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Directions Magazine

Web Media Outlets Take On Mapping

Wednesday, May 9th 2012

Summary: Advances in online mapping are making maps almost commonplace on news websites and blogs. Some sites even analyze the map, providing that “value add” that goes beyond “dots on a map.” Executive Editor Adena Schutzberg shares three websites worth watching that help identify the power of maps to provoke discussion and action.

Advances in online mapping are making maps almost commonplace on a variety of news websites and blogs. Some just drop a spreadsheet into a Google Fusion Table and post a quick and dirty map. Others not only post the map, but take some time and electrons to analyze the map, providing that “value add” that goes beyond “dots on a map.”

I want to highlight three websites that take on this challenge regularly. They are great resources for educators, local governments and others to help identify the power of maps to provoke discussion and action.

The Atlantic Cities


The Atlantic was one of those “stodgy” magazines I heard about, but never read, while growing up in Boston. In recent years it’s become more hip and “buzzy,” in part because former senior editor, Jack Beatty, is a news analyst for the Boston-based National Public Radio talk show, OnPoint.

The Atlantic Cities section of the publication’s website focuses on cities and how they can be better. And, it uses a lot of maps.

The Atlantic Cities explores the most innovative ideas and pressing issues facing today’s global cities and neighborhoods. By bringing together news, analysis, data, and trends, the site is an engaging destination for an increasingly urbanized world.

Many of the topics covered will be of interest to geographers and GIS users (charts, postcard, videos), but start with maps. This week, for example, the maps address the question “Which Cities Tend to Be the Greenest?” The answer is not simple, so before you scroll to the map, you get a solid infusion of facts from Senior Editor Richard Florida.



FIGURE 1: C02 emissions per worker (Source: Atlantic Cities)
 

Metro areas cover less than a third (29 percent) of the United States’ land mass, but house almost 85 percent of its population and produce 93 percent of its economic output. Across the world, metros with more than a million people house roughly one in five of the world’s people but account for more than half (52.3 percent) of its economic output. Metros of this size account for roughly three-quarters of economic activity in Asia, 60 percent in the emerging economies, and 54 percent in North America.

After discussing the source of data and how those data are controlled for various factors, Florida analyzes three maps for 355 metro areas: C02 per capita, per worker and per dollar of Gross Metropolitan Product (like GDP, but just for a city). His analysis tracks exactly with the way we taught students to do it in Geography 20 at Penn State: describe the pattern on the map and then explain the pattern.

New Jersey Spotlight

I run into New Jersey Spotlight regularly when trolling for mapping news for Directions Magazine’s All Points Blog. While the focus is the Garden State, the topics are applicable to all U.S. states and other geographies.

NJ Spotlight is an online news service providing insight and information on issues critical to New Jersey, with the aim of informing and engaging the state’s communities and businesses. We are nonpartisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.
NJ Spotlight exists through the generous support of the Community Foundation of New Jersey, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation.

Maps appear across the entire site’s topic areas (budget, education, energy and environment, healthcare and other issues), so the best way to find them is via a search for “interactive map.”

The latest map covers Preserved Farmland and highlights how a program preserves more than 200,000 acres of farmland in the Garden State. With data from the state Department of Agriculture, the site offers a thematic map (based on a Google Fusion table, best I can tell) of where the preserved acres are located.



FIGURE 2: Screen capture from interactive map - Preserved Farm Acres 2011 (Source: New Jersey Spotlight)
 

The average cost to preserve an acre of farmland in the state during the program’s 27-year history has been $7,658. Last year, the average was $12,000 an acre. Those vary widely by county and by municipality, with North Jersey farmland fetching higher prices than acreage in South Jersey.

The article also highlights that two-thirds of the municipalities, those in red, have no preserved farmland at all. That sounds like a call to discussion and action!

Fast Company’s Co.Design

The final site I want to feature takes on mapping from a different perspective, that of design. We are all excited by the new kinds of visualization coming from Stamen Designs and Floating Sheep, among others, but where will you find other great mapping design ideas? One place to look is the Co.Design corner of Fast Company magazine’s website.

The site covers all sorts of design topics, so to get to the maps you need to do a search on “map” or you can pick them out of the other visualization topics covered in the Infographic of the Day section.

The most recent article discusses an analysis by faculty and students at Carnegie Mellon who used Foursquare data to define what they call Livehoods, a new way to define what others might call neighborhoods. This discussion is not as “design-focused” as other topics, but does explore new ways to push the envelope with today’s location-based services datasets.


FIGURE 3: A portion of Livehoods map of New York City (Source: Co.Design)
 

Their research project is called Livehoods, which analyzed 18 million Foursquare check-ins to spot algorithmic relationships between the spots people frequent. “Livehoods looks at the geographic distance between venues, but also a form of ‘social distance’ that measures the degree of overlap in the people that check-in to them,” the team tells Co.Design. “For example, if the algorithm notices that the people that visit a local bar are the same people that visit a nearby restaurant, these two places will be more likely to be grouped together.”

More Sites?

Do you tap other sites that offer not just maps, but some added analysis, raw data or perspective? How do you use those sites in your academic, public or private mapmaking or analytical work? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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