Advertisements
  • SR_spatial tweets

    • RT @MikeLydon: All politics aside, we should celebrate Alabama’s vote for human decency tonight. However, we should also loathe that it was… 8 hours ago
    • RT @DrPhilGoff: I get that this is a big election. But I really won’t have a high tolerance for folks celebrating “the sex offending slaver… 9 hours ago
    • RT @BillKristol: I’m sitting at Midway airport and—you won’t believe this!—I don’t see anyone else on his computer feverishly trying to fig… 9 hours ago

eSpatiallyNY profile

Sam Wear — one of New York’s pre-eminent GIS leaders — published a fun interview with me about our mapping work at the CUNY Graduate Center.  I’m honored!

Advertisements

Interactive “Comparinator” maps launched for NYC Council districting

UPDATE Sept 7, 2012

The City Council Comparinator site is now embeddable for your website, blog, etc.

Here’s how to use it:

  • go to the site,
  • zoom to a district and click to highlight it (or enter a street address),
  • choose one of the tabs above the map (Side-by-Side vs Overlay, for example), and
  • pick which proposal you’re comparing with (Districting Commission or Unity Plan).
  • Then click “Link” in the upper right and you’ll see the embed code as well as the basic linking code.

Sample embed code:

We also added a feature: if you turn off the popup window before clicking “Link”, it’ll add a “popup=false” property to the URL, so the person viewing the link (or the starting image for your embedded map) won’t have the popup in the way but the district will still be highlighted.

Here’s an example:


ORIGINAL POST Sept 5, 2012:

NYC Council Districting and You

How existing City Council districts compare with proposed lines

councilcomparinatorscreenshot.PNG

Our Center for Urban Research (CUR) at the CUNY Graduate Center has launched an interactive map today to visualize proposed New York City Council districts compared with existing ones along with the demographic characteristics and patterns within the districts.

The Center hopes the map will help involve people in the NYC districting process simply by showing them how proposed or newly drawn lines looked in relation to their homes or workplaces. Our map is not for drawing districts; others such as the NYC Districting Commission are providing that service.   But CUR’s comparison maps are designed to be be engaging enough to visualize the impact of redistricting for everyone from local citizens to redistricting professionals, hopefully inspiring people to participate more actively in the process.

CUR’s map was designed and is being maintained independently from the NYC Districting Commission’s website. However, we hope that people who use CUR’s maps will then access the Districting Commission’s website for drawing maps online.

Using the map

The main features of the map are as follows:

  • Enter your address to find out what district currently represents you, and which proposed district you’d live in.
  • If you’re using the “Side-by-Side” view, the current districts are displayed on the left, and the proposed districts on the right.
  • If you’re using the “Overlay” view, you can move the transparency slider to the right to display proposed districts, or to the left to fade back to current districts.
  • Click anywhere on the map to highlight the current and proposed districts.
  • When you enter an address or click on the map, an info window pops up listing the current and proposed districts. You can click the link for the current district to go to that Councilmember’s website.
  • Click the “Link” in the upper right of the page to get a direct link to the area of the map you’re viewing. (This one zooms in on City Council District 8 in Manhattan.) You can share this on Twitter or Facebook, email it to friends and colleagues, or blog about it and include the link.

Credits

The mapping application was developed by the Center for Urban Research. David Burgoon, CUR’s application architect, constructed and designed the site, with data analysis support and overall conception from CUR’s Mapping Service director Steven Romalewski.

The application relies on geographic data hosting by cartoDB, open source mapping frameworks and services including OpenLayers and Bing maps, and ESRI’s ArcGIS software for cartography and data analysis.

Data sources

Current City Council district boundaries and proposed maps from the NYC Districting Commission are based on block assignment lists provided at the Districting Commission’s website.

Other proposed maps such as the Unity Map are provided by the advocacy organizations who developed those proposals.

Long Island special districts mapped online for the 1st time

In partnership with the Long Island Index, our team at the CUNY Graduate Center has mapped the complex and complicated special taxation districts and service provider areas throughout Nassau County.  We’ve updated this information at the Index’s mapping site, along with a new street address search feature.

I couldn’t say it any better than the Index’s news release on the project, so I’ve reproduced that verbatim below.


