the transportation network bridging the gap between the various land use ordinances.

An analysis over the time view and the crowd view of the map would give us an idea of the property values and thereby the median income of the neighborhood around the transit station –  which further shows the effectiveness of time based mapping on the urban form, determining where public investments are made, where speculation can be relied upon as a mode of investment etc. Also, if this map were extended to include data over a period of time, we will be able to see patterns of gentrification and displacement over the entire city with respect to the transit system.

However, I am not familiar with Paris and may not be entirely correct upon making these inferences. Redundancies could arise if there were neighborhoods where a culture of walking to work is the norm or where a strong form of urban restructuring (such as a gated community) exists. Also, patterns of suburbanization would further prove me wrong.

Data Source:

The time view relies upon the itinerary calculation and travelers data from Open Street Maps under the DDBL license. The crowd view thrives on the open data of annual incoming traffic per station (2011) provided by by

Other experiments of Mapping time based datasets: – !/en/works

A more global scale time map:

My own experimentation with time based mapping:

What if we go back in time to an era where there were no wireless technologies? We are travelling on the subway and were reminded of an errand that we forgot about or a task that needs to be assigned to a co-worker. When faced with such a crisis, the public pay phones in the city would come in handy. This map tries to identify the most accessible public pay phones in the city, to communicate our newfound task.

The map tries to identify the most accessible public pay phones in the city with the subway stops as a measure of accessibility. The regions of influence (two-minute walking radii) multiply into each other to show us the most accessible phones from a subway station. The widget on the right corner of the screen shows the concentration of pay phones within a range of the council districts (1 to 51) that the map has been zoomed into at any given time.

The datasets used include public pay phones and subway station locations in New York City sourced from NYC Open Data. The legend shows the various phone companies and the areas of influence of the subway stations.

Immersive Space


This semester we have been exposed to a series of maps, in books, online, and in libraries. However I had not been exposed to one on the scale of what Paula Shear has created with the map “Philadelphia Explained”. My critique intends to provide a sense of the map Paula Scher  designed, state how it compares to a conventional map an individual would use to tour  the city of Philadelphia, and why her map is significant.

Paula Shear, in partnership with her Design firm “Pentagram,”  designed a map of the city of Philadelphia, which was the home of her alma mater, the Tyler School of Art. The map is an aerial view of the city. The map highlights the interstates, streets, and historical locations throughout the city.According to, it provides one with “a sense of the city” as they “step into” what is considered “a real map of the city”.

Paula Shear created an immersive experience, while most maps are observed as an aerial view or straight on. When one thinks of an immersive experience it conjures up an image of a virtual reality world where an individual would be required to wear headsets to enter an environment created by designer and Developers. An example of a virtual world is Immersive Entertainment’s Grand Canon Virtual experience. The user can put on the VR lenses and  allows users to canoe, swim and walk through the environment. What I really like about this map is that Paula Shear provides an immersive experience for anyone who steps into this physical space without having to use  technology. The map occupies the entire 2000 square feet of the gallery space and was on exhibit for a limited time in July of 2015. She accomplished this by creating a template that filled the architectural space. Her map is different from a conventional map in many ways. It is intended to be used to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, it will even allow users to figure out how long it will take for them to travel there. For example a conventional map is very accurate, the scale of everything is proportionate to the scale of the map. Standard maps also come with a guide in order for a person to determine miles.  This allows them to calculate how many miles they have to travel in order to get to their destination and shows them where the rest stops are. Every single road is accounted for in order for an individual to find their exact location.

Paula Scher’s map in contrast to a conventional map was created in a space one can be fully immersed in. Many of the locals who visit are able to walk through the space and recall places they have visited or consider visiting a new sites after viewing the map. What I found interesting in the development of the map was its collaborative aspect. It allowed 154 individuals consisting of students and “Pentagram” employees to fill in the details of the map. The designer provided a broad scope of the city of Philadelphia and the students painted the details and gave a narrow scope of Philadelphia. Not only did the students incorporate accurate landmarks using Google maps but they incorporated their own descriptive narrative into the story. In one location of the map one sees the words “Vroom, Vroom, Mom we are going to be late” which personalizes the Map.Although the map has over 154 contributors, there is still a sense of of consistency. She achieved this by providing the contributors with a reference of scale for the words and roads.

Another aspect I thought was fascinated by in viewing this map was the use of fonts. This provides a visual hierarchy. The largest and boldest elements on the map are the interstate numbers. Then a slightly smaller font follows the zip codes to finally the smallest fonts represent historical locations and roads.

Although I appreciate many aspects of this map I realize it is not a data driven map. It provides no sense of timeline, no location based information providing the details as to where exactly you are in the map, instead it becomes an art piece where an individual will interpret the details for what they see and not appreciate the effort made to create a visual hierarchy by the designer. Her map is intentionally different from a conventional map and is nevertheless successful in its intent.

If this were a data driven map it would highlight the most-driven roads, the most-visited historical locations and the most-populous areas in the city. It think this type of information would benefit and be useful for individuals who don’t know the area. There is an element I think I would find interesting to incorporate into the map that would be and sound. When an individual steps into a corner there could be sirens or individuals talking.

Individuals could learn if they are standing in a highly trafficked area of quiet area. This map is intended for anyone who visits the space and I believe it would provide individuals with different emotions. For those who know and love Philadelphia they might appreciate the perspective in which Paula Shear has drawn the map.

This map breaks the mold of how most data driven maps are created. I intend to use this design as reference I develop a map that shows the proximity of the popular bra stores in NYC.

In the map prototype I created I drew the shape of a standard bra. I then overlaid that shape over a map of NYC in order get a general perspective of where central park was located and map where the main avenues that run above and below central park. I then mapped the locations of the Lululemon, Victoria’s Secret and custom bra shops located throughout the city. Once I overlaid all the maps on top of one another I was able to see how far each shop one was located from one another.


How could someone use this map I provided? If an individual was interested in creating a bra startup and wanted to have a brick and mortar located in NYC they could use this map to evaluate where the competition would be in their area.

Time & Drones Map Critique

One of the papers we read for this week The Idea and Image of Historical Time: Interaction Between Design and Digital Humanities discusses the relationship between both digital humanities and design. Scholars are using data visualizations to communicate ideas. With regards to time, Newtonian time is the model we keep in our minds, it is important to make sure we are accurate with our data. Historically, people have used timelines in the form of chronologies. For example, Christians used them for practical matters for knowing when to celebrate Easter (Grafton). Today, chronological time is common in art forms such as monuments, structures, installations, and news articles.

For my final atlas, I am researching how the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or commonly known as drones that can be mapped for humanitarian needs. Civil UAV companies include DJI, Parrot, and 3DRobotics. As of March 2017, more than 770,000 civilian UAVs were registered with the US FAA. Some of these civil uses are for crop surveys, aerial photography, search and rescue, inspection of power lines and pipelines, counting wildlife, delivering medical supplies, detection of illegal hunting, reconnaissance operations, cooperative environment monitoring, border patrol missions, forest fire detection and monitoring, landslide measurement, and crowd monitoring. So for this assignment I wanted to research digital chronologies or data visualizations.

Before doing so, I looked at A Brief History of Drones. In this timeline, I thought that the word brief is very true for this image. It doesn’t go into detail what 2003-present looks like. For example it does not show how drones have been used for anti-poaching or help with disaster relief, such as providing wifi to Puerto Rico or helping locate stranded people in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Also, oil and gas companies use drones to inspect their facilities, power lines, and fuel tanks. Insurance companies use them to verify claims. Throughout my atlas I plan on using time and location for each of my maps.

Drones are also being used for disaster preparedness, such as in Nepal where aerial imagery is limited. UAVs can provide responders with high resolution imagery that can inform preparedness, mitigation, and response efforts. In this specific project, 3D maps are the final result.

