Jonathan Levy: Cartography Remixed

Jonathan Levy is yet another geospatial enthusiast I have made contact with via the burgeoning GeoNYC Meetup group. It’s a small world indeed as Jonathan and I share some common interests including music, sports, and time spent in one of my most favorite spaces: Idaho. His path down the cartographic road might be considered a bit different than the conventionally trained geospatial professional.  However, what is coming out the other end today is a wide range of interesting cartographic products and services.  Enough for an interesting dialog and blog post – including some interesting personal stuff on the side.  Enjoy.

Jonathan Levy grew up in the Durham and Chapel Hill areas of North Carolina spending lots of time running around in the outdoors.  His dad was a huge fan of National Geographic exposing Jonathan to both the beauty and vastness of the publication’s cartographic products and at the same time taking him camping and trail hiking around  in the Appalachian Mountains.  In his teens, he completed an Outward Bound course which introduced him to orienteering and using maps for navigation and survival.

After graduation from high school, Jonathan attended Brandeis University majoring in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies with a minor in Environmental Studies focusing on conservation biology and environmental politics.  After finishing his undergraduate work he traveled to Grenada, West Indies, to teach environmental/social science to children with Dr. Dessima Williams.   Afterwards, he worked for Polaroid’s Corporate Environmental Department in Boston, MA for nine months before heading to Salmon, Idaho as part of the Student Conservation Association working with the U.S. Forest Service in the Frank Church Wilderness Noxious Weed Inventory program.  It was here he was introduced to Global Positioning System (GPS) data collection concepts and GIS software to make maps of field guides of rare plant species in the wilderness area.

Completing his internship work in Idaho in 2002, Jonathan was  given a grant towards graduate study at at Hunter College in New York City in the MA program specializing in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)  and Media during which time he was able to intern at the United Nations and the New York City Office of Emergency Management.  He received his Masters from Hunter College in 2005.

Getting Started

His first job out of Hunter College was with the NY State Legislative Task Force for Demographic Reapportionment which Jonathan notes “was very GIS heavy and really interesting”.  At this point he began picking up freelance work on the graphics side of things with TED.com, Maps.com and Not For Tourists – the latter of which was has continued to be a successful long term contract.

Along the way he has continued to expand his use of the ESRI software particularly with regard to the spatial/network analyst extensions as well as becoming proficient in QGIS and Carto. Because he extends his cartographic product beyond the what is available with GIS software, Jonathan uses Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for graphics processing, texturing and post production. For 3D renderings he uses Cinema 4D, After Effects, and Sketchfab.

Sample Cartographic Products

Lower Manhattan Buildings:

This 3D rendering of buildings in Lower Manhattan show the years in which they were built from 1700 to the present. The gradations of dark orange to light orange correspond to the newest to the oldest buildings. The data used to create this map came from NYC Open Data.

Environs Map Series:

This series is a way of sharing Jonathan’s life experiences of favorite places and spaces in his  life through map renderings and illustrations.  It is his personal experience of specific places and the personal “visions” of that space.  He gets requests to produce custom maps for friends, family and clients who want their town or neighborhood mapped in this style. He’s currently working on a Valentine’s day gift for a client who wants a map of Roncolo di Quattro Castella in this style.  These images are created using: Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, scanned textures and GIS data.

Jonathan notes: “I love seeing Long Island City from across the East River. The Pepsi and Long Island City signs are featured prominently although here I’ve replaced them with my sister and brother in law’s names in lieu of their recent marriage.”

Airbnb:

Jonathan notes this was a “fun” project. Using some fancy internal tools Airbnb developed, Jonathan helped map out neighborhood boundaries in 20+ cities across the U.S – including New York City.   It involved lots of research and involvement with city planners, residents and/or a combination thereof to get a feel for the individual city.

Sample of one NYC neighborhood maps – Chinatown – Jonathan researched and created for Airbnb helping users better define which areas and neighbors they are looking for lodging and accommodations.

Montauk 3D:

This was a personal project that was inspired by his time this past summer learning to surf in Montauk. He was struck by the interesting topography of the area. He took digital elevation model (DEM)  data, exaggerated the contours in Cinema 4D for effect, created custom topographic palettes and created a website that uses Sketchfab’s API to switch out textures on the 3D surface. Link to website: http://aws-website-montaukd-vr1zr.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com.  (Note:  Sketchfab recommends WebGL to display 3D content in real-time  which is a standard in most modern browsers.  Check your browser for compatibility at http://get.webgl.org/).

Amped Topography of Montauk: If you know the Montauk landscape and locations of specific geographic features (i.e., Lake Montauk and the Lighthouse – chances are you would find these renderings of the area very interesting – and different.

Loud Noise/Noise Complaints:

Jonathan also enjoys scrapping data from public web sites to develop maps and visuals.  While living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Jonathan created a Party/Loud Music Complaints map based on 311 data obtained from New York City’s Open Data Portal. These maps include and reflect his interest in rendering the “personality” of geospatial data through design choices – as illustrated in this map/web map – including a dark background, a purplish nighttime color palate and star animated Gifs.  Indeed an interesting map from a person who loves loud music and spends his spare time playing in a metal band!

Built with OpenStreetMap, this interactive map allows users to pan around Manhattan to see which NYC zip code has the largest number of noise complaints as filed through 311.

The Other Stuff

Jonathan always finds his legal mapping client work interesting as it requires mapping and data development to such a fine level of detail.  Often such work involves boundary disputes requiring the review of historical deeds and historic photogrammetry to determine boundary line changes. Looking forward he continues working with Sketchfab in context of mapping in the 3D space.  He supports Sketchfab because it is “accessible, light and has a community for sharing 3D models with annotation”.

As a one person shop, Jonathan does not have a large marketing and public relations budget and as such all of  his business development is  word-of-mouth.  He’s recently created an interactive presentation for a close friend and chef/owner Will Horowitz (Duck’s Eatery / Harry & Ida’s) which he presented at the Food on the Edge conference in Ireland. He’s working on an online platform, Common Scraps, which addresses the issue food waste.   As an extension he has produced some animated maps that show how food scraps can be saved and reused in an exchange system between local farms/suppliers and restaurants.

Jonathan covers a lot of ground and styles in his work which is more detailed and described on his website. Take a look, and if you are really lucky you might find him playing at a local club down the street with his band Autowreck.  Go check them out.

Though take some ear plugs and hold on.

Contact:  Jonathan Levy @ jl@jlcartography.com

 

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