Nassau County’s Special Districts and Service Providers Mapped for the First Time

The Long Island Index, in collaboration with the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center, launched a new tool on its website that for the first time provides public access to maps representing the profusion of special districts that exist within Nassau County’s villages and towns. Visitors to the site are now able to search by street address or village to view any or all of the 240 fire, sanitation, water, library, parks, parking, police, school and sewer districts – as well as areas where local, county, or state government provides these services – and see clearly who provides what services and where. This new tool is the result of a comprehensive project to delineate all service provider boundaries using computer-mapping software, which integrates data on special districts from multiple sources. The maps are intended to give taxpayers and service providers a common and consistent basis for discussing special district issues.

map

The Long Island Index’s new mapping tool allows visitors to view any or all of the 240 fire, sanitation, water, library, parks, parking, police, school and sewer service providers in Nassau County.

Want to know how many different entities provide water services in Nassau County and their exact boundaries? Well, now you can see them. Want to know who provides water services in your community? Want to know how they are organized, which are special districts, which are town services? You can find that too. With the click of the mouse you can find the contact information and election data for all the service providers for your property. “This is the kind of tool we were looking for when we first started studying how services are provided on Long Island,” said Ann Golob, Director of the Long Island Index. “It didn’t exist so we took on the effort and have worked for over two years to collect, analyze and digitize this information. I think it will be a tremendous resource for the region.”

Also available on the site is a report by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) in Rochester that explains the historical context surrounding the founding of special districts on Long Island along with the issues associated with so many providers. The CGR report, and the data found on the maps (provider names, URL, contact information, election data) can be downloaded from the either the Index Web site or the interactive maps site.

Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research, said: “The maps bring a new level of information which will be a valuable resource for anyone trying to understand how special districts affect them. To create the service provider maps, we used raw data from the Nassau County assessor’s office, worked with the Index to validate the information independently, and reviewed additional data such as printed maps, historical metes and bounds, and some boundary maps in computer format from Nassau County. The online navigation is quick and easy with dynamic tools such as transparencies and map layers that combine seamlessly with the existing demographic, land use, and transportation data on the site.”

The site also features a detailed glossary of terms to help people understand the complex nature of different special districts across the county. For example, within the 54 library districts in Nassau County, there are four types: an Association Library, a School District Public Library, a Special District Public Library, and a Public Village Library. The glossary explains how each of these were established, how they are funded, bonding authority, if employees are subject to civil service law, and to what extent the community can be involved.

According to Long Island Association President Kevin Law, “These maps give Long Islanders a fantastic new tool for understanding the complexities that exist within our numerous special districts. It is really the first time that we can see who has what and where. It provides an opportunity to think out of the box about consolidation, which has the potential to improve efficiencies and stabilize taxes. People are only going to be supportive of this kind of initiative if they understand what is going on and these maps clearly show how multiple layers of government are a challenge for Long Island.”

“Civic organizations trying to research special districts in their own communities now have a powerful resource that never existed before,” said Nancy Douzinas, President of the Rauch Foundation and Publisher of the Long Island Index. “These maps will undoubtedly be of significant assistance to community groups, government agencies, private businesses and anyone else interested in Long Island’s communities.” In addition to the support from the Rauch Foundation, the Hagedorn Foundation helped support the initial mapping work leading to this project.

The Long Island Index plans to incorporate Suffolk County’s special districts in the coming months. The Long Island Index special district mapping feature is accessible at www.longislandindexmaps.org.

Interactive NY redistricting map with cartoDB and more

UPDATE Nov. 5, 2012

In preparation for the Nov. 2012 election, many news organizations and others are linking to our interactive State Legislature and Congressional redistricting maps. We’ve posted examples at the Center for Urban Research website.


UPDATE Sept. 7, 2012

We’ve updated our map of redistricted State Senate and Assembly districts, highlighting the differences in race/ethnicity characteristics between total population and voter-eligible population – in other words, comparing the characteristics of all those who live in the new districts versus the smaller group who will be eligible to vote for each district’s representatives.  In some cases the differences are striking.

Our examination of the district-by-district data is available here.


New York State, like all other states, is in the midst of redrawing its legislative district lines. To help you follow along, our team at the Center for Urban Research has launched an interactive redistricting map for New York.  We collaborated with The New York World to develop the maps (though we encourage anyone and everyone to use them!).

The World’s reporters and editors are using our maps to go between the lines and explain how redistricting really works in the Empire State. (Here’s their first piece: The art of redistricting war.)  And we hope you’ll be able to use the maps too, to help answer questions such as:

  • Will you still be represented by the same State Senate or Assembly district you live in now?
  • Will you live in the newly proposed (and controversial) 63rd Senate district?
  • Is your neighborhood, town, or county going to be “carved up” by a new legislative seat?
  • Will your community’s historical voting power be diluted by the new districts?