The map I will be critiquing is simple, but is able to give information to the audience. The Verge and the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College partnered to collect data on commercial exemptions the FAA grants in 2015. Effective December 21, 2015, all UAV’s must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. They created a data visualization chart because of so many exemptions being issued. The audience of the data visualization would be people who fly UAV’s or are interested in them. As someone who is registered with the FAA, I find it interesting to search by all of the reasons why people need to fly their drones. The data visualization was made with D3.js and the data comes directly from the FAA’s database (which was made open source). It is housed at the bottom of an article about drone exemptions. I was interested to see that the largest percentage of exemptions was issued for photography and manufacturing. The two critiques that I have for this chart is that it gives you an ‘all option’ and ‘other option’. It is hard to understand what other could be accounted for and how all does not reach 100%? It is possible that the data is flawed, or they did not know what to do with certain data.

For my own prototype of one of the maps for my atlas, combining my idea of making humanitarian drones visible and this data visualization timeline (above) by month in the year 2015, I will be able to show for what reasons drones are being used.  I started with a timeline of some of the data that I received, then used symbols instead of buttons to symbolize each of the areas. Since this prototype seemed too simple, I imagine this is what the table of contents will look like for my atlas. From here I continued to move forward and figure out how I can use maps to tell stories.

I felt after making this first map, what was missing was storytelling that I have found from each of the articles I took my data from. Making each news story visible is part of my project, so in addition I created a storytelling interactive map using Story Map JS and Mapbox to create the style of what I want my map to look like. In Story Map JS, the map you create is similar to a timeline, you can scroll through the content while moving to different points on the map or you can click on single points to find out more about that area. I find this map is more successful in telling the stories of each of the articles.

Going forward, I hope to modify the style of the map and add more data.


See presentation link below:

Apply for the Vera List Center Writing Award — Due 12/22!

The Vera List New School Art Collection Writing Awards are bestowed annually to New School students for the best responses inspired by works in the university’s art collection. The awards were established in 1996 by the late Vera List, a life trustee of The New School, to celebrate the creative and critical thinking of New School students, and the impact of contemporary art in The New School’s academic life.

A rotating panel of judges selects the winning entries—two $400 first-place awards and two $200 second-place awards. Winners are announced in The New School News and various New School blogs and social media platforms. In a new collaboration with the U.S. chapter of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), the winning entries will be edited by a professional editor.

We are pleased to announce Jenny Li, a dual degree student at Parsons and Mannes (BFA Illustration / BM Piano Performance), as the first place winner of the 2016-2017 Vera List New School Art Collection Writing Award, and Iván Brave, a Master of Fine Arts student in Creative Writing at the New School for Public Engagement, as the second place winner. This year’s competition called for entrants to write a letter to an artist about one of their works that are displayed in The New School Art Collection.

Find guidelines on the VLC’s website. Submissions are due 12/22.

Body, Sense, Experience and Sympathy

Visualization of geographic information creates maps. Geographical information is based on facts and perceptions of the space we experience directly or indirectly, so visualizing it can be seen as a description of the geographical area and community on which we are based.

Sympathy is expressed in the sharing of sensation and experience, and experience is manifested in activities using the body. I will do a mapping from the final to multigenerational space, especially for the open spaces. I test how the experience can be mapped into space with this project. The data for the mapping will be set based on the questionnaire about feelings and experiences of people when they use the specific spaces.

Experiences are narrated through the interpretation of the senses of individuals when they collect that themselves. Therefore, if we collect senses from some standards and analyze how they interpret them, we can look at the various issues that our society is experiencing. So I start with a relatively small step, mapping from the human body, and look at the direction in which it expands.

The most direct and well-known sensory map would be Penfield’s brain map. Wilder Penfield’s brain map and homunculus model show the importance of sensory and motor nerves linked to the human brain. Most of the nerve cells are present in the function of the hands and feet, and the brain cells are matched for each function. As we already know, the body that the brain perceives is very different from the objective body. The results of Penfield’s doll making a body map recognized by the brain reveal that the actual human body is different from the actual body it recognizes.

It is a ‘body sense map’ that shows the body’s activity according to some emotions. The researchers presented the subjects with two black silhouettes. Then, after presenting a situation that caused a certain emotion word or such emotion, I asked to see the active part in one silhouette and to mark the part in which the other silhouette is inactive. And I combined the data obtained to create a sense of body sense map.

These examples do not include geographic information, but it is noteworthy that it maps the body from a unique perspective. I think these two examples show that information pieces about the human body and its senses can gather and affect emotions. In other words, the collection of senses stimulates the imagination of sympathy by the person reading it, leading to a kind of common feeling.

Christian Nold collected people’s emotions and their experiences from 2004 to 2008 under the title Bio Mapping / Emotion Mapping and mapped them to a map of a specific area. More than 2,000 people have participated in the project, and participants in the workshops have re-explored their communities. He has utilized his ingenious methodology in various fields of art, community development, science research, architectural planning and large-scale political consultations.

In post-production, the amount of data increases and the map becomes more complex. The San Francisco emissive map and the Stockport emotion map used the degrees of physical arousal as indicators of red columns and circles, respectively. However, the two maps are distinctly different. In the former, emotions are expressed using only simple shapes, while in the latter, the text is delivered along with drawing in a style that a child would draw.

What I have noticed is the power that a reader of the text can get when similar content is delivered in a different way. Of course, both projects are clear. However, there is no doubt that the latter is more sensitive. The small letters on the map summarize the memories and histories people have with their families or neighbors. Simple sentences and pretty emotional articles can be also found easily.

This is the work of illustrator Max Degtyarev. The artist has a variety of people’s experiences and feelings during the day in the same space. He says that the meaning of the bench is more than “sitting down”. This space brings people together by the presence of a bench, which causes a variety of events. In the variation of this time, we can look at the senses that we could feel if we were in that space. I think they would have been pushed out of the tangible sensibility of the person who created the content. It just matched with some things that I think as an important part of my mapping project. I want to create the tangible presentation with emotional data based on senses.



I implemented three-dimensional data visualization as the prototype, by using the area of Manhattan’s open space and population density data from each community district. What I wanted to gain from this was to think about various data visualization media and to search for direction to support intergenerational playground research which is my thesis subject efficiently. The problem with the first project(3D printed) was that I just “visualized” the data and did not express my voice well. Also, the listing of these simple data could not enrich my research. So, the most important goal of the final project is to make the data I collect function as an answer to my design questions.

(This floor plan is the very first draft of what I want to have as an intergenerational playground.)


Neuron Maps & an Atlas of the Brain

I have been looking into the wide range of brain maps created and disseminated by the Allen Institute for Brain Science in their publicly available Brain Atlas. The atlas, which has its own website, contains a huge amount of information on both human and mouse brains, including 3-D maps of adult and infant brains, data on gene activation in specific areas of the brain, and information on over 200 individually mapped neurons.

It is this latter set of maps that I have been exploring and trying to make sense of. They are part of the Brain Cell Database, which the Allen Institute describes as “a survey of biological features derived from single cell data, from human and mouse.” To create this database, the Institute has relied on samples from brain surgeries taking place in the Seattle area. Patients undergoing surgery for epilepsy or brain tumors often have small amounts of healthy brain tissue removed in the course of surgery; some of these patients can then choose to have this tissue passed on to the Allen institute. The institute, in turn, isolates individual neurons, testing their responses to electrical stimuli and creating morphological models of some neurons. The data currently available on the institute’s website comes from the brains of 36 donors, each of who has donated 1 to 26 brain cells.

The Brain Atlas website also contains a Cell Feature Search page, which allows anyone to look through the database of individual neurons and to refine their search based on a wide variety of criteria, incuding species (human or mouse), disease (epilepsy or tumor), and part of the brain (frontal lobe, temporal lobe, etc).  In my search through the database, I found myself most interested in the neurons from human brains that had available both electrophysiological data and morphological data.

