Posts Tagged ‘cartography’


The Northwest Bushwick Community Map is meant to be a resource for local community organizations and tenants rights groups to easily access disparate information around land use, housing and urban development for the neighborhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn, NY. It is also intended to be a tool to inform NYC residents about what kinds of indicators may be used to predict new urban development and help prevent displacement of residents in their own neighborhoods. Recently I had the opportunity to work with the original author of the map and some fellow designers in the MFA DT program at Parsons to improve the map’s design and functionality.


In the fall of 2014 two members of the Northwest Bushwick Community Group (NWB), Michael ‘Ziggy’ Mintz and Brigette Blood, met with several graduate students from MFA DT to discuss improvements to the beta-version of the map. Previously, the map used vanilla Leaflet.js with GeoJSON data created from NYC’s MapPLUTO and Department of Buildings permits open data. However the original map lacked a cohesive design and was slow in regards to loading of the data due to technical issues.

Map Improvements

To improve the interactivity of the map I chose to host the data on CartoDB and use the CartoDB.js library to handle loading, styling and toggling of the map’s data layers. When the user selects layers, CartoCSS and SQL code is passed to CartoDB to retrieve and style the data being rendered on the map. Hosting the data on CartoDB also allows for processing of the data in the CartoDB dashboard using PostgreSQL and PostGIS. This is beneficial as SQL scripts can be run to automate the processing of new data when the map needs to be updated.

To improve the context of the map (the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) the MFA DT team asked Ziggy and Brigette to provide us with some real world stories that show how the data relates to the dwindling affordable housing stock and displacement of longtime residents in Bushwick. To accomplish this we used the Odyssey.js Javascript API to create an interactive slide show with the map which transitions between three of NWB’s stories. With a bit of hacking we were was able to use the changing of the slides as a jQuery event trigger to toggle the map’s data layers. This allows for the slide show to give background and context about the project while also relating seemingly abstract data in a visceral way.

Besides Cartodb.js and Odyssey.js we added some other features to the map to make it more useful for the Bushwick community. As there is a large Latino presence in Bushwick it was imperative to have the text of the map’s UI and the overall website toggle between English and Spanish. Additionally the non-map parts of the site were redesigned responsively using CSS Media Queries so that the other content such as “Get Help” can be easily viewed on a mobile device.

Future Plans

In the future NWB plans on adding participatory map data they’ve collected on housing vacancy and new development as well as stories of people who have experienced being displaced or harassed by their landlords. These features may be integrated with the current map or developed separately, but either way CartoDB and Odyssey will allow for the further creation of customized interactive map content to be readily achievable.



A project I worked on for a digital zine Elia Vargas is putting together. I also submitted this to a call for entries for the Istanbul Biennial, which was announced by Stamen Design. You may view the live / interactive version here.

Culture Code Cities Cells

In the last several decades cultural production has shifted from being shaped primarily by geographically separate places to a world that has become continually influenced by interconnected networks. The pivotal factor being that mobile devices and the web now mediate how many people experience their lives. In response, the data generated from these devices and shared across the web are informing how users of the technology view the world from their constant connectivity to email, social media and instant messaging. Thus we may choose to work from about any location at any time. We learn about events as they are unfolding. Time is now experienced in milliseconds rather than large hourly blocks (what’s on my Twitter feed vs. how has the news progressed since last evening?)

In this map the shape of the continents has been created from geotagged photos on Flickr. Nations and states / provinces are shown as Voronoi cells, also generated from Flickr user data (in a given place do Flickr users think it’s administrative area A or B?) Ten minutes of geotagged tweets collected on September 4th are shown in their temporal sequence that contrast with standard time zones which highlight on a mouseover. This map is an attempt to ask if we should rethink how we define time and place. Just as time was standardized following the advent of telecommunications and the rail roads, our computerized networks suggest the future of time is not what it used to be.