We have some examples of gerrymandering at our Center’s website. In the meantime, here’s how you can use the maps.

Map features

The maps compare the current and proposed district lines (which our team mapped based on Census block lists published by the state’s redistricting task force, known as LATFOR). Here’s how they work:

  • Enter your address to find out what district currently represents you, and which proposed district you’d live in.
  • The current districts are on the left, and the proposed districts on the right.
  • You can also click on either map to highlight the current and proposed districts. As you move one map, the other moves in sync.
  • When you enter an address or click on the map, an info window pops up listing the current and proposed districts. You can click the link for the current district to go to that Senator or Assemblymember’s website.
  • Switch between State Senate and Assembly districts. Congressional districts will be posted once the data is available from LATFOR.
  • You can zoom in to street level, or zoom out to a statewide view. Switch between a street basemap or an aerial view from Microsoft’s Bing maps to see geographic details.

If you’re using the “Overlay” view, you can move the transparency slider to the right to display proposed districts, and to the left to fade back to current districts. The video below shows how:

If you want to share the map you’ve made, click the “Link” in the upper right of the map page to get a direct link to the area of the map you’re viewing. It will look like this:

http://www.urbanresearchmaps.org/nyredistricting/map.html?
lat=40.72852&lon=-73.99655&zoom=13&maptype=SIDEBYSIDE
&districttype=SENATE
  • You can share this on Twitter, Facebook, etc and email it to friends and colleagues.
  • You can also embed the map at your site. Use this link …
http://www.urbanresearchmaps.org/nyredistricting/map.html?output=embed
  • … or add < &output=embed > to any of the direct links you create, like this:
http://www.urbanresearchmaps.org/nyredistricting/map.html?
lat=40.72852&lon=-73.99655&zoom=13&maptype=SIDEBYSIDE
&districttype=SENATE&output=embed
  • … or wrap the snippet below in an iframe tag (I’d wrap it myself, but wordpress.com strips out iframe tags):
src="http://www.urbanresearchmaps.org/nyredistricting/map.html?output=embed" 
frameborder="0" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" 
scrolling="no" width="600" height="700"

Side-by-side maps with OpenLayers

We borrowed from our “Census Comparinator” mapping site that Dave Burgoon artfully developed, in order to provide three ways to compare the current and proposed legislative districts:

  • a side-by-side view — two maps that are synced and move as one;
  • an overlay — a single map where you can fade between current and proposed districts; and
  • the vertical “before-and-after” slider approach.

I blogged about the Comparinator approach here and here. John Reiser also gave the technique a shoutout at his “Learning Web Mapping” blog for Rowan University.

With Census data, our “Comparinator” approach helped visualize changing spatial patterns of race/ethnicity trends – in cartographic terms, between two choropleth maps. With legislative districts, the comparison is between two sets of boundary files with no inner fill. So here we’ve set the side-by-side view as the default — we think the side by side maps give the easiest way of visualizing how the districts may change. But we also give you the option of viewing the districts with our vertical slider bar if you’d like, or the overlay.

Behind the scenes

For the proposed districts, we used ArcGIS to create the legislative district shapefiles based on LATFOR’s Census block assignment lists.  The current district boundaries are from the Census Bureau’s TIGER files (here’s the FTP page if you’d like to download the “lower” house districts — in New York, that’s the Assembly — or the “upper” house shapefiles — the State Senate).

We use OpenLayers for the map display and navigation with this application, as we’ve done with most of our other interactive maps. OpenLayers is easy to use, enables us to access Bing map tiles directly (so the basemap performance is smooth), and provides a robust JavaScript library for online maps.

That said, newer approaches such as Leaflet.js enable more interaction such as mouseovers, so we’ve started experimenting with some impressive new tools. More to follow!

One of those new tools is the powerful backend geospatial database engine from the team at Vizzuality: cartoDB. Hosting the legislative district shapefiles on cartoDB provided lots of advantages over hosting the data ourselves or setting up an Amazon cloud instance on our own. cartoDB provides:

  • great performance — not only for the district boundaries, but soon we’ll be adding election district maps to show voting patterns within each Senate and Assembly district. We don’t want to bother with creating pre-rendered tiles for this data. cartoDB will render it speedily on the fly.
  • cartographic flexibility: cartoDB uses cartoCSS for map symbology and labeling. Though there are still some quirks with cartoCSS, it was easy to grasp and it’s basically just CSS, so it makes styling easy if you’re familiar with modern web design. And cartoCSS incorporates scale-dependent rendering as well as attribute-based symbology, which makes it powerful and flexible. CartoCSS can be implemented using the cartoDB management interface, or programmatically.
  • easy data management: if you know SQL — and even better, if you’re familiar with SQL commands with PostGIS — you can quickly and easily modify tables, filter data, and perform spatial operations. (The screenshots at the cartoDB github page offer some examples.) Very cool.
  • scaling: cartoDB uses PostGIS and makes use of Amazon’s platform. So if our maps go viral, we’re ready for the usage spike!
  • open source: if you want to manage your own instance of cartoDB, just download the code and go! Big props to Vizzuality for an amazing geospatial toolkit.