This is an example of the kind of map you can get of a single neuron:

The top image shows the morphological information on a neuron taken from a 67-year-old man. The first two images show front and side projections of the neuron, while the third shows a 3-D model that can be rotated and zoomed in on. The bottom images shows the electrophysiological data from the same neuron. In the screenshot, data on all types of electrical stimuli are all being shown at once, but on the actual page you can have the visualization only show certain types of stimuli or individual tests (just one electrical shock and the resultant cell response).

I find these visualizations of individual neurons to be fascinating, even though, unfortunately, I don’t have the type of biological literacy required to fully understand their significance. The articles I’ve read on this project say that this work is part of a larger effort to create an atlas of the types of cells present in the human brain, based on their shape, physiology, connective properties, and gene expression (1). John Ngai, one of the researchers on the team, says that their task is to understand how all the different types of brain cells “wire up, to serve as a basis for understanding how the human brain functions in health and disease” (2). The work done to map and categorize the mouse brain, as well as the less comprehensive work done on the human brain, can be used to better understand neural pathways, as well as the roles of different cells take in making the brain function.

My interest in these neuron maps is not only in their scientific utility, however. The maps are also interesting because they are beautiful and engaging. In my explorations of different neurons I found myself having strong reactions to the maps – some seemed exciting, intriguing, others grossed me out with the density of their axons.  The neural maps are highly suggestive; they resemble rivers, cities, veins, roots. Their irregularity is both familiar and unfamiliar, and the images they create are both highly specific (a single neuron in a specific person’s brain) and easily abstracted.



I find the many potential approaches to and uses for these maps to be a strength of theirs, to a degree. However, I also think that the sheer volume of data included, not only in the neuron maps but in the Brain Atlas as a whole, makes the project difficult to approach and understand, even if you’re only trying to understand part of it. As a layperson, I had to do a few hours of research and reading on the project to even begin to understand what types of data these maps contain and why it is important. The website is clearly geared towards people involved in the field and people who are conducting research on brain structure and function – even the summarizing Data Highlights page is mostly made of headings like “Mouse Connectivity BDA/AAV Comparison.” I don’t think that the Brain Atlas website should necessarily have to be accessible to laypeople – the goal of the Institute isn’t to engage beginners in science but to advance high-level research – but on a personal level I wish it was more accessible. In the future, I would love to see more elements of the website that offer more straightforward ways to approach some of the huge amounts of data available, even if its just map keys with a link to an explanation of the difference between dendrites and apical dendrites.

These maps have prompted me to think more about my own atlas project and what makes a map enjoyable to engage with. I’ve realized that the maps I personally enjoy the most are often maps that draw you in and make you want to explore the many ways of engaging with them. While there is definitely a space in the world for clear, straightforward maps, I think that there is also a simple joy in getting lost in a complex map, in figuring out what everything means and imagining the many ways you could wander through it.

My personal mapping work has involved taking a personal, small-scale approach to feelings of fear and enjoyment, both in the consumption of media and in everyday life (and in the places where these types of experiences intersect). My exploration of the neuron maps has encouraged me to consider the pleasure involved in reading and interacting with a multifaceted, multilayered map, and I have been reflecting on the ways I could incorporate this type of density in my own maps. For my prototype, I made a small, strip-map style map of the route I take when walking or biking from my house to the town I live in (Pleasantville, NY). I then overlaid four pieces of clear film on the map and noted different kinds of experiences I have with on my walk on each – places I enjoy passing or feel safe in, places that make me anxious or scared, places that I have rich imagined stories about, and a depiction of the routes I usually take. I like the way that the information, when separated this way, can be selected and interacted with.

Predictive Policing as an Illusion of Deep Mapping: An Analysis Inspired by “Pre-Crime”

“[…] show them that the crime in your jurisdiction is predictable from year to year and therefore, month to month. […] Within 15 minutes of the conclusion of the staff meeting, I had frontline officers at my office door asking about my ‘crystal ball’.”

Daniel (D.J.)
Public Safety Industry Expert at Motorola Solutions.


Predictive policing is a concept under which a wide array of practices and ideas fall. The underlying assumptions of this model of policing are that policing must be proactive, not reactive, and that crime can be predicted by looking at patterns, using historical records and big data. There are a couple of programs being used in big cities around the world, for example, PredPol(UK), Hunchlab (California), and Beware (Chicago, California). Each one of these represents a different approach to the same principle: crime can be predicted or prevented by using techno-scientific approaches.

Hunchlab is creating maps where areas are color-coded to represent different crime patterns. As you interact with the map, you can get more information by hovering into this area. This will let know the policeman how long should they spent in that specific area, what’s the most recurrent crime and what tactic works better there. A full automatization of the decision-making process, police can now rely on the app to know when, why and how to interact with each area. According to Hunchlab, by relying on data-driven decision making, you are avoiding biased or hunch-driven policing which might lead to racial profiling or misplaced police resources.  This system codifies entire areas.

Beware creates a profile for specific addresses using data fed by information brokers. The information used by the software comes from all sorts of platforms including social media. But because the data is coming from companies that make money out of the quantity and not so much of the quality of the data they sell, their reliability is in question. This system codifies specific addresses

PredPol Is using algorithms to create lists of potential perpetrators or victims. The algorithms are developed using what they call “routine activity theory”, based on the idea that people do things over and over; that they create habits.  Combined with seismology – place stroke by crime will see aftershocks as a result of that crime—they identify patterns and create a network of people that might be affected by an aftershock, not based on their criminal history, but on their connections –closeness- to those who have been victims or perpetrators. The resulting document –called SSL in Chicago—is a list of 400 people with high risk of getting involved in crimes. Once they are on the list they cannot be erased –and their relationship with the police changes as they get visits and warnings even if they haven’t committed a crime. This system codifies people, gives them a score and creates a list.

The aforementioned programs have caused concern for several reasons, which I would divide into three areas: data, theory, and implementation.

Theory: The idea that decision-making is now free of biases because is handled by an algorithm, has been proven wrong. The factors that feed the algorithm, percentages and formulas are based on decisions taken by mathematicians and developers, most of whom have specific background and biases.

Data/para-empirical: The collection of the data varies depending on the project, but reporting or underreporting can skew it. There are several reasons why some crimes might be under the radar and others more visible. Differences in police presence in specific areas, cameras, heightened expectations, etc. might be explanations for possible variations on reporting or visibility of crimes.

Implementation/map: all come together in digital platforms, sleek designs and new technologies obscure the precedence of the origin of the data and the binary logic underlying computational systems. Fully automated police, don’t leave space for contestation or accountability for their actions as they are data and algorithm-driven.

The sanitization of pre-crime systems is performed by platforms that rely on mathematics and technoscience’s that obscure decision-making process plagued by human subjectivity and error. One of the contentious aspects of these systems is not only their accuracy and criminalization of areas, addresses, and people but the fact that they render the process unaccountable. They forget that they are looking at digital quantifiable shadows, and overlook the erasure of the complexities of human lives; the unquantifiable aspect of life disappears.

The systems presented here are layering data and combining it to create “deep” maps, nevertheless, they lack a foundational part of deep mapping, conversation. As Iain Biggs through Clifford McLucas expresses it: “deep mapping should be a ‘politicized, passionate, and partisan’ evocation of a site, involving ‘negotiation and contestation over who and what is represented and how’ and giving rise to ‘debate about the documentation and portrayal of people and places’ but, above all, should strive to remain ‘unstable, fragile and temporary… a conversation and not a statement’”

Deep mapping should not be an object, but rather the result of a negotiation process. Predictive policing, as a product of unaccountable mathematical algorithms and incontestable outputs –like SSL–is far from having the relatable and human aspects that amount to deep mapping complexity. The “deepness” of a map, therefore, is not based on the amount of data put together, or how many sources we use, but on the qualitative aspects of it.

