Digital Mapping

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facilitated by John Emerson from Backspace

Ten participants


What folks used maps for or are interested in:

  • Locations in organizing documentation – tools for mapping participation more interested.
  • Frustrations of mapping, strategies. Maps are cool, there are fans; civic information.
  • John:
    • Printed handouts, nice!
    • Beautiful fold out maps, brochures for us to look at.
    • Graphics.
    • Annual reports.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS)

GIS – Geospatial Information Systems, digital cartography.

  • Geography and map making enabled by digital cartography, better and better OS tools.
  • Desktop manipulation of data.

Key concepts

  • Longitude and latitude.
  • Phones with digital maps.
  • Sharing data attached to photos, comments, data attached to all tools.
  • Humanitarian disaster relief, which is a way of aggregating disparate data from the web to crowdsource maps.
    • Came from Kenya elections when people were monitoring violence at polls, Haiti disaster, posting and commenting can be aggregated.
  • Open Street Map is “kind of like wikipedia” of mapping.
  • USA public domain data is very good.
  • Points of interest, GIS data used by cities in all manner of city processes. Crimemapping, for instance.
  • In UK mapping data is owned by the crown, proprietary.
    • Wonderful software dev happening in the US, but UK was missing out.
    • Then in UK - bike mapping phenomenon started there. Data very good. Places are named, points of interest are named.
  • Wonderful things you can do with open data, mapped data, in typhoon in Phillipines
  • Important areas bubble up on a map; vulnerable areas tend to be undermapped
    • Humanitarian group developed a queue of the most vulnerable places
    • Very detailed map developed in short time span to assist in activist navigation.


  • Google Maps -
  • – beautiful powerful alternative to Google. Pay – for. Styling.
  • -
  • Cartodb – hosted platform, falls between and google maps.
  • QGIS – desktop, open source tool.
  • Leaflet
  • Open Layers
  • ArcMap – Esri – is the company, trial versions, student versions. Industrial strength tool
  • MapInfo – Windows based programs.


Platforms for viewing the map in a mobile sense.


  • Mobile is a challenge for spatial information.
  • Cartodb you can zoom in and out.

Other Specialized Functions

  • World maps, voting maps, d3 has a nice API for doing this.
  • AR capabilities?
    • Mapbox ID - Open Street Map type platform in java
  • Art Project
  • Alternative Walking Tours
  • History from Below
  • City of DC has great publically accessible GIS data; borders of city of limits, stops.
  • John used OSM data to make his map.

Licensing Issues

  • Some datasets are not for commercial use, most data requires a credit.
  • has border data, disputed border data.
  • If you are working on Africa, shape files on countries
  • Finding the data is often a big part of the challenge – or making the data yourself.

Best Practices

  • Insight into clustering? - loads of ZIP codes in Houston may appear as a larger cluster in the map...
    • Depends on the story you are telling...
    • Location markers can show size, quantity; how to define location markers.
    • Leaflet has a plug-in, Leaflet cluster – will replace marker with circle – has a number in it repping number of markers


  • Oakland Crimespotting - – Stamen Design – big bubbles, categorizing crime.
  • Stop and Frisk maps in NYC - - also, what neighborhoods they were targeting.
    • Drops in crime from data visualization?
    • Policing smarter?
    • Deploying resources in a more specific way?
  • project producing evictions in SF happening – using cardodb and leaflet – also animates over time.
  • Stamen Design – overlaying crime with trees? Rise of prostitution based upon Uber, private car service network.
  • Tree census data – try to determine what factors kill trees along curbs in New York.
    • Looking at traffic data, pet ownership, different factors.
    • Once trees pass a certain age they are more likely to survive.
  • Internal planning maps used by foundations...etc.
    • Basket of programs...what countries have been focused upon?
    • Map gives such information trend information, awareness of larger geographic area.
    • Example: storytelling about divergent kids in relation to cops; schools and stop and frisk info overlaid and evidence of increased numbers of incidents is readily apparent.
    • Most organizations have limited resources.
  • Mapping urban poverty
    • Million Dollar Blocks project came from Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia Architecture and Urban Planning.
    • Rather than mapping location of maps, mapped residents of those arrested for felonies, instead.
    • Cost $30,000 to keep someone in prison for a year. Million Dollar Blocks are blocks where at least 33 people lived when they were arrested, convicted and sent to prison.
    • Whatever your theory of crime, more resources can be deployed in some areas than in others.
    • Focusing on parole can the parole experience be redesigned to reduce recidivism and make it more humane.

Data Maps From New York, Chicago, and Beyond

New York

  • Poverty maps, crime maps
    • Geolocated, mapped to intersections
    • Used in own advocacy.
    • Parents, citizens, can use this
    • Journalists as research tool
    • City council members can press dept of transportation about intersections
    • Very easy to scroll around and see
  • Center for Urban Pedagogy
    • Pairing artists with projects
    • Where does our food come from?
    • Through making this process they discovered why it is important to eat locally


  • Asset Mapping: People's Atlas of Chicago – people took notes of their place
  • Discovering spatial justice issues in process of mapmaking

Other Examples from Around the World

  • Geopolitics of health in Lebanon
    • Bar charts are ethnic groups
    • Circles are public and private hospitals
    • Decided not to publish for fear of backlash
  • Architecture 2030, floodplain data, city, coastal cities; where sea level rose, what land form would look like.
  • Hack to do this on Google Map – Sink My City
  • Plotting prisons in Tunisia with videostories of loved ones.
    • (Done before The Arab Spring)
    • Tunisian Prison Map, created by NGO
  • Satellite affected areas over Africa.
    • All of Africa covered by satellite access.
    • Government policy and state owned telecoms that are keeping people unconnected.
  • Cartograms, image is based on the population or the quantity of data...making small and large areas distort the map.
  • Project that Amnesty International did: counting houses demolished in Zimbabwe at time of election, for those supporting the opposition.
  • Map from Beirut
    • Surveillance infrastructure
    • Physical security infrastructure
    • Militarization of the streets


  • When creating a map: lat/long is generated for each point of data or gps data
    • Service of converting to lat/long, change logs are available
    • Good data is available
    • If a more rural or less dense – you can get data from:
      • Mapquest
      • Cloudmade has an API
      • Open Street Map data, nicely sliced, too.
      • Municipal Extract, subsets of Open Street Map data:
      • Geocoding. Looking at particular state
      • Census has zip code shape files available to download.
  • Favorite places to get data?
    • NYC – DoIT has more and more free data and open data.
    • Ushahidi

Other Topics

  • Crowd mapping
  • Heat mapping