Other thanks go to:

  • LATFOR, the state’s redistricting task force. Whatever you think about their redistricting process, they’ve done a great job with open data. They’ve not only posted the list of Census blocks that make up each proposed legislative district. But they also posted a wealth of data at the Census block level and also at the election district level (with a crosswalk between EDs and Census “voter tabulation districts”). This data is indispensable for visualizing, analyzing, and (hopefully) making sense of the new districts.
  • Dave Burgoon and the CUR team. Dave put together the redistricting mapping site in record time. Although it’s based on work he had already done with the Census Comparinator maps, it still involved substantial modifications and enhancements. But he made it happen as professionally and elegantly as always.
  • The New York World. We had been planning to create an interactive mapping application to build on our Census Comparinator site and to help people visualize the impacts of the redistricting process and demographic changes more broadly.  But the World team – Alyssa Katz, Michael Keller, and Sasha Chavkin – met with us a few weeks ago to discuss how we could collaborate on analyzing and mapping the upcoming district proposals from LATFOR.  The discussion inspired us to roll out a mapping site specific to New York State and focused on comparing the current and proposed districts. We’re thrilled to be able to work closely with them on this project (watch for more maps and data in the near future!).
  • The Hagedorn Foundation. The Foundation has provided funding support for our efforts to map and analyze Census data for a variety of civic engagement purposes, especially for Hagedorn’s Long Island-based grantees but also nationwide. Their support has been essential for us to develop innovative mapping applications like the NYS redistricting maps – not to advocate specific district plans one way or another, but to give local residents and others the tools they need to understand the impact of redistricting and hopefully get involved in the process.

NYC neighborhood changes mapped with aerial imagery, historic land use data

Our team at the CUNY Graduate Center has enhanced the OASISnyc.net mapping site with new data and features to visualize neighborhood change across the city. On the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the updates help provide context for the transformation taking place in lower Manhattan, as well as in other key areas of the city.

I’ve only included some of the highlights below. Our OASIS wiki has more details plus screenshots and other examples.

2010 Aerial Imagery

We’ve added new aerial imagery, thanks to the NYS GIS Clearinghouse. Now you can view overhead images from 2010 (as well as 1996, 2004, 2006, and 2008) throughout New York City and Long Island. (The 1996 imagery is from NYC DoITT, 2004 is from USGS, and the other years are from the NYS GIS Clearinghouse).

For example, you can see what the World Trade Center site looked like from above in 1996, and then in 2006, and more recently in 2010. The overhead images show clearly how the building footprints are reflected in the memorial plaza fountains now under construction.

WTC 1996

OASIS_WTC_1996.png

WTC 2006

OASIS_WTC_2006.png

WTC 2010

OASIS_WTC_2010.png

Visualize Aerial Photo Changes like a Timelapse Movie

We’ve also changed the way you can view the imagery over time. Now you can move the aerial timeline slider across years to transition from one year to the next, creating the effect of a timelapse movie within the OASIS map.

aerialtimelineslider200.png

You can move the slider as slow or as fast as you’d like.

A good example of the new timelapse feature is Shea Stadium (now Citi Field) in Queens. The images below illustrate the transition in recent years.

Shea Stadium (2006)

Shea_2006.png

Shea Stadium (2006-08)

Shea_06-08.png

Citi Field almost done (2008-10)

Shea_08-10.png

Citi Field (2010)

Shea_2010.png

Land Use Changes Citywide

Since 2010, OASIS has provided the ability to display historical land use patterns (for 2003 through 2009). This gives you the ability to easily see how patterns have changed in key areas of the city.

In lower Manhattan, the area around the World Trade Center site has changed substantially in the past 10 years. Of course reconstruction is underway at the WTC site itself, but the surrounding community has become much more residential. The land use maps below from OASIS visualize some of these changes (yellow and orange are residential properties, brown is vacant, and light red is commercial).