It is easy to be deceived by techno-scientific approaches –even Les Roberts believes that deep mapping is mostly a product of the digital age—because they provide the ability to gather (create) large amounts of data from different media (binary) and present it in compelling ways. Nevertheless, their deepness is questionable as they use undisclosed algorithms, binary codification and rely on quantifiable data only. To me, the biggest concern is that the digital world is being used as a way of circumventing conversation, where getting rid of “error” in their policing predictions is just a matter of time and technological advance.

To counter the idea that data can explain the world, I would like to create explore other ways to represent places, people and areas, using a series of analogue pictures that incorporate the ideas of Jim Goldberg (combination of images, text, and juxtaposition e.g.- “rich and poor”) and George Perec (“Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien”). Emphasizing the materiality of the analogs picture (non-binary), and combining it with the lived experiences through writing, would create maps where depictions and narrations blend.  Put together on box-sets, they would be distributed to people on the police force as an alternative map to the area. The combination of these elements seeks to problematize the meaning of deep mapping as means to deepen our understanding of spatialized phenomena. Also,  to challenge the equation of big data to “depth” that justifies binarization and furthers the lack of qualitative and material dimensions in mapping.

Hand Mapping Movie Utopias

The 1993 hit sci-fi movie Jurassic Park mostly takes place in a theme park located on an island called Isla Nublar by Andrew DeGraff.

Freelance illustrator and artist Andrew DeGraff was formally trained as a Communications Design Major with a focus Illustration from Pratt Institute. In his professional career he has worked with a variety of clients such as, Visa, Sports Illustrated, Kellogg’s, The New York Times, GAP Kids and Anthropologie.

In one of his most recent series, “CineMaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies”DeGraff created 35 hand done maps of films such as, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Jaws, The Shining, Goonies etc. Each map features an intricate base with the routes journeyed by main characters in each film. Some of the subjects are more generalized while others focus on certain timeframes within each film.

I was initially drawn to this series because of the playful nature of the subject: geographically organizing movies as well as the pieces being visually compelling. I believe this series qualifies as deep mapping as it meets the criteria set out in the Les Roberts reading. According to Roberts, “deep mapping necessarily entails what Schiavini refers to as “deep travel” [deep travel] …usefully points to is the performative work that goes into both the production of “deeply” configured spatial knowledge. His images appear as individual utopias that have been lived in by various fictional characters.

The specific map I choose to critique was his visual representation of the 1993 sci-fi classic, Jurassic Park. The map showcases the theme park on the island Isla Nublar. As a graphic the image is incredibly compelling. The map shows cartographic precision, as fan of the Jurassic Park series, I could recognize the island immediately. The angle at which he chooses to display each image allows the viewer to read and understand what is happening on the island spatially as well as its connection to the other islands. The Paths of each character are neatly laid out however, a legend is missing to dictate which character corresponds to which color. There are also a few other formalities that are missing such as a title, a small blurb to describe the project etc. Also, I wish the character trails were done in a more defined style that would make them more prominent against the base. Additionally, by defining a start and end of each character journey as well as a time stamp of the movie length would allow the viewer to understand the path endured.

Though these maps may seem like a stretch from my final project (mapping sea level rise in the Caribbean and showing the population density of those affected), I felt as though DeGraff’s style and could influence my project. From studying his work and his process I began to envision how I could go about making my maps. My project does not require 100% precision rather, the playful and artistic nature of deep mapping could be more appealing than a scientific approach. Additionally, I can treat each island as a “little world” and develop them graphically in order represent the coastal communities and the outdated infrastructure that exist in the Caribbean. When observing DeGraff’s maps I also recognized the character paths to be a defining feature of his maps and wondered how I could bring this element into my personal work. I began to realize that I could use one of my 5 maps to plot the rising sea levels as one continuous band around all the islands. With regards to style, I initially envisioned my maps to be done in sheer layers however, I began to realize that using opaque colors would allow the information being displayed to stand out.




Mapping Inequality and Dot Maps

Through my research for my Atlas Proposal I came across “American Panorama: An Atlas of US History which intrigued me. The American Panorama is part of the University of Richmond, and was established by the Digital Scholarship Lab. They work in partnership with Stamen Design who develop cartographic software. It is a collection of historical maps of the United States which have been reinvented with modern tools of representation.  As I hope to explore the possibility of an interactive map as part of my thesis project, I have chosen a map called “Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America” to use for my map critique.

This map explores ‘red-lining’, a process which was a part of the New Deal (a set of policies implemented by the US Government in response to the Great Depression). Red-lining was used to indicate the risk factor of mortgage applications in neighbourhoods and areas across the country, entirely based on demographics. These maps are evidence of how housing policy was designed between the 1930-40s, laced with racism and spatial segregation – an unfortunately familiar scene within the context of my thesis (Cape Town), simply in a different era and location.

The maps were made by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), spanning almost 250 cities across the US. These maps became public through the American Panorama platform in October 2016 and is the largest online collection, with over 150 interactive maps. Richard Rothstein published “The Colour of Law” in May 2017, a book which argues that the state played an influential role in supporting and driving neighbourhood segregation. HOLC’s efforts are said to have influenced over a century of real estate practice, with studies showing links to use of these documents as recently as 2012 (read more here). This could be very damaging, using maps which are nearly 90 years old to determine the fate of an individual today. 

Mapping Inequality allows the audience to explore an extensive collection of the HOLC’s records, providing overviews of demographics in each area. Through offering a digital library of the state’s role in housing development, Mapping Inequality illustrates vividly the interplay between racism, administrative culture, economics, and the built environment.(quoted from website)

This gives the audience a quick glimpse and gives useful a summary for each area. The circular graphic at the bottom is based on Ernest W. Burgess ‘concentric zones theory allows users to view ‘how redlining concentrated populations’ interactively; scrolling over sections of the graphic reveals highlighted sections of the map, spatially detailing the respective area. This feature is explained well from a theoretical perspective, using Burgess work as a starting point to develop a useful interactive visual to show relative densities of zoned areas on the map.

The digital platform of the (originally hand-drawn) maps is created by overlaying individual sheets to provide the full picture, which could lead to finding trends or patterns. There are no visual distortions besides those which allow viewers to the maps as a whole. Each sheet can also be viewed flat and other available documents are displayed too.

The language of the categories is brusque (with ‘Hazardous’ and ‘Definitely declining’ correlating with a presence of non-white populations) and unlikely to be found in maps produced more recently – however as this platform is reiterating historic maps, it is powerful to see these maps shown as they were created.

This interactive map took seven months to build, I’m sure within a budget and with limited resources (such as students!). I think it is very well designed and it inspires me to think about what contextual and statistical information may be useful to give my thesis audience. Such as historic racial classifications of the area, a historic demographic breakdown and a recent demographic breakdown (if available) allowing users to see trends over time.

Whilst the platform provides historical information from a short period in time, I think this map could be very useful as a starting point for a number of studies. For example, to find links between policies implemented using these maps, or to show some correlations between mortgage applications and demographics over this period. I am curious to look at census data and statistical analyses of these trends.

The map below (produced by for the NY Times, more here) uses census data and a dot-mapping technique to represent similar, but more recent, information:

Here, one dot represents 120 people. Dot-mapping is not a new technique, however I would say it has become much more popular as access to digital production of maps becomes more widespread. Tools like GoogleEarth and GoogleMaps allow people with limited knowledge of advanced mapping software to produce simple maps with various layer of information.

I found a second map which uses dot-mapping at a one-dot-per-person scale:

This map was created by Dustin Cable for the University of Virginia, also using census data (read more here and here) It is interesting to see what the element of scale does for dot-mapping, and that dot mapping can be used to make a map more bias very quickly. The second image below is the same map with without colour, which I thought was an interesting feature:

It allows you to view the density of the city. Choosing an appropriate scale and mapping tool for my thesis critical – and these maps have provided good references to guide my process.

