Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Atlas for a Community Mapshop

Community Mapshop 2015 has culminated in a series of outputs and engagements, but most recent among these, is our Atlas for a Community Mapshop. This is a compilation designed by a student in the course, Renae Mantooth, containing a number of the graphics and maps produced at the mid and final reviews for the studio. Using Denis Wood's Everything Sings as our inspiration, the class was asked to prepare graphics in grayscale, allowing for their easy reproduction and circulation. You can read the digital text, here (or below, or download). We explored the following themes:

  • Food Network
  • Education Opportunities
  • Modes of Travel
  • Bus Shelter Inequity
  • Uneven Housing Landscape
  • Wifi Inequity
  • Blue Grass Trust Plaque Program
  • Facade Dichotomy

From the text:
Drawing on the last twenty-five years of scholarship in critical cartography and critical GIS, this workshop begins from the premise that maps are more than windows on the world. Maps do not only provide a record of geographic phenomena but also actually impact the conditions of knowing itself. This ‘more-than-representational’ viewpoint enables a productive urgency at the heart of a collaborative or participatory mapping endeavor. Therefore, the goal for this course was to prepare each student as a responsive and responsible mapmaker, at a moment in digital culture when there are many maps but few stories being told through them. To meet this goal, this course furthers the concept of the community mapshop -- an intensive studio experience in which students use mapping technologies in collaboration, when appropriate, with community partners. These partnerships have involved students in a full range of collaborative mapmaking: working with peers and community partners to invest in a study area, acquiring and preparing data for spatial analyses, communicating with those impacted by or implicated in these analyses, and producing compelling geographic representations.
Our community mapshop ends largely where it begins -- with a recognition that we, at the University of Kentucky, must do much more to educate ourselves as to the conditions of our communities. These communities are not merely containers for the University. Instead these places are the constituting materials, energies, and peoples that make our campus possible. In this course, we have sought to better understand the dynamics of what we have called the Northeast Quadrant of Lexington, Kentucky, an area composed of over a dozen neighborhoods between Newtown Pike and Winchester Road, from Main Street downtown, stretching out toward Loudon and New Circle Road. Far from homogeneous, the Northeast Quadrant is dynamic, and our attempts to represent the variegation, rhythms, and intensities are not meant to be the story of or for these neighborhoods. More modestly, we create these representations as souvenirs of our journey, which is just getting started. We hope they might provoke others to get involved. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Introducing Community Mapshop

#Mapshop 2015 will focus on the NE quadrant of Lexington.
GIS Workshop at the University of Kentucky is becoming Community Mapshop this Spring semester. I've retooled the course and the partnerships, hoping to inspire a different kind of community-based classroom project from those in 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010. Think Bunge and Wood. More studio; less laboratory. This course will become part of a broader initiative within the College of Arts & Sciences at UK, beginning in Fall 2015, simply called Mapshop: (Our website currently points to the old GIS Workshop page under the New Mappings Collaboratory, but the new site will be functioning by December 2015.)

The course description for this Spring follows:
Drawing on the last twenty-five years of scholarship in critical cartography and critical GIS, this workshop begins from the premise that maps are more than windows on the world. Maps do not only provide a record of geographic phenomena but actually impact the conditions of knowing itself. This ‘more-than-representational’ viewpoint enables a productive urgency at the heart of a collaborative or participatory mapping endeavor. Therefore, the goal for this course is to prepare each student as a responsive and responsible mapmaker, at a moment in digital culture when there are many maps but few stories being told through them. To meet this goal, this course develops the concept of the ‘community mapshop’ -- an intensive studio experience in which students use mapping technologies in collaboration with community partners. These partnerships will involve students in a full range of collaborative mapmaking: working with peers and community partners to invest in a study area, acquire and prepare data for spatial analyses, communicating with those impacted by or implicated in these analyses, and produce compelling geographic representations.
A key change in this year's course offering is that the course is geographically-focused on the northeast quadrant of Lexington, Kentucky. Course participants will be encouraged to find connections and alignments with the variety of nonprofit and other community-based organizations that service this area, but these partners are not identified in advance.
A regional study must be done by a geographer who calls the region home. It is impossible to understand the neighborhood without being a neighbor. . . . [T]he geographer gets a piece of the neighborhood, but then the neighborhood gets a piece of the geographer. (Bunge 1971, xxx, as quoted in Preston and Wilson 2014)
I'm looking forward to this year's #mapshop. If you have ideas to focus our mapping work over the next four months or want to get involved, please feel free to contact me.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Thinking/Making Geographic Representation

[ Chris Alton, Zulaikha Ayub, Alex Chen, Leif Estrada, Justin Kollar, Patrick Leonard, Martin Pavlinic, Andreas Viglakis, Matthew Wilson ]

Following a seminar in critical and social cartography at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, course participants set about writing a manifesto of sorts, a provocation in the thinking and practice of geographic representation.

