Million Dollar Blocks
Using rarely accessible data from the criminal justice system, we have created maps of “million dollar blocks” and of the city-prison-city-prison migration flow for five of the nation’s cities.
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The United States currently has more than 2 million people locked up in jails and prisons. A disproportionate number of them come from a very few neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities. In many places the concentration is so dense that states are spending in excess of a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of single city blocks. When these people are released and reenter their communities, roughly forty percent do not stay more than three years before they are reincarcerated. 

Using rarely accessible data from the criminal justice system, the Spatial Information Design Lab and the Justice Mapping Center have created maps of these “million dollar blocks” and of the city-prison-city-prison migration flow for five of the nation’s cities. The maps suggest that the criminal justice system has become the predominant government institution in these communities and that public investment in this system has resulted in significant costs to other elements of our civic infrastructure — education, housing, health, and family. Prisons and jails form the distant exostructure of many American cities today. 

The project continues to present ongoing work on criminal justice statistics to make visible the geography of incarceration and return in New York, Phoenix, New Orleans, and Wichita, prompting new ways of understanding the spatial dimension of an area of public policy with profound implications for American cities.

Million Dollar Blocks is the first of a series of projects to be undertaken by SIDL, as part of a two year research and development project on Graphical Innovation in Justice Mapping. The project, generously supported by the JEHT Foundation and by the Open Society Institute activates a partnership between the Justice Mapping Center (JMC), the JFA Institute (JFA), and the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation (GSAPP).

This unique partnership enables the Justice Mapping Center to refine analytical and graphical techniques within the research and teaching environment of the Spatial Information Design Lab, which can then be applied to real life policy initiatives through work with the JFA Institute. Reciprocally, input from state and local leaders is then brought back to the Design Lab for further development. This feedback loop is a valuable tool resulting in new methods of spatial analyses and ways of visually presenting them that reveal previously unseen dimensions of criminal justice and related government policies in states across the United States.

The results of this collaboration have transformed the project into multiple formats and forums for exhibition.

Data in geographic context shows people in prision are highly concentrated in specific neighborhoods.

Added up block by block, it cost $359 Million Dollars to imprision people from Brooklyn that year.

From a demographic point of view the spending facilitates a mass migration of people to prision, 95% of whom eventually return home.

Community District 16 has 3.5% of Brooklyn's population but 8.5% of its prision admissions.

It cost $11,839,665 to incarcerate people from these 11 blocks in 2003. We call these Million Dollar Blocks. 

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Justice Reinvestment: New Orleans
A vision plan for justice reinvestment in post-Katrina New Orleans.
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In the summer of 2006 SIDL received a grant to further their work in Justice Mapping into a real world application at an architectural scale. A group of five graduate students received fellowships to travel to New Orleans with Professor Kurgan to come up with a vision plan for a high incarceration neighborhood in New Orleans from the perspective of Justice Reinvestment.

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Project Files
Here Now: Social Media And The Psychological City
Mapping social media in the city.
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Social media are increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives, from connecting with friends and sharing images to exploring cities through location-based applications. These new services have given us a different vantage point from which to understand, explore, navigate, and geographically record the places we live.

Sites such as Foursquare and Facebook allow us to spatially mark our explorations in the city, creating rich databases that hold digital imprints of our interactions. To analyze these traces, the Foursquare and Facebook Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) were used to access location-based data to determine where social media users broadcast that they are “Here Now”. Analysis of this geographic data exposed the psycho-geography and economic terrain of New York City’s social media users.

Social Media App users register far more than what they are doing, they also show what they are feeling. Users reveal when and where they are going through an emotional crisis, experiencing their own personal heaven or hell, an “apocalyptic” event, or simply having a good time. Overlaying this data with more traditional government data sets exposed the economic patterns inherent in the way these applications are used. For example the majority of “check in” data comes from areas in the city that have the highest ratios of commercial use.

The motivations behind these broadcasts vary between the two social media sites. Foursquare users tell us more about the mundane nuances of life – where their bed is, where they get their morning coffee, or where they work. While Facebook users tend to use the site to brag about the iconic places they have been to, Times Square, Little Italy, or the Empire State Building. Both sites tell us how social media users explore the city or more importantly how they broadcast their exploits.

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Superstorm Sandy
A platform for viewing data about the Sandy affected region in the weeks following the storm.
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Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on October 29th. Data generated by governments and volunteers in the weeks following the storm stand to provide critical insight into how the region was affected. These pages make such data visible, and serve as launching pad for further investigations and questions of the impact of the storm.

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