Communities / Technology

A bike accident, a surgery, a map of death in New York City

A serious accident gave a Brooklyn software engineer a new perspective on death in the city. That's why Zach Schwartz made Death Map NYC.

Death Map NYC shows the site of each homicide and motor vehicle death in the last two years. (Screenshot)

How would it change the way you looked at your block if you knew someone had died in a car crash on the corner a year ago?
Would it change the way you look at your neighborhood if you knew that down a few streets from some minimalist, beautiful retail stores in Dumbo, there have been about a dozen people shot to death in the last two years?
On July 7, 2015, Zach Schwartz was biking down Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, when a car door opened in front of him, puncturing a six-inch hole in his neck and severing his carotid artery.
“This generally kills people, I’m told,” he wrote in a blog post about the incident.
Later, in an interview with Technical.ly Brooklyn, he expanded on his four days in the intensive care unit. “It was pretty crazy. I actually didn’t realize how serious it was when it happened. One of the weirdest things was the second day after the surgery they weren’t sure if I had neurological damage.”

Schwartz in the hospital after his bike accident.

Schwartz in the hospital after his bike accident in July. (Photo by Tristan Hayeck)

Schwartz made a low-probability but nearly complete recovery from the injury and shortly thereafter undertook a project to map death in New York, Death Map NYC.
The most data he could get was from homicides and motor vehicle deaths, and so that’s what the map became. In total, he ended up with records for 2,910 deaths in the last two years in all five boroughs.

“I started to think about the relationship between location and death,” he wrote, “that the couple making out on the corner would likely be uncomfortable if they knew they were mere feet from where the cyclist lay, but that they shouldn’t be, that a part of the complicated relationship we have with death could be explored geographically, that maybe if we were more aware of the way it surrounds us, we wouldn’t be quite so uncomfortable with it.”
But sometimes, also, death just is what it is. It can come suddenly and forcefully, without logic or fairness.
Sometimes there’s a lesson to be learned, and sometimes there just isn’t.
“I was not expecting the pattern of homicides to look like they did or be of that magnitude, and then the way they were at the exact same latitude and longitudes,” Schwartz said in our interview. “It’s tempting to try and have a big takeaway from this, and it’s almost similar in the way that after my crazy accident people asked if it transformed my life and outlook, and I guess not. I don’t know if I have more to answer right now.”

Series: Brooklyn

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