SAVI Builds a Metro NYC Presence

The last couple years I’ve been watching the growth of GeoNYC Meetup group and continue to be amazed at the far-reaching representation of individuals and companies now involved in the broad field we call “geospatial”.  One person shops, start-ups, open source/open data techies, apartment and loft based companies, strong business and private sector representation, community based mappers, and everything in-between.  A much different composition and representation than that of the other existing statewide geospatial/GIS communities and organizations that I and other colleagues of my GIS generation came through.   To date I have published three previous blog posts focusing on other contacts made through GeoNYC:  Mapzen, Mapillary and NiJel.

Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI)

Also establishing a niche in the expanding geospatial space are community facing programs associated with and supported in academia environments.  One such program, which I was also introduced to through GeoNYC, is the  Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI).  It was launched in 2013 and is at Pratt Institute.  SAVI is a GIS-based research lab and service center that focuses on mapping, data analysis, and visual storytelling, providing students, faculty, and community groups with the resources they need to communicate information in compelling ways. The first and only New York City college-based GIS lab open to community organizations and civic groups, SAVI offers computer access, technical assistance, professional training, workshops, and research that empower local organizations to create their own visions to improve the quality of life for their clients and constituents. At Pratt, SAVI supports students and faculty whose work reaches beyond the Institute’s campus to engage and benefit New York City.

Leading the SAVI program is Jessie Braden, who was appointed Director in the Fall of 2013.  Prior to SAVI, Braden spent three years at the Pratt Center for Community Development, a non-profit affiliated with Pratt Institute that provides technical services to community organizations.  She has also been an adjunct professor of GIS in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Program since 2010.  Braden initially started SAVI with Pratt Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development (PSPD) Professor Juan Camilo Osorio as a volunteer side project in 2011 with the guidance of then Department Chair John Shapiro.  In addition to PSPD, Pratt Center and the Graduate Communications Design Department offered their official support, allowing the lab to come to fruition and solidifying SAVI’s focus on communities AND design.  Pratt Center also secured a $670,000 grant from NYC City Council to renovate a physical space on Pratt’s campus so SAVI can serve community organizations and students.  During the time the program was being institutionalized at Pratt, Osorio took a full-time position as Director of Research at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Though not involved in day to day operations, Osorio remains a trusted advisor to SAVI.

SAVI consolidates the Institute’s GIS resources with an eye to social benefit. This means putting data analysis in the hands of community activists, students, and faculty. It also means making the products of GIS expertise visually legible and compelling so that the stories they tell will have as much impact as possible.

“At the end of the day, visual representation is as important as the quality of data analysis,” Braden observes. “Our vision for SAVI is to produce outstanding multidisciplinary projects  with the highest-caliber visual display— making the invisible visible, both inside and outside Pratt’s gates.”  Its Jessie’s belief, which I share,  that a well designed map should be able to stand on its own.  Such a product enables the reader to conduct the “spatial analysis” based on the distribution and rendering of the map data itself – with only minimal accompanying narrative to explain or describe the map.

Braden points to specific mapping projects which exemplify the SAVI cause:
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NiJeL Expands its New York State Presence

Established by Nancy S. Jones, JD Godchaux, and Lela Prashad in 2007, NiJeL is a company founded on the goal of helping organizations and communities building interactive dashboards, infographics and maps, building strong advocacy tools, and to connect with their communities and sponsors.  Ms. Prashad (CEO) currently leads NiJeL, while Mr. Godchaux (CTO) serves as the primary interactive developer, and Ms. Jones provides management oversight and strategic direction.  NiJeL began after the three had volunteered as American Friends for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Phoenix, Arizona while attending Arizona State University as graduate students.

After the successful launch of one of their early online mapping applications in support of Duet – a metro-Phoenix nonprofit dedicated to supporting and improving the quality of life for senior citizens – NiJeL relocated main staff in 2011 to Brooklyn, and since then have been engaged in a number of Empire State oriented geospatial projects.

NiJeL uses standard statistical, mapping, and database software, and develop custom open applications for websites, mobile devices, and desktop computing.  “What makes us different from other groups like us in this space is our custom process to assess current data, metrics, and technology workflows with regards to the organization’s culture and specific goals” notes JD Godchaux .   NiJeL works with  a wide variety of organizations and their focus on using open-source components allows the firm to be flexible in how projects are approached and ultimately designed.  Their commitment to open-source tools allows to provide training for technical staff to manage and make changes to the technology solution they deliver to the client.  Illustrative projects include: Continue reading