North Battery Park City & TriBeCa vacant land (and WTC empty): 2003

LMLU_WTCBPC03sm.png

Residential towers built, WTC site in redevelopment

LMLU_WTCBPC10sm.png

The maps below highlight the changes from commercial office buildings to residential towers, such as the block between Broad and Hanover streets & Wall and Exchange streets — especially the JP Morgan Building at 15 Broad St and the National City Bank Building at 55 Wall St.

Financial District commercial property circa 2003

LMComm03.png

Replaced by residential by 2010

LMResidential10.png

More Community Data

The latest example of linking mapped information from grassroots groups is the layer of skate parks in the city by longtime OASIS partner Open Road of NY. (The OASIS community mapping effort is based on Google’s new Fusion Tables service; more info here.)

Here’s the link to the map on OASIS, and the original Google map from Open Road.

We’ve also added the locations of stalled development sites across the city (based on a map from Crain’s New York Business), and the city’s hurricane evacuation centers (more on that here).

Mapping Hurricane Irene in NYC (plus some thoughts on the city’s digital response to the storm)

A disaster, natural or otherwise, always creates an opportunity to demonstrate the power of maps. Hurricane Irene did not disappoint. In New York City, which hadn’t seen a hurricane of this magnitude in decades, there were at least a half dozen websites with interactive maps related to the storm (plus at least one PDF map – more on that below) that were used extensively and were tweeted about extensively. My team at the CUNY Graduate Center was in the mix with our OASISnyc.net site, and I was watching with keen interest as more maps kept coming online as Irene kept coming closer. I thought I’d share some observations below about how Irene was mapped in New York.

I think I kept good track of the various maps that were deployed, but I’m sure my list and descriptions are incomplete so please chime in if I’ve missed anyone or mischaracterized any of the efforts.

The Context

Hurricane maps are nothing new, but usually the maps show the path of a hurricane while it’s happening or analyze its impact after the storm has past. This time, for New York City, the more interesting and useful maps were focused primarily on the possibility of evacuation, and the potential impact of the storm on New York’s shores.

(That said, the damage from Irene continues north of NYC, and several important mapping efforts are helping with the recovery effort there. For example, follow tweets from @DonMeltz and @watershedpost in upstate New York, or @jarlathond in Vermont.)

The interest in these maps was also perhaps more intense than in earlier situations. First, New Yorkers almost never evacuate for anything (at least on a scale of hundreds of thousands of residents), so the idea that so many people from only certain areas of the city needed to move to higher ground meant that everyone wanted/needed to know: am I in the evacuation zone? And that meant maps.

Second, online interest in this storm in particular was high. Other storms have hit since Twitter and Facebook have been around, but not in the New York area and not at this scale. One writer for GigaOm who had lived through hurricanes on the Gulf Coast wrote that she was “overwhelmed” by the “overall hoopla surrounding Irene online.” For her, it replaced TV as a key source of news (I agree, I barely checked TV news throughout the storm. Twitter and weather-related websites provided all the information I needed, and the news from these sources was more up-to-date.) And because so many New Yorkers were online and hungry for information about evacuations and storm impacts, online maps were critically important.

Will I Need to Evacuate?

Mayor Bloomberg and other officials started talking about the possibility of evacuation on Wednesday (8/24). That night, my wife reminded me that our flagship mapping site OASISnyc.net included a layer of “coastal storm impact zones”.

Actually, we’ve had that data online since 2007, when it was a Map of the Day on Gothamist. It shows areas at greatest risk of storm surges from a hurricane (and, as it turns out, those areas closely match the boundaries of the city’s evacuation zones – see screenshot below). I had also received a couple of emails that night from other groups wanting to map the evacuation zones and were worried that the city’s mapping resources weren’t up to the task.

So I wrote a blog post about how using OASIS could help people see if they were in harm’s way if the storm hit the city. I published the post the next morning (Thursday, 8/25).

That same morning, Gothamist posted an item about the potential for evacuation, and they embedded the city’s evacuation zone map. I was the first to add a comment on the Gothamist piece (via our @oasisnycmaps Twitter account), and I included a link to my blog post and to the maps.

PDF maps: blessing, curse, or both?

Let’s look at the city’s evacuation zone map [PDF – see image at right]. It’s a PDF file. It shows all the city’s streets in black ink, in an 8.5″ x 11″ layout, overlain on color shaded areas (muted green, yellow, and brown) corresponding to the 3 evacuation zones A, B, and C. And it has the evacuation center locations labeled on the map.

