Posted on February 24, 2016 by Spatial Information Design Lab

Laura Kurgan was interviewed about the Million Dollar Blocks project for the PBS documentary "The Human Face of Big Data." The documentary aired nationally on February 24, 2016 and featured Laura Kurgan speaking about the Center for Spatial Research's unique approach to mapping and data visualization: "And there is always that moment in data vizualization where you are looking at tons and tons of data. The point is not to look at the tons and tons of data but to look at what are the stories that emerge out of it."

The Human Face of Big Data explores the impace of our current data-filled age: "With the rapid emergence of digital devices, an unstoppable, invisible force is changing human lives in incredible ways. Every two days the human race is now generating as much data as was generated from the dawn of humanity through the year 2003. The massive gathering and analyzing of data in real time is allowing us to address some of humanity's biggest challenges but as Edward Snowden and the release of NSA documents have shown, the accessibility of all this data comes at a steep price. This film captures the promise and peril of this extraordinary knowledge revolution."

Watch the documenary here. 



Posted on January 22, 2016 by Center for Spatial Research

Four outstanding speakers will visit campus this spring as part of the Disrupting Unity and Discerning Ruptures: Focus Aleppo lecture series. CSR has been thrilled to work with Professor Avinoam Shalem to organize this series and to cosponsor it the Art History Department and the Middle East Institute. The series is running in conjunction with the CSR seminar Conflict Urbanism: Aleppo and aims to give historical, and art historical, context to the contemporary conflict in Syria and in particular in Aleppo

February 18
Yasser Tabbaa
Independent Scholar
“The Remaking of Aleppo under Nur al-Din and the Early Ayyubids”
612 Schermerhorn Hall, 6pm

March 24
Heghnar Watenpaugh
Associate Professor of Art History
University of California, Davis
“Ottoman Aleppo: Experiencing Architecture, Narrating Space”
Wood Auditorium, Avery Hall, 6pm

March 31
Patrick Ball, PhD
Co-founder, Director of Research
Human Rights Data Analysis Group
“Seeing the Forest: Analyzing hidden patterns using (mostly) public data  about people killed in Syria, 2011-2015”
Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Journalism Building, 6pm

April 7
Sussan Babaie
The Courtauld Institute of Art
University of London
“Urbanity and Mercantile ‘Taste’: the Houses of Aleppo”
612 Schermerhorn Hall, 6pm

Posted on December 7, 2015 by Spatial Information Design Lab

Al Jazeera's Ranjani Chakrabortty recently wrote an article about the impacts of incarceration on families and communities that drew on our Million Dollar Blocks project: "Each year, the U.S. spends $80 billion to incarcerate more than 2.4 million people. But when it comes to communities, the costs are even more staggering. A disproportionate number of inmates come from just a handful of neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities. In this Brooklyn community, Augustine’s story is all too common. Brownsville has one of the highest concentrations of “million-dollar blocks” — places where the state is paying more than $1 million a year to incarcerate the residents of a single census block — in the country. And often, according to research from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design, the burden of mass incarceration is left to women."

Read More.

Posted on November 18, 2015 by Dare Brawley

On November 17th, 2015 the Center for Spatial Research, in collaboration with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, hosted a launch preview of Conflict Urbanism: Aleppo.

Laura Kurgan and Madeeha Merchant were joined by collaborator Jamon Van Der Hoek in presenting the research and development that has led to the interactive map of the city of Aleppo, Syria.

The event also featured presentations by Josh Lyons of Human Rights Watch, Tyler Radford of Humanitarian Open Street Maps, and Timothy Wallace of The New York Times about how their work might ineract with a project like Conflict Urbanism: Aleppo. 

Acknowledging that conflict zones are information rich and analytically poor, we hope to begin an interdisciplinary discussion about the potential of detecting the effects of urban conflict through satellite imagery analysis.

Focusing on the current catastrophe in Syria, the Conflict Urbanism: Aleppo project began with an attempt to link eyes in the sky with algorithms and ears on the ground. Towards these ends, we have created an open-source web platform that allows users to navigate maps and satellite images of the city of Aleppo, at the neighborhood scale, across multiple data sets. Working with data from Human Rights Watch, UNOSAT, and the Violations Documentation Center, the platform combines our algorithmically-derived damage identification with their expertise.

