Depicting demographic and municipal data as points on a map is a helpful way to visualize urban blight — and pockets of opportunity — in a city, as Elliot Plack has done with his map of Baltimore’s vacant houses, or as Colin Drane has done with his SpotCrime crime-mapping website.
But the meaning behind seeing, say, vacant housing data on a map was emphasized at Groundwork, the civic hackathon put on by the Greater Baltimore Technology Council last weekend. Plotting data without discovering any practical uses that might improve city living can be an empty exercise.
Finding practical uses for data is the goal of the New York-based Justice Mapping Center, which plots data using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) “to help our partners better understand, evaluate and communicate criminal justice and other social policy information,” according to its website.
In several states, the Justice Mapping Center has plotted the “residential addresses of every inmate in various prison systems” to illustrate “a concept it calls “million-dollar blocks” — areas where more than $1 million is being spent annually to incarcerate the residents of a single census block,” reports National Public Radio.
In an interview with NPR, director Eric Cadora of the Justice Mapping Center says mapping data points is a useful tool for getting city officials to pay attention.
[W]hen you actually gather the real data … on maps, [it becomes] immediately understandable to people who didn’t see it — like legislators, city council people, researchers. They become almost urban planners and start to ask questions like, ‘Look at all the resources around this million-dollar area, but they’re not being used well. How can we take those resources, and then seek to strengthen them?’ …
One of the things we noticed right away when legislators and others started to see this, is they talked about this issue differently. Instead of getting stuck in the ‘being soft, get tough [on crime]’ paradox, they started to talk about neighborhoods … [more]