So it puts a lot of information into one map, which is challenging on its own. But trying to view that as a PDF online can be especially problematic. People who expected something better complained — it was described (perhaps too harshly) as “terrible” and “useless” in the Gothamist comments. People said it was hard to read, took too long to download, it didn’t work well on mobile phones, etc. And quickly after I posted my comment at Gothamist, several people were thankful that they could access OASIS as an alternative to the city’s map.

Distributing a PDF map in a situation like this has pros and cons. On the one hand, it has flexibility. The PDF format can be viewed in any web browser, or can be downloaded to your computer and viewed there, and can be printed out to share with someone who doesn’t have Internet access. And lots of people on Twitter were appreciative. On the other hand, it’s not something that can be easily updated, and it’s not what the growing population of digitally savvy New Yorkers would expect or desire. NYC has been touting itself as the most digital city on the planet, and all they could do was put out a PDF? People were underwhelmed.

To be fair, the city also had an online “Hurricane Evacuation Zone Finder.” You’d type in an address and it would display a zoomed in zone map of your location. But that provided little context, and it wasn’t as user-friendly as the public was expecting. For a long time this type of web service would’ve been considered state of the art. But these days, I think a lot of people were wondering if New York couldn’t do any better.

Luckily the city had posted a dataset in GIS format representing the city’s evacuation zone boundaries. It was available on Datamine, and anyone could download it for free and use it without restriction. So when people asked me if I had the evacuation zones in a format that could be mapped, I just pointed them to Datamine.

(In a mix of optimism and revisionist history, New York City’s Panglossian chief digital officer was quoted saying that As always, we support and encourage developers to develop civic applications using public data” (emphasis added), in reference to other groups that were using the evacuation zone map in their websites. I chuckled when I read this. If you’ve been around this business for more than just a year or two, you’d know that it hasn’t “always” been this way. It’s terrific that at least some of the city’s data is openly available now. But let’s keep it in perspective, and also remember that there are still important public datasets the city is not making easily available to developers or others.)

NYC.gov goes down

By Thursday afternoon, online interest in NYC’s impending evacuation announcement was so intense that not only did the city’s zone finder application go down, but even the city’s website — in particular, its homepage — was inaccessible.

Although the city will certainly congratulate itself for using social media to get the word out (and I agree they did a good job in this area), it’s not good that the city that strives to be the nation’s premier digital city could not even serve up its homepage at the exact moment when everyone was relying on that web page for information on what was happening next. And with a situation as complex as an approaching hurricane, 140 character tweets are just not enough. I can’t imagine it’s easy to withstand several million hits in a day, but I and a lot of others expected better.

(After complaints from the community, at least one civic activist posted links to hurricane resources on his own and shared that via Twitter.)

The city was left apologizing for no web access and pointing people to its PDF map (at this point hosted on Tumblr and elsewhere). Mayor Bloomberg posted the PDF on his website, but that’s the least he could do. Simply taking a PDF and putting it on another website? Doesn’t take much to pull that off.

More Maps Come Online

In the meantime, more maps appeared. WNYC was next. John Keefe, the public radio station’s Senior Executive News Producer, mashed up the city’s evacuation zone data with Google Maps, and put a simple, easy to use interface together. The map didn’t include evacuation centers at first, but it was clean, effective, and … in the absence of the city’s online resources … it worked.

In fact, several people noted the irony. When @nycgov tweeted that the city’s hurricane zone finder was down “due to high traffic”, a Google representative quickly tweeted back that “WNYC’s map is based on NYC OEM data and is running fine.”

John has developed a successful system creating news-oriented maps in short order, and his hurricane map was the latest example. And it was embeddable, so sites such as Gothamist that originally embedded the city’s PDF map, quickly replaced the PDF with WNYC’s interactive map. People were happy.

By Friday morning, the city was still having difficulty providing online access to its web page and its hurricane evacuation zone finder app, so more mapping sites stepped up. ESRI published an interactive map of the evacuation zones and evacuation centers using their relatively new ArcGIS.com online platform. The map looked great, and included the evacuation centers that WNYC’s map was missing.

But the ESRI map didn’t have the slimmed down, focused look and feel of WNYC’s site. It included ArcGIS.com options such as geographic feature editing that maybe weren’t needed for this situation. (That’s just a quibble. Though at one point I clicked “Edit” and it seemed like I was about to delete all of Zone A!)

One nice thing about the WNYC site is that is uses Google’s Fusion Tables service on the backend, which makes it easy to set up geographic data and then overlay that data on a Google map or any other modern, online mapping site. At the CUNY Graduate Center we’ve started to use Fusion Tables to integrate community-oriented mapped information into the OASISnyc site. By Friday morning we were able to use Fusion Tables to display the city’s evacuation centers on OASIS’s maps. The OASIS site provides a wealth of information such as subway and bus routes, schools, public housing sites, etc. so it provided a way (hopefully an easy way) to locate evacuation sites in relation to these other locations.

