The Million Dollar Blocks initiative began in 2004 with a grant from the Open Society Institute, the JEHT Foundation and expanded to include several interrelated projects dealing with questions of architecture and justice.

 
ProPublica Article Features Million Dollar Blocks

The Million Dollar Blocks project was featured in a recent article about countering bias in data driven journalism published by ProPublica. Author, Lena Groeger, describes the myriad ways that journalistic projects are (often unwittingly) biased from their outset as a result of design decisions made by their authors. Groeger highlights the Million Dollar Blocks project’s approach to investigating the criminal justice system, namely investigating the geographies of incarceration rather than the geographies of crime, as a counter example to standard narratives about the justice system.  

Read the full article here

 

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"The Human Face of Big Data" features Million Dollar Blocks
Feb 24, 2016 — 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. 

 

 

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For Families of the Incarcerated, Conviction Comes With a Cost
Dec 07, 2015 — 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.

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Chicago's Million Dollar Blocks
Jun 25, 2015 — 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. 

 

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"How Mass Incarceration Creates ‘Million Dollar Blocks’ in Poor Neighborhoods" - Washington Post
Jul 30, 2015 — 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.

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Project
Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections
person role
Author(s): 
Kurgan, Cadora, Cummings,
Publication date: 
Saturday, April 12, 2008
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Justice Mapping Center
Description (optional): 
The Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections is an online tool for mapping the residential distribution of people involved in the criminal justice system. It uses aggregated address data to map the flow of people being removed to prison, reentering communities from prison, and the standing population concentrations of people under parole or probation supervision.
Intro text (homepage): 
The Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections is an online tool for mapping the residential distribution of people involved in the criminal justice system. It uses aggregated address data to map the flow of people being removed to prison, reentering communities from prison, and the standing population concentrations of people under parole or probation supervision.
Lead image: 
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Project Lead: Laura Kurgan
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Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections
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no
dashboard_sort_date: 
Saturday, April 12, 2008
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"Architecture and Justice" at the Architectural League NY
Sep 15, 2006 — Spatial Information Design Lab

 

September 15—October 28, 2006

The Urban Center

457 Madison Avenue
New York City

Architecture and Justice mapped criminal justice statistics to make visible the geography of incarceration and return in New York, Phoenix, New Orleans, Wichita, and New Haven, prompting new ways of understanding the spatial dimension of an area of public policy with profound implications for American cities. In 2006, the United States had more than two million people locked up in jails and prisons, a disproportionate number of whom come from a small number of neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities. In many places, the concentration was so dense that states spent in excess of a million dollars to incarcerate the residents of single census blocks. In fall 2006 the Architectural League presented the exhibition Architecture and Justice, created by the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL) at Columbia University and the Justice Mapping Center (JMC), which worked together to use the language of design to suggest new ways of understanding problems of incarceration and poverty in American cities.

The exhibition included maps of Phoenix, New Orleans, Wichita, New Haven, and each of the five boroughs of New York City, illustrating prison expenditures by administrative district. Smaller maps of each city illustrated poverty and population density, and an enlarged and detailed map focused on Brownsville, Brooklyn. Additionally, a digital projection enabled viewers to manipulate maps to compare different types of data.

Architecture and Justice was organized by Laura Kurgan and Eric Cadora. It was made possible, in part, by Graphical Innovation in Justice Mapping, a grant from the Open Society Institute and the Jeht Foundation to the Spatial Information Design Lab.

See more.

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Change By Design
Jun 25, 2012 — Spatial Information Design Lab

We live in a data-rich world. But to drive lasting social change, data must be transformed and communicated to influencers and decision-makers in compelling, new ways. In a daylong conference on June 30, 2012 the Ford Foundation brought together leaders in design, social innovation, art and journalism to think creatively about digital storytelling and cutting-edge tools to visualize, map and create narratives that inspire action.

See more here: https://www.fordfoundation.org/the-latest/ford-live-events/change-by-des...

Watch Laura Kurgan's talk here: https://www.fordfoundation.org/library/multimedia/change-by-design-colla...

 

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"Prison Blocks" - Atlantic Magazine
Mar 01, 2009 — Laura Kurgan

The Atlantic published an article by Laura Kurgan on SIDL's work in New Orleans:

"Hurricane Katrina Displaced hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents; as they’ve returned, their struggles to remake their lives and communities have been well chronicled. But smaller waves of displacement, followed by straggling return, have been washing through the city, largely unremarked, for many years. In 2003, upwards of 12,000 New Orleans–area residents left the city for prison; more than half were expected to return home within three years. This destructive cycle, interrupted by the storm, is slowly reasserting itself. 

Nationwide, an estimated two-thirds of the people who leave prison are rearrested within three years. A disproportionate number of them come from a few urban neighborhoods in big cities. Many states spend more than $1 million a year to incarcerate the residents of single blocks or small neighborhoods."

Read more.

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Million Dollar Blocks, exhibited at Into the Open Positoning Practice
Sep 14, 2008 — Spatial Information Design Lab

"The exhibition Into the Open highlights America's rich history of architectural experimentation and explores the original ways architects today are working collaboratively to invigorate community activism and environmental policy. 

In the absence of large-scale public infrastructure projects in the United States, local initiatives are becoming laboratories for generating new forms of sociability and civic engagement. These new community-minded architects are questioning traditional definitions of practice by conducting unique research into the socio-economic challenges and environmental rifts that define our times. They are going beyond building-- defining architecture not just as a physical infrastructure, but also as a social relationship. 

Into the Open debuted as the official United States representation at the 2008 Venice Biennale, where it offered international audiences insight into the ways America's architects are reinventing public space. Critics noted the exhibition's unusually sober assessment of the challenges America faces, as well as the inspired attempts by grassroots architects to mitigate these conflicts. In presenting the architects featured in this exhibition in Venice, New York, and finally Philadelphia, where the American experiment began, we underscore the power that intellectual entrepreneurs can have in enacting positive change. 

Currently on display in Philadelphia, the projects featured in the exhibition are divided between the National Constitution Center, Independence Mall, and the Slought Foundation on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Additionally, off-site community programming is being presented in partnership with local organizations. At the National Constitution Center you will encounter eight of the sixteen projects, including Estudio Teddy Cruz's 89-foot photo-narrative of the U.S.-Mexico border and Alice Water's model Edible Schoolyard outside on Independence Mall. Immersive, bold, and interactive, the intention of this exhibition is to inform and provoke--but commentary and participation are essential. We hope that the ideas presented in this exhibition prompt discussion in your own communities, adding yet another layer to the mix: your thoughts, your voice."

See more: http://intotheopen.org

Venues: 

National Constitution Center 
Slought Foundation 
July 15 through September 7, 2009 

Parsons The New School for Design, 
Sheila C. Johnson Design Center 
March 4 through May 1, 2009 

The U.S. Pavilion for La Biennale di Venezia, 
11th International Architecture Exhibition 
September 14 through November 23, 2008

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