Make art, not maps.
Talk is cheap. So are pixels and kilobytes. To build is more labored than to destroy, and maintaining the tenere of an attentional wave is the work of humanist scholars, artists, writers, poets, playwrights, and architects—and not for gaggles of open-source spectators. Masterpieces are immutable. Let's build masterpieces or #dietrying. We would rather enter the ground in pursuit of ineffability than constantly losing face in the mangle in which we are all subsumed.

Harness confusion.
How maps and mapping need to be rethought starts with a rejection of both the possibility and desirability of a world where the production of maps has been hijacked by a single technique monomaniacally focused on superficial clarity. This alone is maybe not so extreme or interesting, but in its place we would elevate confusion, disorientation and the uncanny as the values integral to a successful critical mapping practice. The best maps hold our attention by compelling us to reexamine the familiar in a new way. We argue that maps need to be less obvious, which is not to say illegible, and aspire to a kind of vaguely unfamiliar familiar. After all, why pay serious attention to a map showing something known in a familiar manner? To deeply engage with the viewer the map has to provide a sense of déjà vu, to grab their attention and imagination by giving them a sense of the familiar within the context of an overall confusion. Or the reverse. It is certainly a delicate line, but once one has captured a viewer’s attention this temporary disorientation can be remedied through an act of reorientation -- of slowly reading the map -- to produce the desired reading. The goal of maps is never to be unclear; the viewer should always come away with a sense of the author’s purpose, if not their intention. Rather, it is the process by which this clarity is rendered that governs whether a map will actually meaningfully engage with its audience. That which is easily grasped is quickly forgotten. Mapping needs to embrace and harness the power of confusion and learn how to use it to produce a mode of clarity not yoked to the lowest common denominator -- that is, the info graphic.

Embrace change.
The map, as a processual creation, is continuously changing and undetermined. Maps are, indeed, always in a state of becoming -- ripe for reinvention and filled with opportunity. How this potential energy is employed, however, remains an open question. The map is constitutive, as creating and interweaving worlds (both virtual and real, and perhaps necessarily both).  Inasmuch as the line between the real and the virtual, the human and the machine, has become blurred, the map's role as a force of creation should be considered within the scope of cartographic and geographic inquiry. The map is subjective, in terms of its production, consumption, and prosumption. As the sharp division between the first two positions fades, as each synthesizes into the final, the understanding of the map as objective in either sense is increasingly archaic.

Create change.
We've explored not only the role of maps, but the historicity of the geographic discipline, importance of visualization, relations with culture and conceptions of space, affective effects, cartographic practices, etc. We have come to see geo/carto as a discipline that links space and culture in the reflexive and productive practice of mapping as medium, i.e., the map holds the key to changing the way our world may be conceived and acted upon. This is quite powerful, to move from a reactive stance of studying spatial phenomenon to creating spatial phenomenon.

Confront power.
Let us not appeal only to the online, the map must be able to be disappeared as quickly as it is created. If we believe that the ‘socio-spatial dialectic’ both enables space’s use as a weapon and acts as a trap, and that cyberspace functions within the same contradiction, then we are advantaged to move fluidly between tools. Go to a person. Tell her something. Tell her not to tell anyone. Draw her a picture if you have to. Fold it up and put it in her pocket and then tell her when she’s located the suitcase to either burn or ingest the letter. It’s not rocket science. Be literate in social media but generate as much small data as possible whenever possible. We can’t rely on open source for sake of not also opening space. The actual creation of space is happening everywhere without us already and it has always been that way. Architects and Planners are largely irrelevant but for the sake of capital accumulation. In most of the world things happen and are built because they have to and they often operate better than we could construct them anyway. 1) Identify all of this as some sort of relationship of socio-spatial power; 2) Align with an interest that confronts power and collectively generate data that reveals the processes of domination; 3) Understand that crisis and sacrifice are everywhere at all times.

Design, specifically architecture, had a parallel struggle with geography when it comes to the mediation of technological media within the profession, which was greeted with mix receptions -- those who are either for it or against it. The rise of BIM platforms in architectural practice and GIS in geography caused a dichotomous dialogue. Within their respective practices, these platforms were considered producers of ‘truths’ and dodged critique because of the governing agencies behind them. However, just as it is productive to produce with the use of such software, it is also productive to unlearn such ‘truths.’ The practice of architecture pushes towards the production of design that is (trying to be) un-subjective to personal decisions, hence the site analyses and conceptual proposals to create buildings that are deemed of greater value with their supposed objective ‘truths.’ This may be the same reason for the production of platforms such as GIS -- in order to justify and legitimize the ‘truths’ in the way we produce maps.