Guess That NYC ‘Hood from Chris Henrick on Vimeo.

An in progress NYC neighborhood guessing game for the web that runs on Node JS via the Express framework and MongoDB with Leaflet JS, GeoJSON and Underscore JS. This was my final for Web 3: Javascript last semester, taught by Mani Nilchiani. The user navigates a map of New York City and selects neighborhoods that come from a dataset by PediaCities. Their guesses are checked against the neighborhood boundary data and then stored in a NoSQL database (MongoDB). If the guess is correct then the polygon for that neighborhood disappears from the map and they are color coded blue in the left part of the interface.

I’d like to make the game two player using web sockets so players could compete against one another, as well as add a timer to give a sense of urgency. There is also the possibility of making this game more in depth conceptually such as providing historical information about the neighborhood being guessed as commentary on gentrification in NYC.

Code for the project is available on GitHub.

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sample of part 1: Comparing point of interest data from OSM and USGS


sample of part 2: Mapping non-normative features in Prospect Park

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sample of part 3: a non-euclidean map of Prospect Park


Part 1, Points of Interest, OSM vs. USGS: here

Part 2, Mapping the park from my point of view: here

Part 3, Moving beyond maps (OF): here

Final paper for project available here

We live in world inundated with maps yet we are never critical of maps, assuming that if it’s mapped it must be empirical and free from subjectivity.

Dennis Wood, The Power of Maps; “Mirror,” “window,” “objective,” “accurate,” “transparent,” “neutral”: all conspire to disguise the map as a …reproduction… of the world, disabling us from recognizing it for a social construction which, with other social constructions, brings that world into being out of the past and into our present.

This project seeks to address the following:

1. Maps have always been political in nature; the idea that maps embody interests of not only the mapmakers but also who they are serving, (developers, advertisers, etc.)

2. The unintended consequences of maps: Google Maps (web-mercator & their algorithm)

USGS criteria for what they represent on their topographic maps: 1. permanence of features, 2. cost of compiling information (aerial photography and field checking), and 3. map legibility.” (Wood)

How To Lie With Maps; “Not only is it easy to lie with maps, it’s essential…maps must tell white lies to avoid hiding critical information in a fog of detail the map must offer a selective, incomplete view of reality” (Monmonier, H2LWM)

Map Art: began in the 1920’s and was used by artists from different movements (surrealists, situationists, Fluxus, post-Minimalists) surrealist map of the world.

Wood again:

“…map artists are reclaiming the map as a discourse function for people in general. The flourishing of map art signals the imminent demise of the map as a privileged form of communication. The map is dead, long live the map!”

Counter / Critical Cartography: If maps are political why not use them for subversive purposes?
“All maps, whether institutional or counter-cartographic, embody and produce power relations” (Mogel)

Maps in the Digital Era:

Are now made from geospatial data. No data is ever completely “raw” or “objective” (Para-Empiricism, coined by Annette Kim). How do new forms of web-mapping and spatial data embody bias and subjectivity? Is new technology really allowing mapping to become more democratic or just pseudo-popular?

map 1: looking at bias in spatial data

> what does the USGS say about PP according to their criteria?

> what does OSM say about PP from their contributors?

map 2: what don’t normative maps show the reader?

>If maps are a snap shot in time how do we define permanence?

>What is deemed worthy of being mapped?

map 3: how can we make mapping more humanistic?

> is our perception of maps as objective and neutral too embedded to make them truly democratic?

