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Mapping the city, statistic by statistic

Transit travel time map

A screenshot of one of the maps from the MIT Media Lab's "You Are Here" project, a visualization of which parts of Manhattan can be fastest reached by different transit modes from the East Side of Midtown. 

The map, one of the central elements of navigation, has expanded in capability since the form has been translated to digital. Case in point, the MIT Media Lab’s “You Are Here” project is a collection of maps that visualize a variety of datasets over space. Things from bike accidents to coffee shops, graffiti reports, and transit connectivity are all laid out, using a variety of open data and other online resources, such as Google’s map directions services API.

Sep Kamvar, one of the leaders of the MIT project, says he was prompted to start this project by noticing the subtle ways in which cities differed — often due to deliberate decisions.

“I realized that the cities are quite different, and they’re quite different because of lots of tiny little design decisions that were made, from the width of sidewalks, to the number of trees on the streets, to the proximity of independent coffee shops,” he says.

Kamvar goes on to argue that a typical map does not show these other factors that shape the city — all important, but often underestimated.

The goal of the maps, according to Kamvar, is to illuminate where things are happening in the city, not just how to get around.

“My hope is that each of these maps gives information on how to make the city a better place,” he says, citing as a partiuclar example a map that allows users to map where trees throughout the city are located. 

The MIT project is not the only initative using open data to illuminate cty-level statistics. Last week, another project visualized the distances travelled by by New York City taxicabs in a single day, using data obtained from the city's taxi regulator. Below is one of the project's "Fastest Mode of Transit" maps.


Check out this map of the fastest modes of transportation in Manhattan

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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