It is very important to acknowledge the power and responsibility that is held within mapping in certain communities. Through the processes of mapping and publicising certain data if shared will bring particularly vulnerable groups into the spotlight. This has had significant impacts within my own work experience, both positive and negative.

The map below was created by Adrian Frith, and is a dot-map (one dot = 500 people) of South Africa exploring race and language using self-identification census data.

For my prototype, I began to think about how I could use dot-mapping to show indicators of displacement. Some indicators I thought of which could be represented through dot-mapping are;

  • Which area / community one was displaced from
  • Distances displaced (e.g. 5-10km, 10-15km etc.)
  • Race through self-identification

Layers of Crisis – Map Critique

For my final atlas, I am investigating the refugee and migration crisis around the Mediterranean by focusing on arrivals to Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Spain. They key concepts that I want to shed light on are the countries that are affected, migration routes and stops, missing migrants, personal testimonies, and global policies and political motives. Since the crisis is very multilayered, and has been prolonged over a number of years, I am interested in translating these complexities as actual physical layers to form a final atlas out of several layered maps. In order to find a legible (or intentionally illegible) way of going about this project, I began looking into Tiffany Chung’s cartographic work (thank you for the recommendation, Shannon!)

This piece by Tiffany Chung is part of a series called “the unwanted population”, and the title of the piece is “Migration routes through Africa to Europe, 2017”. My first impression of this map is how beautifully detailed the work is despite it being hand-made. The artist used acrylic, ink and oil on drafting film, making the piece especially provocative as we are drawn in by the details and want to learn more. Using a universally-understood base map is helpful to locate and orient the problem, and leaving the map white where information is less relevant makes this dense map more clear. The use of a range of colors, different symbols, and different line-weights / line-types indicates that there are several topics being projected.

As impressive as this map is, it is difficult to understand what the different dots, colors, line-weights and line types represent. We are conditioned to understand that blue designates water, red shows intensity, and arrows represent direction — however, these understandings aren’t always universal. Had there been a legend to confirm these assumptions, I would have been more able to read the map. For instance, there are dots of several sizes and colors, so it is not clear whether the dots represent location of arrival, or location of missing migrants, location of dense populations of migrants, or other possibilities. Moreover, although this map depicts how complex and multilayered the problem is, it does not represent the hardships that have been endured by the migrants. In other words, it does not humanize the problem, but rather quantifies it — which is not a problem since that probably is the artist’s aim, yet I would like to introduce elements that could redirect us from the big picture to the small picture and back to the big picture in order to provide a more comprehensive approach to the situation.

This second map is part of the same series, titled “National Route 1, Diffa — fleeing Boko Haram and a road to nowhere, 2017.” The open-endedness of the routes as well as the elimination of the base maps are really interesting tactics for the construction of this map: on the one hand, it is difficult to orient ourselves in the map and understand where they are fleeing from and to; on the other hand, that’s the point. The vagueness of the parameters illustrates how helpless the situation is: does it matter where the fled from and where they intend to go? Do they even know where to go? What are the chances of actually making it?

For my maps, I will incorporate the different colors and line weights/types to represent the layers that make up the refugee crisis. I also would like to make use of the dots, as I believe that they represent the magnitude of the problem. Having every layer separated as a different map and then overlapping them on top of one-another will (hopefully) create an intense map that might be illegible at first glance, but loaded with information once we take a deeper look.


Tiffany Chung. The Unwanted Population. Exhibition: September 7 – October 21, 2017.

Refugee Stories: Life-threatening sea journeys.

Europe – Refugee and Migrant Arrivals Data.

Mapping Smells, Smart Cities, and Fastest Internet Connections

For my final project I would like to map Smart Cities, so for this assignment I decided to search for maps that represent different techniques for mapping cities. As a starting point I put “Mapping Cities” into Google and began looking at images. One map attracted my attention with its visuals, but I wasn’t sure what it was trying to convey so I decided not to read about it and just look at it for a while in order to see if there was something that could be useful for my project. There were colored dots with target like ‘clouds’ above them.

Then I looked into the source – an article called Mapping the Smells of New York, Amsterdam and Paris, Block by Block by Joseph Stromberg. The article talked about Kate McLean who was a designer, cartographer, and a graduate student studying fine art in 2011. Kate was challenged to make a solo exhibition in eight days, so she came up with an idea to make a smell map of Edinburgh in order to show how people connected to a place. She collected information by walking the city and interviewing people about what smells they felt. She then mapped where the smell came from and its range with the dots and colored ‘clouds’. Each smell had a different color, which sometimes overlapped. Kate stated that her map is not intended for people to find exactly the same smell she mapped during her filed trips, but for you to be aware that you are smelling things all the time. Later Kate used similar techniques to make smell maps of New York, New Port, Glasgow, and Paris. I think that her map of Edinburgh is visually pleasing and has crutial mapping elements such as name, key, date, and description. However, I think that it is difficult to locate yourself in the map, especially if you have never been to that city. I think it would be great to show a city grid or/and typography that would explain why the smell ‘cloud’ is positioned in a certain way.

When I looked at this map I thought what if these dots are cities, but what would be those ‘clouds’? Almost all literature about smart cities talk about technologies and data used in Smart Cities and I thought, could be the Internet that ‘cloud’ above a Smart City? So I decided to test it. I chose to show four American Smart Cities mentioned in the article Smart and Digital City: A systematic Literature Review by Annalisa Cocchia, and then looked up the list of cities with fastest Internet connections in the USA by BROADBANDNOW. I used a color dot to show a Smart City and colored circles radiating form that Smart City that touch cities with fastest Internet connections. I tried this technique on four cities: Seattle, Cleveland, Iowa City, and New York City. New York City and Seattle matched with the cohort of cities with fastest Internet connections, but not Cleveland and Iowa City. These results made me want to continue my research by comparing the definitions of Smart City used in these four cities, and reasons why these cities received this title.

In the bigger picture, I want to see if there are some cities in the world that are titled Smart City but have a poor or no Internet service. This why I will be able to divide Smart Cities into Smart Cities with fast Internet and Smart Cities with slow or no Internet connections.


Cocchia, Annalisa, Smart and Digital City: A systematic Literature Review, 2014

Mapping (for) the Future: A Vision of Climate Justice in Northern Manhattan

What might inspiring, hopeful and most importantly, useful maps of the movement for climate justice in NYC look like? This question is one that I’ve been grappling with as I embark on creating my Maps as Media atlas, and my Theories of Urban Practice thesis and it is one which I’ve found surprisingly few inspiring examples for. In this critique as well as in my own map making, I aim to find myself closer to a sense on what such maps might look like.

Image result for WEACT central harlemI first came across this map of Central Harlem through a google search for “Climate Justice Map NYC”. The map is made by WE ACT for Environmental Justice, an organization whose work I really respect and look up to in my own work and which has long been an example of excellent organizing and environmental justice advocacy both in NYC and in the national environmental justice movement at large. This map is one in a series of very similar zoomed-in maps (all with the same legend) of various parts of Northern Manhattan.

Image result for WEACT NMCAThis map is busy, though surprisingly readable for how many icons and indicators it has in the key. The map locates many different indicators that are important when thinking about climate change– from hurricaneevacuation zones, flood hazard lines, and  public transportation with public services like churches, child care centers and healthcare centers as well as facilities that I would not expect to see such as theaters and soccer fields.