> do we need something beyond the map?

using on the ground research methods to collect qualitative data (field papers, photography, video, sound)

A non-euclidean “map” of Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Created using a GoPro camera mounted to my head, iMovie for video editing and Open-Frameworks for combining the video shots into one screen space. Inspired by the theory of artist and cartographer Dennis Wood and work by Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Annette Kim (of MIT’s SLAB):

IMG_2520 IMG_2518 IMG_2512 IMG_2517

Last thursday I caught a flight from NYC to SFO to attend “Mapping and Its Discontents” at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California. As a day long symposium the event focused on critical and counter cartography. It was sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities program, a collaboration between University of California Berkeley and UCLA. I was drawn to this symposium not only for the theme (obviously) but also for the map contest the event held titled “See Through Maps: Maps That Lay Bare Their Point of View” as well as a range of speakers including Rebecca Solnit, Dennis Wood, Laura Kurgan, Annette Kim, Zephyr Frank and Katherine Harmon. The day flew by as each presenter drew me into well formulated discussions about the history and symbolism of cartography, their personal work and philosophies with a summary and criticism from a respondent following the presentation of each speaker. 

Dennis Wood, known for being a well accomplished artist, writer, cartographer, intellectual and former professor of environmental psychology and design at the College of Design at North Carolina State University opened the symposium with a talk on the origins and symbolism of power inherent in maps. In his talk Wood stated that prior to ~1500 a.d. mapping as a professional / state tool did not exist. From ~1500-1700 there was an explosion of sporadic map making across the globe from Japan to Russia to Spain; an activity that coincided with the formation of the modern nation-state. Wood argued that although maps had been created prior to 1500 a.d. their role was not as important. What this means is that maps became an artifact that assisted in constructing the nation-state, or in his words; “as maps affirm the state, the state affirms the map.” Despite the map’s evolution in modern times and its appropriation for allegorical methods as well as artists, Dadaists, Situationists, and modern day activists and data-viz the map still remains a tool of the nation-state. For example we currently are witnessing fighting over school and election districts mapping; two areas that greatly influence the lives of everyone in the United States.

Both Laura Kurgan and Annette Kim gave presentations about their work in cartography and spatial thinking that encompassed the realm of counter-cartography. Kurgan, a professor at the Graduate School of Architectural Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, director of the Spatial Information Design Lab and co-director of the Advanced Data Visualization Project spoke about being the first artist to appropriate de-classified government satellite imagery during the mid 1990’s. The work she created from the imagery included photographed landscapes that are unusually a single color but represent uniquely critical or contested spaces. Two were a completely white area that was part of the ANWR (Artic Wildlife Refuge) in Alaska, a controversially planned oil well drill site, and a completely blue area representing 0˚ Latitude and 0˚ Longitude, the point of origin for Cartesian plotting all geographic data. Kurgan also created a very powerful map of Brooklyn, NY that thematically represented the amount of money being lost from each census block due to prisoner incarceration. This map provocatively reframes the prison debate by demonstrating that a large amount of capital is being taken away from poor neighborhoods within inner cities.

Annette Kim, a professor at MIT’s department of Urban Studies and Planning and director of the MIT research group SLAB spoke about developing methods for Spatial Ethonography and critical cartography . Kim’s projects involved mapping sidewalk life in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam in order to progressively influence that city’s planners. Her approach actively seeks to change the current swath of similar looking data-visualization that has gained growing popularity in the past decade. Her methods included creating non-euclidian and cinematic maps of parts of Ho Chi Minh city. As street vendors face constant harassment and persecution from police Kim sought to bring the lively and highly networked sidewalk life to the planner’s attention with success; she was able to get the planners to step back from their maps and actually walk the ground of the city to make qualitative observations that would influence the planning process. Kim’s work is provocative in the sense that it asks us the question who are using maps? In Ho Chi Minh city it appears to be the city planners, construction companies and tourists but not the people living there and participating in sidewalk life. Thus she asks us to consider how as cartographers we can humanize our work through doing research on the ground instead of only relying on data.