We discussed what the correlation of human rights data with satellite imagery analysis tells us about the conflict in Syria, and Aleppo in particular. What possibilities do machine learning and remote sensing algorithms promise for damage detection?  Can and should we use crowd-sourcing and citizen science to better train our algorithms?  We invite advocates and researchers from human rights organizations, humanitarian and development agencies, the academy, and the news media to join us in exploring potential uses of the platform and our tools.

Posted on November 15, 2015 by Spatial Information Design Lab

EXIT has been fully updated and is on view at the Palais Tokyo in Paris from November 25, 2015 – January 10, 2016. The project was initially completed in 2008 but has been fully updated to coincide with Cop21, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.

Fondation Cartier, which commissioned the project, announces the exhibition of the updated work:

“Exit is composed of a series of immersive animated maps generated by data that investigate human migrations today and their leading causes, including the impacts of climate change. Its complete 2015 update has been planned to coincide with the pivotal Paris-based United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21). A crucial opportunity to limit global warming, the COP21 provides a powerful context in which to consider the issues at the heart of Exit: "It’s almost as though the sky, and the clouds in it and the pollution of it, were making their entry into history. Not the history of the seasons, summer, autumn, winter, but of population flows, of zones now uninhabitable for reasons that aren’t just to do with desertification, but with disappearance, with submersion of land. This is the future." (Paul Virilio, 2009)”

Posted on September 21, 2015 by Center for Spatial Research

Columbia University published a press release about the founding of the Center for Spatial Research:

“Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are pleased to announce the creation of an interdisciplinary Center for Spatial Research. Directed by GSAPP Associate Professor Laura Kurgan, the Center will serve as a hub for urban research that links the humanities, architecture, and data science and will also sponsor a series of curricular initiatives built around new technologies of mapping, data visualization and data collection.”

View the full press release. 

Posted on July 30, 2015 by Spatial Information Design Lab

Emily Badger of the Washington Post reported the Million Dollar Blocks project "There are neighborhoods on the West Side of Chicago where nearly every block has been painted red — a sign, on the above map, that someone there was sentenced to time in an Illinois state prison between 2005 and 2009 for a nonviolent drug offense.

On several dark-red blocks [mapped here in Chicago], the missing residents are so many — or their sentences so long — that taxpayers have effectively committed more than a million dollars to incarcerate people who once lived there.

This is the perverse form that public investment takes in many poor, minority neighborhoods: "million dollar blocks," to use a bleak term first coined in New York by Laura Kurgan at Columbia University and Eric Cadora of the Justice Mapping Center. Our penchant for incarcerating people has grown so strong that, in many cities, taxpayers frequently spend more than a million dollars locking away residents of a single city block."

Read more.

Posted on June 25, 2015 by Spatial Information Design Lab

A new project led by Dr. Daniel Cooper of Adler University and Dr. Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, a writer and strategist, drews on our work on Million Dollar Blocks to map the incarceration landscape in Chicago. They used data collected by the Chicago Justice Project and built on research methods developed by the Spatial Information Design Lab. Through their research they've found that between 2005 and 2009 there are 851 blocks in Chicago with over $1 million committed to prision sentences.

See their full project here. 


Posted on November 4, 2014 by

Thanks to Andy Kirk for the nice write up on SIDL's collaboration with Alex Gil, Digital Scholarship Coordinator, Humanities and History Division, Columbia University Libraries.

"Might be a little late to this but I have been exploring the absorbing 'The Library Project', a collaboration between the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University, led by Laura Kurgan, and visualisation design/developers Annelie BernerJen Lowe and Derek Watkins. The motivation for the project is framed around a desire to create a way of 'comprehending the immensity, character and value of the collection'. As more data about the library's collection becomes digitised, these tools enable a novel means of exploring the shape, dynamics and relationships that exist amongst the vast collection."

Read more:

Posted on August 22, 2014 by Juan Francisco Saldarriaga

Juan Francisco Saldarriaga will be showcasing his project CitiBike Rebalancing Study at the NYC Media Lab Annual Summit, to be held on September 19th at the New School in New York City.