15 October 2008

Live Blog: Sarah Willams Data Traces

Sarah Williams gave today's Fall 2008 Environmental Geomatics Lecture, Data Traces.
She is the Director of Columbia's Spatial information Design Lab which she described as a think-and action-tank.

As an example of the work done at her center, she showed Million Dollar Blocks from the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit at MoMA. This mapped out where in Brooklyn people lived before they were convicted and sent to prison. The map, which was contrasted of a map showing where crimes tend to occur, was used to try to find ways to reduce recidivism. Million dollar blocks referred to the 11 blocks in Brooklyn where more than $1,000,000 was spent on sending people to prison in 2003. While the analysis is useful, the images provoke conversations that help resolve issues at the community level. Their map of Brownsville (below) shows how he pattern develops.
This brought up a notion of Spatial Data Traces. a simple connection was with Kevin Lynch and his ideas about mapping a place. When you drive over a traffic indicator and mark how congested a roadway is, you have left a small data traces. When you use your mobile GPS-enabled phone, you leave a more traceable trace.

In Milan they mapped cellular phone usage throughout the city. Since many of the phones didn't have active GPS, they used triangulation between Vodaphone's cell towers to estimate the location of callers within 50m. We all know that people move into the city for the day and back out again. But we often lack any detailed understanding of the timing and spatial specifics. It can identify areas for particular high-density development or LBS. It can also help us identify time-specific hangout areas or successful urban spaces. A similar project they are starting in Nairobi will have a slightly different set of applications.

The Spatial information Design Lab worked with the Associated Press to measure the Beijing Air Quality Footprint. Particulate matter (PM10), ground level ozone, nitrogen, sulfer dioxide and carbon monoxide all combined to raise the airborne health problems in Beijing. Each is different - particulate matter can have regional causes, while CO is more of a localized effect. To measure the air quality they supplied air quality monitors to the AP who collected samples around town, but particulalry at the site. They found limited PM10 improvements that could be linked to the closing of the factories, but better improvements in CO because CO is a more localized phenomenon. But the fairly vague data trace results are really just a reflection of the complex reality of air conditions in Beijing.

Other projects include mapping Getty photos to create a Fashion map. In Williamsburg, NY they have developed a history system where people text in to get details. The map of calls for information show places of traffic and interest.

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