There were many other speakers I would like to mention more about but the main take aways from the conference I saw were as follows:

  1. Cartography needs to become more democratic, potentially this means that it evolve into a form beyond cartography to escape it’s legacy and association with the nation-state. To this I would add that the practice of cartography needs to become more inclusive.
  2. Designers, researchers, and cartographers must make our maps more humanistic through the use of qualitative research performed on the ground, often in a participatory nature.
  3. Maps are not necessarily the best method to display information or data; consider using spatial thinking to create forms of visualization that are photographic, cinematic, or diagrams.
  4. We should consider the power relations at work when it comes to maps. Rebecca Solnit speaks of how a paper map empowers the user while relying on Google Maps implies a sort of obedience of the user to accept the information Google is providing such as directions to a place. Additionally, what are maps choosing to depict and what are they not? We need to question this when looking at this is important for identify a map’s hidden intention(s).
  5. Maps exist as arguments or propositions and are not objective. They embody the biases of the map maker. This can be a good thing for maps have the potential to make the “invisible visible” as with counter-mapping. 
  6. Similarly, data is never objective or inherently “raw”. It has always been created with a bias and as such we should never treat it as unbiased or entirely true.


Posted: October 16, 2013 in major studio one
Tags: , ,



I took my written manifesto and used a web-app called wordle to make a word cloud of it. Actual manifesto (below) is still under-construction but from this word cloud you can see what stands out is what is important to me.

Guidelines for the Ethical Cartographer

  1. Go open-source. Using open-source technology in your own work helps make the tools of the trade better and more accessible to others. I still run into people, including University professors, who have never heard of Quantum GIS, the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). If we are to make map making more democratic we need to help spread awareness of these open-source tools and promote their use.
  2. Use crowd-sourced and open data. OpenStreetMap (OSM), NYC Open Data, Twitter, Flickr and other sources of crowd-sourced and open spatial data are proving to be more useful at times than ‘official’ data sets. ‘Official’ data-sets, such as the U.S. Federal government’s TIGER dataset, are improved upon by the crowd as the users of OSM correct errors to them; the spread of disease is monitored from geotagged tweets; or Flickr users tag their geocoded photos with place names which Flickr then uses to assist with defining place boundaries.
  3. Teach yourself. So much of the work being done in the world of cartography, data-visualization and web-development is experimental. People are learning these new tools by diving into using them, mashing them and breaking them; not through signing up for classes at universities.
  4. Develop a peer network of like minded open-source geo enthusiasts. The more people you know who are doing work similar to yours the better. Having peers you can ask questions to can be extremely helpful when you’re stuck on a design problem or grasping a technical skill. Join a local Geo <your city here> Meet-Up group or start one where you live.
  5. Challenge yourself to do different projects. Step outside your comfort zone, take risks, fail.
    Eric Rodenbeck, the founder of Stamen Design, says he failed twice when first attempting to start a research based data-visualization design studio. Now Stamen is at the forefront of this type of work and collaborating with a wide range of clients and organizations.
  6. Teach others. We are all here to learn from one another. Take time to help others learn whether it’s giving some one on one advice in person or over an email or by hosting a workshop or presentation at a conference. Make the field more inclusive.
  7. Speaking of conferences, go to them. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people, learn about other work people are doing, expand your peer network and become inspired. Two cartography and spatial data related conferences to go to are State of the Map and the North American Cartographic Information Society, they meet annually.
  8. Work with a community, whether it be a neighborhood, school children, or online group on a mapping project. We can learn a lot about a place and its geography from people who don’t identify as “professional” cartographers or GIS specialists. Everyday people have expert knowledge of their experience of place. Participatory mapping helps make cartography humanistic and deconstruct its imperialist roots.
  9. Spend time away from the computer to learn about places. Walk, bike, travel to places you haven’t been.
  10. Visit exhibits whether it’s a map library or gallery opening. If you have the chance look back at how cartography used to be done. Look to see where people are taking it currently and how it can be improved upon and diversified.
  11. Experiment with analog tools. Make hand-drawn mental maps with yourself, friends and neighbors. Create interventions that ask people from a neighborhood to map their space and what’s important to them or to make the “invisible visible.”