By Friday, Google had also stepped in with a mapping service of its own, a customized version of its crisis mapping application.

Originally Google’s map omitted the city’s evacuation zones or centers, but it did include several other layers of data related to potential storm impacts (like the storm surge map at OASIS). The federal weather and environmental agencies such as NOAA and FEMA have consistently done a great job of providing free, online access to observation and modeling data about storms, and Google put this information to use.

Regional Maps

On Friday our team at the CUNY Graduate Center also made two enhancements to our mapping applications to make it easy for a wide range of people to find out if they might be hardest hit by Irene. First, we reconfigured the OASIS maps so the storm surge layer could load quick. We created a pre-cached tiled layer instead of a dynamic layer and also set up the map page so that most of the dynamic layers were turned off by default. This made the map page load quicker, and made the storm surge layer load instantaneously (our site had bogged down a bit on Thursday due to increased traffic — site usage almost tripled to 9,000 pageviews almost solely from my comment at Gothamist with a link to OASISnyc.net — so quick loading was key).

We also incorporated the storm surge layer to an interactive mapping site we maintain with the Long Island Index focused on Nassau and Suffolk counties. It seemed that the storm might have a greater impact on Long Island. The storm surge data we used for OASIS was statewide in scope (it was created by NY SEMO), so we coordinated with our partners at the Index and updated the site Friday afternoon.

Newsday included a link to the LI Index mapping site, and usage soared over the weekend.

Understandably, an organization such as WNYC would limit its map to the city’s 5 boroughs. But there weren’t similar maps for any other part of the tri-state region.

Even though mandatory evacuations had been called for much of Long Island’s south shore, the best data available on those areas were lists (some in PDF format) of affected addresses and affected streets. Given the surge in usage of the LI Index mapping site, I like to think that we helped meet a key need.

Mandatory Evacuation and More Maps

During the day on Friday, Mayor Bloomberg announced the city’s mandatory evacuation plans. The scramble was on to see if you were in Zone A!

Not to be outdone by WNYC, Google, or anyone else, the New York Times launched its version of an interactive evacuation zone map late in the day Friday.

Like WNYC’s version, the NY Times map was focused and easy to use. But it was also limited to NYC, despite the Times’s readership outside the 5 boroughs who had also been required to evacuate.

By then, WNYC and Google had also added the locations of evacuation centers to its maps.

Lessons Learned?

So what to make of all these maps?

I think the first thing is that they were all generally helpful. When the nation’s premier digital city was incapable of providing digital information in a timely, useful way, others stepped in and succeeded.

These efforts, however, suffered to some extent from inconsistencies and lack of coordination.

For example, different mapping sites displayed different kinds of information in ways that may have been confusing to the person on the street.

Google and OASIS posted storm surge zones and the city (and WNYC, ESRI, and the Times – and eventually Google too) posted evacuation zones. Ultimately what most people wanted to know was if they lived in evacuation Zone A. The storm surge areas were important in terms of anticipating where the storm would do the most damage, but perhaps a more pressing issue was the evacuation.

But this difference in approaches underscores the lack of coordination among the various mapping entities. It was as if everyone just wanted to get *their* map online.

We’re as guilty of that as anyone. I know top staff at OEM and I easily could’ve contacted them to coordinate the OASIS layer with their’s. But it was somewhat frantic at the time, and the communication didn’t happen. I’d say WNYC was the most earnest in this regard, since they probably just saw a hole that needed to be filled – the city was talking about evacuation, but the city’s evacuation map was sorely lacking or not online.

But once WNYC went online, as far as I know there was little coordination among them, us, ESRI, the NY Times, Google, etc. I think you could reasonably ask — since WNYC’s map worked perfectly well, and provided the information about evacuation zones — why have essentially the same map from ESRI, Google, and the NY Times. Were these groups talking with each other? For the media outlets (WNYC and the Times), was it just a competition thing?

I do know that when the city’s GIS community was more cohesive, this probably would’ve been coordinated a bit more, perhaps through GISMO. Not that the lack of cohesion is a bad thing necessarily. And not to fault GISMO or other coordinating groups. But I wonder if better information could’ve been provided to the public in a better way if all of us making the maps were in communication.

