Archive for the ‘ virtual maps ’ Category

Seeing death in dots

nyt-homicideStep into the whirlwind pace of New York City, which I do once or twice annually to visit family, and for every recommendation of where to go see you’ll be implored to avoid a different location at all costs once the sun goes down.

The warnings are understandable, given that there are an average of 540 homicides a year in the city and tourists make easy targets for muggings. But are the warnings of where is and isn’t safe based on sound logic, or just urban myths?

This interactive piece by the New York Times helps clear up the debate, while at the same time drawing attention to crimes that too often get buried in the newspapers. It’s a an easy-to-navigate map identifying the locations of every murder during the past 6 years, with additional sorting information available with a click or two. Once you get past the initial shock of seeing the degree of violence in certain sections of the city (parts of Brooklyn are brutal) and dispel myths that whites or women are most frequently targeted, it’s easy to pinpoint the dangers of the places a tourist could realistically end up.

Which brings us to those urban myths. Chief among the warnings that ring out to New York travelers is not to walk in Central Park at night. They never stopped me. A walk in the park (which is well-lit) after the sun goes down is among the few ways to escape the bustle and enjoy some quiet introspection looking out over the city lights. Have I been tempting danger?

Not really. As the map shows, even the most touristy parts of midtown Manhattan have served as the place some have met a violent end (check out those homicides near Times Square) but inside Central Park there hasn’t been a single murder during the past six years. Forget dangerous. You could argue it’s the safest place to be.

On the other hand, the map provides evidence for the other big tourist warning — not to fall asleep on the subway. The danger here isn’t that you’ll be killed in your sleep, it’s that you’ll wake up in Coney Island, the last stop for four different subway lines. There is indeed a cluster of murders to be found here, as there also is on other end-of-the-line stops in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

So the city isn’t perfectly safe, but at least interactive pieces like this help us identify the danger zones on fact and not rumor. As I’ve written before, virtual maps have lots of great uses (blog 10,000 words has numerous examples) and this is one that could come in handy for any city hoping to lure visitors or new residents. It’s delusional to think any city is perfectly safe, but it’s empowering to know via interactive media exactly which locations hold the least danger.

How maps survived the threat of GPS and even became cool again

The extroverted children played with action figures. The introverted ones sketched pictures.

I was a weird hybrid of the two archetypes. I charted maps of the neighborhood.

Now I might get to revisit that outlet of youthful imagination.

Just when it seemed that maps were dying a slow death at the hands of GPS systems, interactive media has opened up a limitless range of new possibilities to put visual representations of streets and terrain to practical use. These are uses that go beyond what Mapquest offers or even the voyeuristic appeals of Google Streetview and Google Earth. Now both the content and the design of each map can meet the unique navigational needs of each user. They can also help spotlight a particular subject and function as the perfect establishing shot to orientate audiences to a new interactive world.

Take North Carolina wine, a product that figuratively speaking really has struggled to get on the map against better known European and Californian competitors. Dozens of new wineries have popped up across the state in recent years, but they’re usually in remote areas and hard to discover navigating with traditional maps alone. Enter the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council, which put together this interactive map that makes it easy to plot out your own wine trail and compile info on each stop along the way. It cuts out all the clutter and simplifies the interface around the target objective — getting visitors to explore multiple wineries no matter where they live.

On a much more advanced level, the Los Angeles Conservancy is also using an interactive map to build awareness of the city’s historical attractions. It simplifies what is usually a crowded-looking metropolis on any map into an organized set of info that invites users to plan their own trips and see the city as a living museum. You can scratch the surface, go into details or use it to figure out which sites to see in person. In this map, they no longer have to compete for attention with L.A’s plethora of distractions, making it both a navigational tool and a promotional spotlight.

On the news side, check out this interactive map on the potential consequences of global warming. You can see what parts of the world will be underwater if the oceans rise by various amounts. At 1 meter, my brother in Wilmington is still safe. Beyond that, his city starts sinking.

These sites are just scratching the surface. Imagine being able to access an interactive grid of power lines or water pipes next time there’s a break in your utility service. Envision learning about military history by scanning  maps of old battlefields to see where troops were positioned and how enemy ranks were broken. Consider getting wrapped up in a fantasy/sci-fi tale by scanning a map of the fictional world to learn about the culture and zoom in on any location for more detail.

Maybe it’s just that kid in me who’s still charting roads while on his bike or marking down landmarks while  hiking trails, but interactive maps are among the most exciting and dynamic uses of the the communications technology already available to us. Over the next few months, I hope to come across countless more examples of their potential being realized, and reengage in my own love of map-making  all over again.