Chicago Cityscape’s Steven Vance joins the PRC to discuss storytelling with geospatial data
Steven Vance, the founder and CEO of Chicago Cityscape, joined the Policy Research Collaborative for the second installment of our Speakers Series Initiative. Vance describes himself as an urban planner, a reporter, a business owner, and a mapmaker.
For Vance, geospatial data allows people, such as researchers, policy makers, or city planners, to tell intriguing and vivid stories about different communities. Geospatial data is data that has a geographic component, which means that the information derives from neighborhoods, cities, or zip codes, to name a few examples. The process of visually representing geographic data is to first identify the story that you want to tell, then identify the target audience, followed by finding and collecting data, and, finally, designing the map. Vance recommends using government sources or Open Street Map (OSM) to find geospatial data. He also recommends using QGIS which is a free resource that can create, visualize, and analyze geospatial information.
Following this overview of geospatial data representation, Vance focused on several examples of data representation using maps. For example, Vance showed a map of all the bike racks installed in the City of Chicago. The purpose of this map was to identify underserved wards and work to make bike rack accessibility more equitable across the city. After creating this map, Vance worked with the city to install more bike racks in these underserved wards. This is an example of how the utilization of geospatial data can identify inequity and inform policy change.
This map was one of the first Vance created. He emphasized that mapmaking and working with geospatial data is a developmental process in which you learn as you go. This is encouraging for anyone who might be thinking that a map would be a good way to represent data and tell a story.
Another example was a map of all the single-family only zones that surround the trains in Chicago. The zoning in these areas does not allow for the development of multi-family units or condominiums. This makes the cost of living more expensive, which often prices out many families. This map highlighted that many of these zones are around the train lines, such as the brown and blue lines, which reduces the number of people who could benefit from easy access to public transit. The overlay of a map of single-family only zones and a map of Chicago’s major transit lines painted a clear and shocking picture of the challenges to mobility that lower income families face in the city. The implications for effecting change on the zoning policies in the City of Chicago made this map another example of the impact that geospatial data can have on communities.
However, maps alone cannot always tell the full story. Additional data representation can often supplement geospatial visualization to more accurately convey or represent an issue. The New York Times published an article that utilized various methods of data representation including maps, moving data points, and graphs. By representing data with several visual techniques, this article tells a more complete and poignant story of the lasting impact racism and economic disparity has on minorities across the country.
For the Collaborative, Vance encouraged a new appreciation and interest in the use of geospatial data. Our mission at the PRC is to strengthen communities and effectuate transformative policy change with our community partners. By utilizing maps, we can dynamically engage our community partners and clearly visualize the problems we have identified. This presentation gave us a more in-depth understanding of geospatial data representation and sparked new ideas that we are excited to incorporate into our current and future research projects.
Overall, for anyone considering the use of geospatial data for a project, Vance emphasized the importance of clearly explaining the data. Maps may be an excellent way to tell a story; however, not everyone will understand and view the map in the same way. This makes it critically important to spend time carefully creating the visual representation of the story in order to make it understandable and accessible to your target audience. To learn more about geospatial data and Vance’s work, check out his blog or find him on Twitter @stevevance.
Our next Speaker Series event will take place on Monday, April 16th with Juanita Irizarry, who is the Executive Director of Friends of the Parks. She will be discussing the importance of advocacy surrounding the use and preservation of parks around the City of Chicago.