It is not immediately apparent how this map is to be used or why it was created, so I checked out the project that this map emerged from, WE ACT’s “Northern Manhattan Climate Action: A Draft Plan” (NMCA Plan), which was published in 2016. The NMCA project is the result of a 3 year, $660,000 grant that the organization received to make Northern Manhattan more resilient and was created with the input of 200 stakeholders. The second of the two pages of the NMCA Plan is a map in and of itself, though it is a map of a different nature than the one above. This map lays out WE ACT’s recipe for urban resilience through categories of climate action (ex: “Coastal Protection”, “Community Land Trusts (CLT)” etc.) while also providing a lay of the land of the institutions and actors whose work falls into those categories (ex: The NYC Mayor’s Office, Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito etc. ) and then layers those categories and players into a diagram of a future vision for what a resilient city might look like.

A “Climate Justice Map” google search tends to yield maps of things like coming catastrophe, sea level rise and the damage left in the wake of storms like Katrina and Harvey, but WE ACT’s NMCA map breaks down WE ACT’s vision for creating an environmentally just city by piecing together a holistic plan that includes the more traditionally expected elements of climate action: green infrastructure, coastal protection and flooding barriers, with social and social justice urban practices, from participatory budgeting to urban agriculture to affordable housing projects. Through locating these different urban practices together in the same map, WE ACT makes the important statement that all of these actions are part of an ecosystem of climate action in which a right to the city and big infrastructures sit right alongside one another. In mainstream conversations about climate resilience in NYC, this statement in itself is quite radical.

The NMCA map is also very busy, but WE ACT does a brilliant job of taking a very complex web of possible climate actions and laying it out such that the reader (presumably stakeholders as well as a general audience that is interested in WE ACT’s work), can potentially locate themselves in the map, be it through their passions, organizational affiliations or the kinds of spaces that they occupy. While it was designed for Northern Manhattan, this map could easily become a theoretical and thematic roadmap for other neighborhoods in New York as well as other coastal communities that are aiming to create climate resilience in their city.

The NMCA map offers a future vision of a Northern Manhattan that has actualized a vision of climate resilience. Rooftops are decked out with wind turbines and solar panels, produce from the Hudson Valley is being brought directly to the neighborhood on the East River, and social hubs are embedded in public spaces to support organizing and community building. While I think that this map has done its job in presenting a complicated web of actions in a simple, readable fashion, if I were to build upon it, I would like to see zoomed in versions of each area, so that the reader could examine their own space of interest in more depth.

Even after examining the NMCA Plan report, WE ACT’s intentions behind the Northern Harlem map are still not particularly clear to me. I could see it being much more useful for if it had particular place names so that one could see where their church or school or veterinarian’s office is and use the map as a way to look at the places they see and visit every day through a climate resilience lens. I can imagine a map like this of my own neighborhood and how powerful it might be to see which evacuation zone my house is in, or to realize that my child’s school would be our evacuation center, or, simply, where other community assets are located. This map could be an important jumping-off point for future work. If we know where the flood line is, we can prioritize where to put resilient architecture, if we know where the church and the school are, we can more easily evaluate where the social hub or the community garden might go. This map could be very important for community members who are interested in building community resilience, but a higher level of detail would be helpful in order to do so

For my creative application prototype, I tried to build upon the idea of mapping a neighborhood as a tool to understand and build resilience, by taking a look at my own neighborhood. I live Prospect Lefferts Gardens, right on the border of Crown Heights, in Brooklyn. My first step was to create a basemap which I populated with types of facilities similar to those marked on the WE ACT Central Harlem map — places like schools, places of worship, child care centers etc., which I see on my day-to-day journeys through the neighborhood.

Once I marked my basemap with landmarks, I wanted to look at it through a few different lenses as a way to examine possible futures for the neighborhood: climate disaster, gentrification, and a “just transition” to a new economy. Overall, I found making these maps to be surprisingly tricky. First of all, I found that I only feel really qualified to make any sort of meaningful statement about my 2-3 block radius (apparently, I stay pretty close to home most of the time) and even that is quite a stretch. Also, I had originally set out to indicate “assets” and “vulnerability” on my map, an idea which quickly crumbled as I realized that I don’t want to make such qualitative claims about spaces that I don’t know, and that I likely experience differently from my neighbors.

As I tried to map my concerns in a climate disaster scenario, I found myself worrying about a woman who I see every day near my subway stop. Is she homeless? Mentally ill? Does she have community? I’ve never seen her with another person before.  I wanted her “on the map” as someone who might be especially vulnerable in the next hurricane, someone who I’d want to check in on, but what is the responsible way to indicate her? Is there a way?

As I tried to map sites of the “just transition”, I first marked down sites like our tiny neighborhood coop and the community garden, but projects like this are often regarded as harbingers of gentrification, even if they are aiming to make for more equitable communities. How could I decide whether to mark these spaces as assets or indicators of vulnerability? As I made my different maps of “just transition”, and gentrification, I found that they might be seen as potential indicators of displacement as well as indicators of community strength, simultaneously.  

Making these maps taught me a lot. The process of trying to understand the streets that my neighbors and I walk every day through these different “indicators” showed me just how little I talk to my neighbors about their experience of the neighborhood, it advanced my thinking about the difficulties of spatializing concepts like vulnerability and assets, and it gave me the opportunity to “try on” looking at the same space through multiple different lenses, which is an idea that I’d like to continue to develop upon.


Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan

Central Harlem Map

WE ACT recieves $660,000 grant from The Kresge Foundation for Climate Work

Abstraction and the Art of Mapping

Herwig Scherabon’s Income Inequality maps explore the topography of income across the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles. In his own words: 

“[Their] images are abstract height maps on a high-resolution matrix of cubes. The height of the cubes corresponds to the income in a respective output area. The intention [is] to show income segregation through striking images that retain the visual footprint of the city’s street grid.” 

Herwig Scherabon, Income Inequality 

Artistic Liberty 

Through this matrix, Scherabon creates a completely altered form of the city based on existing conditions. His styling invokes an urban-apocalyptic imaginary and as such hints at a relationship between inequality and ruin. His gray palette, shadows, and fog effect play up this atmospheric condition. The cities themselves are recognizable as cities but not as themselves. In this map the cubes read as buildings. Scherabon uses our notions of traditional 3 dimensional maps of the city and includes the cubes and city grid to allow the viewer to quickly read the map as an urban landscape. But the title of the city and income equality give the map its meaning. The viewer then has to search for recognizability based on previous notions of the city. 

Herwig Scherabon, Income Inequality 

The absence of a legend or data explanation leaves it up to the visuality of the map to speak for itself. It leaves ample room for interpretation, which is both a benefit and a risk. For example, the viewer draws from their own knowledge in projecting assumptions upon the map. This is a creative and open-ended approach but also leaves room for confusion and error in understanding the map. Scherabon does little to address this in their statement beyond an intention to encourage the viewer to “trigger thoughts about the potential causes and correlations to ethic segregation and other related problems.” The interpretation of these maps relies significantly on an individual’s previous knowledge or assumptions about both issue of income inequality and the form and sociopolitical of these two cities.

Point of View and Indigenous Mapping

That being said, the artistic nature of this map does evoke a particular sensation, regardless of one’s previous knowledge, in presenting an alternative city form while retaining the sense of the city. This change in point of view through the establishment of a different set of rules around data to outline the body of the city resonates strongly with indigenous mapping techniques.

Shifting rules within data takes one turn to transform a map of the city, stepping outside of traditional western notions of data takes another. As Margarent Wickens Pearce and Renee Pualani Louis note about GIS in their analysis of GIS and indigenous mapping:   

“Embedded in this technoscience, GIS epistemologies are ‘potentially toxic to human diversity’ because they deemphasize, ignore, or devalue concepts that are of central importance to Indigenous epistomologies, including the ubiquity of relatedness, the value of non empirical experience, the need to control access to levels of geographical knowledge, and the value of ambiguity over binary thought” (Pearce and Pualani).

Traditional cartographic rules limit perspective, orientation, and points of observation. Indigenous mapping draws from a broader range and history of mapmaking techniques that add depth to a techno-centric mapmaking approach.