For example, for at least a day WNYC’s map lacked the evacuation center locations. I added the locations to OASIS using Fusion Tables. Then WNYC added the locations to its map, also using Fusion Tables. We easily could’ve shared the backend data, but WNYC never contacted us to discuss it. I sent a tweet to @jkeefe about it, but didn’t hear back. It was important to keep the evacuation center data up-to-date and consistent because the city changed the locations of 4 centers before Irene hit. Keeping the maps in sync would’ve minimized any confusion for the public.

Overall, I think the biggest takeaway is that the Mayor’s office and NYC agencies – especially DoITT (since they’re responsible for coordinating the city’s technology resources) – need to engage better with mapping/data/online communities in a much more open, collaborative way.

Despite the city’s talk of apps and open data, there’s still very much a closed approach on the city’s part when it comes to public/private partnerships. True, the city has developed partnerships with local startup tech companies. But the city’s nonprofit and academic communities, along with established private entities, have much to share and have proven they have the technological resources to do as good if not a better job than the city providing essential information online.

In terms of mapping Hurricane Irene in NYC, NGOs filled a big void. The city should not only recognize that effort, but cultivate it and help sustain it so that it works more smoothly and effectively next time.

Innovative map comparisons – Census change in 15 cities

Our team at the Center for Urban Research (at the CUNY Graduate Center) has updated our interactive maps showing race/ethnicity patterns from 2000 and 2010 in major cities across the US. We’ve enhanced the maps in several ways:

  1. Added more cities. We now have 15 major urban regions mapped across the US (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.).
  2. The maps now have three ways of comparing 2000 and 2010 racial patterns:
  3. We color-coded the population change data in the popup window. Population increase is shown in green; decrease is shown in red. See image below.

Here’s our news release with more info.

Btw, we’ve also updated our static maps to show New York City Council districts, to begin to get a sense of how demographic changes will shape upcoming redistricting efforts at the local level.  Here’s the link:www.urbanresearchmaps.org/plurality/nyccouncil.htm (For the static maps, you can view 2000-2010 demographic change with the vertical slider bar, but you can’t zoom in/out, etc.)

An initial version of the maps launched in June with the vertical bar technique, integrating it with interactive, online maps for the first time. Our Center crafted the maps so you could not only drag the bar left and right but also zoom in and out, click on the map to obtain detailed block-level population counts, and change the underlying basemap from a street view to an aerial image (via OpenLayers use of Microsoft’s Bing maps tiles), while also changing the transparency of the thematic Census patterns.

The latest iteration of CUNY’s Census maps continues to use the vertical slider but now incorporates this technique with two more comparison options. Each approach serves different purposes:

  1. The vertical slider bar provides a “before (2000) and after (2010)” visualization of change, either regionally or at the scale of a city neighborhood.
  2. The side-by-side comparison is ideal for lingering over a given area, especially at the local level, taking the time to absorb the differences in demographic patterns mapped with 2000 Census data on the left and 2010 on the right. We incorporated this approach specifically at the suggestion of the great interactive team at the Chicago Tribune, who have created some similar Census maps.
  3. The single-map 2010/2000 overlay is especially helpful for revealing the increase in diversity over a given area.

For example, you can zoom to Atlanta, GA on the single-map overlay and see the city’s predominantly Black population in 2000 surrounded by suburban Census blocks shaded dark blue, denoting a White population of 90% or more (see images below). As you transition the map from 2000 to 2010, the dark blue in the suburbs fades to a lighter shade (indicating a more mixed population demographically) coupled with more Census blocks shaded green, purple, and orange – each corresponding to communities that are now predominantly (even if only by a few percentage points) Hispanic, Asian, or Black respectively. This pattern is replicated in many of the urban regions featured at the website.

Atlanta & suburbs in 2000

Race/ethnicity change in Atlanta by 2010

Eventually we’ll be moving all this from pre-rendered tiles to vector tiles. CUR’s application architect Dave Burgoon contributed code he developed to TileStache to enable TileStache to produce AMF-based output for use in Flash-based interactive mapping applications. This will give us flexibility in mapping as many Census variables as needed, and also providing complete geographic coverage (hopefully down to the block level) nationwide. That’s the plan, anyway! Stay tuned.

Credits

Funding for much of the Center’s recent work on Census issues has been provided by the Building Resilient Regions Project of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Hagedorn Foundation, as well as support from the CUNY Graduate Center and the City University of New York.

Several people provided feedback and helpful editorial suggestions on earlier versions of the maps and narrative. Though the materials at this site were prepared by the Center for Urban Research, those invdividuals improved our work. We greatly appreciate their contributions.