Understand, then propose.
If we're looking for a kind of post-disciplinary, post-specialization future, then we like the possibilities for universalizing the structures of understanding our current globally-positioned milieu. It’s not just for cartographers and geographers to problematize the ‘black box’, both algorithmic and infrastructural, relaying the inputs and outputs of most human interactions today, especially if we listen to Stiegler and his pleas for engagement. To a certain degree, the kind of propositions design students make do not differ terribly from a kind of mapmaking. Design students, in their drawings and renderings, visually describe speculative configurations of extant and imagined spaces. If maps are propositions, then there is little difference between the propositions designers make and what they're talking about, on a theoretical level, even to the point of being instructions of sorts toward future action, whether it is building or walking or tax collection.

Above all, engage.
To recap: Talk is cheap. So are pixels and kilobytes. Influence and effect comes with practice. And practices. We are our productions -- cartographic, academic, capitalistic. To shy from action for fear of false steps is to fail. Epistemological enemies are easy to create; active engagements are far more challenging. It’s time.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Harvard GSD: Critical and Social Cartography

Ptolemy Windheads, ca.1490,
Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library
This spring I'm excited to be offering Critical & Social Cartography, a seminar in the Graduate School of Design (SES-5345). I've copied the course problematic and the weekly discussion topics below.

Critical & Social Cartography
Wednesdays, 10am-1pm
Gund Hall: Gropius Room

How might we identify the practices of responsive/responsible social and critical cartography, amid the proliferation of digital spatial media? To address this question, this seminar begins with the premise that cartography is not ‘dead’, although certainly challenged by the advancement of GIScience. Rather, the renewal of geographic representation can be charted as paralleling the advancement of neogeography, the saturation of location-based services, the marketization of geodesign, the reconfiguration of the humanities toward the spatial and the digital, and the drumbeats of ‘big data’, ‘the death of theory’, ‘quantified self’, ‘smart cities’, and ‘cyberinfrastructure’. In addition to these various stratifications, the contemporary resuscitation of mapmaking also opens a space for new discursive-material investigations and destratifying practices for (more-than-)representational geographies. However, where and when are the moments of fracture, of potential deterritorialization? How might we examine the histories of these reterritorializations in mapmaking, to inform our social and critical cartographies?

In this seminar, we will emphasize digital spatial technologies and practices, such as GIS, the geoweb, neogeography, location-based services, mobile spatial technologies, and their implications for politics and subjects, new forms of social control and exclusion, as well as debates about representation, epistemology, and method. We will read work from some of the well-established historical materialist, political economic, and feminist theorizations of geographic representation, as well as work by poststructuralist scholars that interrogates the subjectivities, embodiments, and more-than-human relations that emerge from and with geographic technologies. The course energies will cluster around three investments:
  1. Engagement and Representation. We will examine the historical precedents for the emergence of digital mapping, with particular attention to the ways in which maps engage. We begin with the presupposition that engaging representations are a fashioning of attention. Topics of discussion may include: attention work and the attention economy; maps that move; animated cartographies; cognitive capitalism; geodesign, urban design and geographic representation; university-community partnerships with mapping; geodemographics and ‘volunteered’ geographic information.

  2. Digital Mapping Histories. We will take up the emergence of digital mapping at Harvard and will explore the holdings within the university archives (as well as materials in Loeb) to situate our current preoccupation with digital spatial representation and mapping practices more generally. Topics of discussion may include: studies of geospatial technology development and use; inclusion of unconventional data in mapping; geographies of user-generated content and the geoweb; ethics, privacy, surveillance.

  3. Critical Mapping Rhizomologies. We will discuss the ‘classic’ scholarship that interrupt cartography and GIScience to better understand the timing of critical GIS as well as other variants of the GIS & Society tradition. Topics of discussion may include: critical geographic inquiry with mapmaking; histories of mapping technologies, histories of cartography; GIScience, the academic-industrial complex, and mapping industries; landscape/urban planning and participatory GIS; war-making, geospatial intelligence, and human terrain systems; historical and qualitative GIS; affective GIS, GIS as art.

Weekly Discussion Topics:
  1. Engagement, histories, criticality
  2. Cartographic thought, theories, concepts
  3. Digital spaces, code, memories
  4. Archives, attention, atmospheres
  5. Automation, computer mapping, GIS
  6. Quantitative and theoretical cartography
  7. Spatial practice, humor, affect
  8. [spring recess]
  9. Diagram, trace, rhizome
  10. GIS wars, GIS & Society, critical GIS
  11. Pretty maps, cartophilia, infographics
  12. New spatial media, crises and activism, big data
  13. Futures, technoscientific knowledges, digital subjects
  14. Map studies, manifestos, (post)critique

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Geography at Harvard: Maps and Mapping

This fall at Harvard, I'll be co-teaching Maps and Mapping with Charles Waldheim (chair of Landscape Architecture at the GSD). A course video has just been produced to promote the course on campus. Geography at Harvard!