Empathy and the Ability to Imagine

Our ability to map can be both a practice of reflection, of projection, but also of listening, of thoughtfully observing, and of empathy. Our ability to imagine how the city might be seen from unfamiliar perspectives, while constrained to a certain extent by our own ability to see the world, also challenges us to think outside of ourselves. It may incorporate a hybrid of projection and thoughtfulness. Sherabon’s map pushes to think about what other rules, or perspectives might be set to allow other imaginaries to reflect realities of form from different viewpoints. A risk in the attribution of a map to a particular perspective outside of one’s own run the risk of speaking for another in ways that aren’t true. It is important to keep this in mind when developing these kinds of maps.   


In thinking about biodiversity and the city, drawing on observational research of animals may help to conceptualize the city in other forms. For example, when taking the concepts of home, spaces of interaction, or sources of food that we might attribute to animals, what are the associated forms that could be isolated and mapped? Another option might be to release interpretative agency all together and set up scenarios in which animals might be able to leave their own traces and essentially map for themselves.   

In the tradition of Scherabon, I attempt two examples here that utilize simple abstractions and volume to alter notions of the form of the city. In the first I imagine the roads as barriers or walls of sorts. After producing this image I realized that it may need to be more complicated since the volumes in between the roads themselves (where buildings and parks are) aren’t equally accessible and as such should have had considerations with levels of volume as well. In addition, it isn’t necessarily the form that is a barrier but rather the activity in the street (the the cars, the people, the energy, the sounds, etc.) that when sensed by certain animals make it uninhabitable. How might these be mapped as barriers?

New Jersey, Streets as Walls Experiment

The second map plays off of floor plan structures and axiomatic perspectives to imagine the habitable spaces between buildings on a city block for other species. This takes Scherabon’s notion of repurposing a technique already read as something related to the content and reorienting it to present another form of the city. 

11th and 12th between 5th and 6th City Block Experiments 


Herwig Scherabon. “Income Inequality.”

Margaret Wickens Pearce and Renee Pualani Louis, “Mapping Indigenous Depth of Place,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 32:3 (2008): 107-26

November 14: You Are Here Exhibition Panel Discussion

You Are Here – NYC: Art, Information, and Mapping


Special Event: Panel DiscussionTuesday, Nov 14, 6pm, room 213 adjacent to the gallery.

Including Doug McCune, Jer Thorp, Sarah Williams and moderated by Jessie Braden, director of Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative, Pratt Institute

Pratt Manhattan Gallery presents You Are Here NYC: Art, Information, and Mapping, an exhibition of New York City maps and cartography-based artworks. The exhibition features a selection of contemporary artists, designers, and data analysts who address a question currently surfacing in the art/design zeitgeist: in what forms can information visualization become art, and how can artists make data visible? Together the works in this exhibition, all maps of the city, show a melding of information visualization and artistic endeavor.


You Are Here – NYC: Art, Information, and Mapping

Curated by Katharine Harmon, author of You Are Here–NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City, with Jessie Braden, Director, Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative, Pratt Institute

September 22–November 15, 2017

As a hallmark of this exhibition, Pratt Manhattan Gallery commissioned three artists, Christine Gedeon, Ekene Ijeoma, and Doug McCune to create works based on a specific set of census data focused on New York City’s immigrant population.  Other featured artists, designers, and data analysts include: Kim Baranowski; Alexander ChenXingying Du, Michelle Htar, and Jessica SilvermanNicholas Fraser and Heidi NeilsonNeil FreemanDaniel Goddemeyer, Moritz Stefaner, Dominikus Baur, and Lev Manovich; Jill Hubley; Bettina Johae; Jerome Marshak; Christopher Mason/MetaSUB team; John Nelson; Jenny Odell; Perkins+Will/Quilters without Borders; Erica Sellers; Herwig Scherabon; Chris Whong.

Where is Up? – Counter Mapping the World

Map Critique – Juana Urrea

October 4

When we close our eyes we can see the map of the world if we want to. We have seen it so many times and are so used to its shapes that it has become an inherent part of our knowledge. We see “normal” world maps and assume that they are true. However, it wasn’t until European navigators used the North star and the magnetic compass for orientation that the Northern hemisphere became the top of the map. Even the orientation is a social construction in a map that we grow up thinking is accurate and representative of planet Earth. Maps with different orientations have always existed, but with the popularity and extensive distribution of the North-on-top maps, they have become less prevalent. Some writers and theorists have written about the psychological implications of having the North at the top of the map, and how the widely used Mercator projection is literally belittling to “third world” nations because of the distortion of area. On a Mercator map, Greenland and Africa appear roughly the same size when, in fact, Africa is about 14 times bigger. Through inverting the map and putting the South at the top, as well as using an equal area representation, the map can be analyzed differently and be used as a tool to subvert dominant Eurocentric knowledges.

In 1556, Nicolas Desliens made an “upside down map” which is kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The first time one looks at the map it seems like nothing is in the right place, that it is backwards. It is interesting to see that these kinds of less Euro-centric maps were produced in Europe itself centuries ago. However, this is far from the dominant maps and therefore is a rare example of upside-down maps.

The psychological implications of having a North-side-up map are related to the associations humans make with verticality, what is at the top versus at the bottom. We often think about power relationships, money and value; in religious terms, the top is associated with the sky or the divine. English idioms also reinforce this narrative of up versus down — how we say that we are going “down south” — and the different connotations of downtown and uptown. One of the most popular inverted maps is Stuart McArthur’s Corrective Map of the World from 1979. Being Australian, McArthur decided that he had had enough with being from the bottom of the world and repositioned the map to have Australia at the top and in the middle.

I became familiar with the upside down map through seeing artist Joaquín Torres García’s “América Invertida”, a drawing in which he draws South America upside down. His map gave way to The School of the South, a movement led by a group of South American artists that hoped to promote the unique qualities and the value of Latin American art in a world dominated by European or Eurocentric narratives. García writes:

“There should be no North for us, except in opposition to our South. That is why we now turn the map upside down, and now we know what our true position is, and it is not the way the rest of the world would like to have it. From now on, the elongated tip of South America will point insistently at the South, our North. Our compass as well; it will incline irremediably and forever toward the South, toward our pole. When ships sail from here traveling north, they will be traveling down, not up as before. Because the North is now below.”

The inverted map becomes a tool to challenge our notions of not only where things are but how we value them according to this. It also challenges the things we think of as true and demands that we challenge and question other parts of our knowledge and understanding.

In order to apply this strategy to my own project, I decided that inverting the map of Colombia would perhaps not be the most useful way to rethink spatial relationships. Instead, I decided to make prototypes of maps that changed the political division of the country so that it was organized by Farc controlled territories, and the new Zones for Disarmament and Peace that have come out of the peace agreement. A very large argument of the people who were voting against the peace agreement in the referendum, was that through signing this, “we were giving away the country to the FARC”. When instead, by looking at it geographically, it becomes apparent that the land that had been controlled by the FARC was being given back to the government and the people. The spatial difference is very significant.



The Upsided Down Map Page

McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map

Katherine Harmon, You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination

Denis Wood, The Power of Maps

Brian P. Meier and Michael D. Robinson, “Why the Sunny Side is Up: Associations Between Affect and Vertical Position”

Map Critique: New Dump City

“Trash In the City: Dumping on Staten Island and Beyond”. Cartography by Molly Roy, artwork by Linnea Russell. Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas. Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Oakland: UC Press. 2016. 140-141.