Course description:
Mapping has been considered both an art and a science, as part of artistic, communicative, and analytical processes in the geographical tradition.  This course will serve as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and histories that enable mapping as an empirical and analytical practice, with particular attention to the digital.  It covers the centrality of the map in everyday life and considers the changing role of the map-maker as society becomes increasingly saturated by digital information technologies.  Of particular interest will be the use of Internet-based mapping tools and location-based services and the relationship of these tools with more traditional digital mapping techniques, such as geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS).  In addition the course will introduce principles in cartographic design, geovisualization methods for digital data, and digital map evaluation and critique, culminating in a series of maps created by students.

Maps and Mapping from Harvard Program in Gen Ed on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

GIS Workshop 2013

The following video wraps up the Spring 2013 GIS Workshop at the University of Kentucky. Read more about these partnerships here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

GIS Workshop Video

The design and marketing team in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Kentucky has finished producing a great video showcasing a couple university-community partnerships from my GIS Workshop course.  Also see an article written by the UK PR team, copied below.

[ See a previous iteration of this kind of video about GIS Workshop, here. ]

GIS Workshop: Community Partners from UK College of Arts & Sciences on Vimeo.

GIS Workshop Strengthens Community Ties

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 27, 2012) — For the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, it was an opportunity to reorganize youth programs; for the nonprofit Seedleaf, it was a way to better connect with volunteers; and for students in geography Professor Matt Wilson's class, it was the chance to apply their skills to engage with the Lexington community.

Students in Wilson's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Workshop course spent the past semester applying their knowledge of geographic technology from the classroom to assist real organizations in Lexington. The course, which capitalizes on resources within the College of Arts and Sciences, provides students with hands-on experience through community-based partnerships. Students incorporate mapping techniques and technology to enhance community organizations' operations.

"GIS Workshop is a great opportunity, primarily because it provides students with a capstone experience that allows them to apply the skills that they've already learned in their first and second years," Wilson said. "It's also great for community partners who otherwise would not have access to these rather expensive and sometimes time-consuming technologies — to be able to spend 12-13 weeks working with university students to build products that they can actually use in their day-to-day lives."

Geography student Amanda Witbeck worked with the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice (CKCPJ), creating maps that showed the spatial priorities of youth in Lexington. This involved utilizing a survey to determine the needs of high-risk youth, then mapping the data.

"These youth helped develop questions that they thought were really important to ask other youth," Kerby Neill, volunteer coordinator for the CKCPJ said. "We were very excited when we could begin to map these kinds of issues. We could say, 'where are the kids that are responding to this living, and where are their needs, and how do they compare with where the services are?'"

Neill said that a shortage of youth services represented a large concern for the CKCPJ, as programs for inner-city and at-risk youth had been shrinking dramatically. The new data will allow the organization to enhance the youth services that it offers.

"These maps that we made will probably be used in the next year to make some real differences in the Lexington community," Witbeck said.

Geography and German student Jon Finnie voiced the same sentiment with his community partnership.

Seedleaf is a nonprofit organization that installs and maintains community gardens. With eight free and open community gardens, as well as eight market gardens from which the organization sells food online, Seedleaf serves to address food-related issues in areas with diet-related health problems.

"With the GIS Workshop, we wanted to do two things," Finnie said, "First off, we wanted to make maps that would help them communicate to the community — to both volunteers and to people who otherwise had not known about Seedleaf, just help them communicate where and what they do. The second thing was to create some maps using things like census data that would help Seedleaf communicate where exactly in town people were finding it difficult to access tasty, nutritious food, which is typically more expensive, so we tied that back to income data."

Seedleaf founder and director Ryan Koch said that the students' help with connecting with volunteers was immensely useful.

"To have volunteer labor come out and catch a garden up, it means a lot to our organization, and it means a lot to the yield in the garden," Koch said. "Our stuff just does better when there are more hands on board, and to be able to make it accessible to volunteers was a big deal."

The maps also identified the locations of all Seedleaf gardens, helping demonstrate that the organization was addressing diet-related issues in key areas.

"We really want to demonstrate that we're doing our programming in these food deserts for a reason," Koch said.

Wilson said he was extremely pleased with the students' efforts as well as the real-world experience that the community partners provided.

"GIS Workshop is just one example of the many ways that we are trying to build connections to the community within the College of Arts and Sciences," Wilson said. "I look forward to future opportunities to do this kind of work."

MEDIA CONTACT: Sarah Geegan, (859) 257-5365;