In Rebecca Solnit’s Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, a map of waste flows attempts to chart the long and complex path of New York’s waste stream alongside notable history of sanitation work in New York City. The NY Metro Area base map is a split-pea green with parks denoted as a slightly more verdant shade, which could denote green grass as easily as green sludge; or, perhaps it is the green of municipal garbage bins and uniforms. Waste streams are condensed into swelling arrows from each borough to central processing nodes, the waste transfer facilities operational at the time of map publication. (Since then, a new DSNY barge transfer station for municipal solid waste has been completed and opened on Hamilton Avenue in Red Hook, Brooklyn). Colored points are plotted for the geographic location of municipal and union headquarters, private carting services for commercial refuse (which ranges from restaurant trash to earth and rubble, known as “fill”), as well as notable events such as Union strikes and clashes, from 1911 to 2006, and State and Federal indictments against corruption in the sanitation industry in 1996. As the map denotes, this dirty business also involved the use of dirty money. The map in Solnit’s atlas uses available data in an organization fairly easy to track, but the picture is ambiguous even in its clarity. The flow of waste is one-directional and abstract, focusing on topographical destinations and origins over the method and quantity of waste in motion. Granted, mapping objects in motion on a static page is a great challenge.

A central part of the map is a pop-out topography of Fresh Kills, former landfill for NYC from 1947 to 2001. It received, as the map highlights, 29,000 tons of trash every day, making it the largest human made structure in the world. Closed in 2000, it was reopened temporarily – and controversially – to receive rubble and human remains from the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Long a resentment to the people of Staten Island who suffered the presence of this toxic landscape and its terrible odors, Fresh Kills Landfill embodied the ‘mountain of garbage’ trope that has been used by environmentalists and artists to criticize consumer culture and the disastrous pollution that humans cause on the earth. In a pop-out, Solnit’s map highlights the four mounds that rise 120 to 195 feet above sea level. Now closed, Freshkills Park seeks ecological transcendence as a new park and restored wetland.

Mountain of trash at Freshkills Landfill, 1950.

The temporal scale of events recorded in the points are of only the 20th and 21st century; the first comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan by the Department of Street Cleaning (now Department of Sanitation) in 1895 was a large departure from the previous practices, where 80% of the city’s waste was dumped directly into the Atlantic Ocean. Responding to civil suits from communities in NJ and NY, the city finally adopted a formal plan. Instituting recycling practices and uniformed employees, Col Waring’s White Wings were instrumental in creating more hygienic streets and more formalized collections of waste. Yet this institutionalization of waste management has, in contemporary times, led to a disconnect from where our unwanted materials eventually end up. The map hopes to demystify this somewhat; building on publicly available data, the 17 municipalities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, upstate New York, Ohio, Virginia, Connecticut, and South Carolina are listed as outgoing flows, where the refuse is either landfilled or incinerated, the latter of which is now referred to by the more appealing industry term, “waste-to-energy”(GAIA). Furthermore, the arrows show existing pathways, outside of a range of linear time, implying a consistency and certitude, a stasis of movement. When did this flow begin, how does it deviate, and what will it look like in the future?

Rendering for Fresh Kills Park, nearing completion. Source:

The map reflects current pathways and nodes, locations in a relatively cartesian plane, but lacks the space to show the veritable army that NYC requires to export its waste. The Department of Sanitation today has a budget of $1.5 billion, and employs 7,197 sanitation workers to handle over 4 million tons of residential waste annually. Solnit’s map shows the flow and direction without specific amounts; the tonnage is difficult to visualize. An additional 11 million tons of waste are generated annually by commercial enterprises; all commercial waste in NYC is handled by private carting services. While the Trash In The City map purports to show the location of every municipal and commercial carting service facility, some of them may be hidden below other layers of the map. As of 2016, there are 248 licensed waste hauling businesses for NYC.

Beginning in the 1970s, artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles began to raise awareness about the NYC Department of Sanitation through her art practice. Starting with her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969!, her work also included a collaborative performance piece in which she shook the hand of every Sanitation employee that would consent, which took over a year (from 1979 to 1980). At her suggestion, DSNY created a position for her as artist-in-residence, where she still employs an office.

Central to the work of Ukeles is the unglamorous concept of Maintenance; her art was inspired by her efforts to balance motherhood and her art practice, feeling torn between these underappreciated and underpaid workloads. Her work highlights the unending and unseen labor required to keep the streets clean, similar to the underappreciated and unpaid labor that women traditionally are asked (or forced) to perform in the household and in doing care work. Just as patriarchal culture excludes men from the labor of the household, NYC’s waste management strategy avoids accountability, carting off its toxic and unwanted waste to other states and countries, at great monetary expense to taxpayers, but also to the detriment of ecologies and populations near the final resting places of this waste; from lungs in Newark, NJ, and Conneticut, to poor communities in rural America, to toxic e-waste and plastic recycling centers around the world, the unseen and unmeasured price of waste is accumulating in our bodies, the soil, the oceans, and even in the atmosphere, driving anthropogenic climate change.

This map illustrates radical cartography because it maps the unseen processes of waste, and illuminates the power dynamics involved between boroughs, among municipalities, and between countries. It also demonstrates the scope of human engineering, where humans assert their power over other species, dumping their toxic waste into the ocean, the earth, and the land. Through Freshkills, Staten Island absorbed all of the waste from the other four boroughs for over 50 years, and a majority of the city’s waste is processed in just two areas, Newtown Creek in Brooklyn and the South Bronx; in the essay accompanying this map, Lucy R. Lippard references the inequality of concentrating large waste processing plants – including sewage plants – in working class communities, usually communities of color. The new Solid Waste Management Plan aims to distribute waste transfer sites more equitably between the boroughs, hoping to spread the burden. Unfortunately, as Solnit’s map shows, NYC spreads its garbage burden all over the country and the world; most of our recyclables travel over 6,000 miles to China. While many New Yorkers see the world as their oyster, it might be more accurate that we think the world is our dump.


The newest city initiative on waste, as part of NYC 2030, is to heavily divert food waste from the solid waste stream. Through expanded organics collection, the city will cart residential organic waste to industrial composting sites – such as BIG in Queens, or the anaerobic digester eggs at Newtown Creek (which are still in disrepair). Yet if the city really wanted to get serious about distributed waste processing and organics, more weight might be given to the active composting sites across the city, in community gardens and on the sites of public housing. Empty lots have been repurposed as gardens in the Bronx and Brooklyn for decades, maintained by immigrants and people of color as a way to provide fresh produce and community green space. Many of these spaces offer composting services, and the DSNY has two programs – NYC Compost Project and NYC Community Composting Council – that by 2014 have connected with 224 community gardens in the five boroughs (Garcia).

Maps showing the location of these sites are complemented with several case studies about specific gardens that are processing compost; yet these are kept separate from the discussion around industrial infrastructure to process food waste. Legitimizing the ability of community gardens to process their waste by connecting it to larger, multi-scalar assessments of NYC waste management would be advantageous for policy makers to get better data and see the positive effects of local, community-owned infrastructure, and for residents to increase quality of life, civic education, and create hubs for social infrastructure, particularly in low-income urban communities that lack access or funding for community resources and green space.

I propose to layer maps of waste infrastructure, municipal and private services, with localized community composting and recycling centers. This could be a participatory mapping exercise, with equal weight given to city officials and community gardeners alike.


“About DSNY”. NYC Department of Sanitation website. 2015. Accessed Oct 2017.

GAIA. Incinerators: Myths vs. Facts about “Waste to Energy”. Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. Feb 2012.

Galka, Max. “What does New York do with all its trash? One city’s waste – in numbers”. The Guardian.

Garcia, Kathryn, Department of Sanitation Commissioner. “NYC Community Composting Report 2014”. DSNY.

Kennedy, Randy. “An Artist Who Calls the Sanitation Department Home”. New York Times. Sept. 21, 2016. Web.

Liboiron, Max. “A history of New York City’s solid waste management in photographs.” Critical Discard Studies Blog. Oct 2013.

Solnit, Rebecca and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro.“Trash In the City: Dumping on Staten Island and Beyond”. Cartography by Molly Roy, artwork by Linnea Russell. Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas. Oakland: UC Press. 2016. 140-141.