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

 

2017 GeoCon Wish List: Part 1

I first wanted to publish this article initially as a wish list to the GIS Santa Claus in early December, but the holidays came and went so I am now submitting it as a New Year’s wish list (Part 1) for the 2017 GeoCon  in Lake Placid.  There will  be other suggestions over the next several months and I’ll remain cognizant  what I wish for as I may be submitting an abstract to present myself.  Maybe.

So to start the discussion, here is an initial list of  ten geospatial mapping applications and program areas I’d like to send a speaker invite to for the 2017 GeoCon – and why.

NYS Office of the Attorney General:  New York Crime Gun Analysis https://targettrafficking.ag.ny.gov/tool/

While mapping continues to be one of the primary end products of GIS analysis, geospatial data is increasingly being used in a wide range of data visualization platforms such as Tableau.    I’d welcome the opportunity to attend a presentation by the Office of the Attorney on the Crime Gun Analysis report outlining data collection, data analysis, and the rendering of the data through maps, tables, and charts.  Not the normal GIS menu.

New York State Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) http://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/

In context of geospatial, this program reference isn’t so much about “what it is”, as opposed to more about “what it isn’t”.  Or at least I think.  From my level, the REDC framework has always been somewhat of a mystery since current state administration created the 10 Regional Councils in 2011.  And even more confusing that the geography of the REDCs do not coincide with the statewide Regional Planning Commission boundaries. That said, there is an incredible amount of geospatial information and analysis in the Council’s underlying mission.  Everything happens somewhere.  And there is a ton of money coming through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process which I believe the GIS community should be more engaged and recipients of to some degree. Uber opportunities for web mapping applications, Story Maps, and GIS-produced maps for publications though one would be hard pressed to see any real evidence of a professional GIS touch in any of the Council products and services.   I looked through four regional 2016 “progress” reports (Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Capital Region and Southern Tier and found very limited reference to GIS/geospatial technologies.   Some kind of presentation by one of the REDCs and/or regional GIS personnel involved in this program would be most informative for the statewide GIS community.  Otherwise I doubt we’re going to hear anything through the state GIS program office on this.

511NY
https://www.511ny.org/

This is more of a selfish request than anything because I really don’t fully understand the makings and how 511NY operates in context of GIS/geospatial data collection, sources, work flows, or even development of their applications including the online mapping stuff.  I do know it’s big, visible, seemingly growing in functionality, supported by a mess of New York State transportation agencies -even though it has its own .org web address.  It also creates a lot of data which would be useful to consume and use in local government web mapping applications.   I’d be the first one to sign up to hear how it all comes together, funding, sources of the data (including what is being taken from and/or generated at the local level), opportunities for collaboration with local GIS programs, and what’s next.  How long before we see an Uber icon on the 511NY homepage to help support trip planning?

Continue reading

Deep GIS: Mapping What You Touch In the Subways

I’ve recently been communicating with Ebrahim Afshinnekoo who is Project Director for the PathoMap project based at the Weill Cornell Medicine Mason Laboratory in New York City.  Launched in the summer 2013, PathoMap was the first project of its kind, with the intent to comprehensively map and investigate the presence of bacteria and DNA on the surfaces of large urban, metropolitan environments such as New York City. And of course what better venue to collect bacteria samples in NYC than the subway system – the large subterranean behemoth home to 5.5 million riders on an average weekday.

I was drawn to the project in that it involves several common geospatial components the traditional GIS community is routinely involved with such as  data collection/data validation, data analysis, mobile apps, web mapping and visualization. To date, discussion on this geospatial research effort has focused mainly within the Cell Systems (scholarly journal) community, though with little exposure within the traditional NYS GIS community. While both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times published articles on PathoMap in 2015 we’ve seen little work of this nature at statewide conferences or how it can promote similar geospatial analysis across the Empire State. With this in mind, eSpatiallyNewYork initiated this blog entry with the purpose of exposing the PathoMap project, and its subsequent global expansion (MetaSUB) to the larger statewide GIS community.

Data Collection

The molecular profiling initiative launched in the summer of 2013 with the help of undergraduates from Cornell University and Macaulay Honors College – which were soon to be given the appropriate moniker “Swab Squad”.  To create a city-wide profile, the research team first built an Android/iOS  mobile application in collaboration with GIS Cloud to enable real-time entry and loading of sample metadata directly into a database (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Data collection from the project included the “swabbing” of sites and subsequent analysis and data entry of the findings into a mobile app which are dynamically uploaded to the Cloud GIS database. Source: Afshinnekoo et al., 2015

Continue reading

10 (Almost) Questions: Todd Fabozzi

Todd Fabozzi is an urbanist, writer, teacher and drummer. During his twenty-two-year career as a regional planner he has been an advocate for cities and sustainable design. He has lectured extensively on suburban sprawl and its consequences and has been involved in numerous urban planning, climate action planning, and watershed protection studies. Todd is an expert on the use of Geographic Information Systems and has taught a course on GIS at UAlbany for the past thirteen years. Todd has also published two books of poems and anti-poems. He lives in the city of Saratoga Springs, NY.

I caught up with Todd at NYGeoCon for a short discussion on life and GIS….

eSpatiallynewyork:  How long have you been with the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC)?

Todd:  I’ve been a professional urbanist for the past twenty-two years, twenty of which have been with CDRPC.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What’s one of the best examples of how GIS is used in your organization?

Todd:  I was charged with building the Commission’s GIS back in 1996. One of the first products from that effort was a regional atlas, which we published in oversized hard copy format (this was still pretty much pre-internet). The maps portrayed a whole variety of characteristics at the regional scale, giving the public a bird’s eye view of the spatial patterns of the Capital District for the first time. In addition to applying GIS in most of our program areas, I continue to create, update and publish regional maps (see www.cdrpc.org). I think understanding regional demographic, environmental and land use patterns is central to regional planning and GIS is the best tool for doing so.

eSpatiallynewyork: What professional associations or groups are you affiliated with?

Todd: Over the years I’ve tried out the American Planning Association, the Association of American Geographers, Progressive Planners Network, Congress for New Urbanism, and the NYS GIS Association. I also served for nine years on the NYS GeoSpatial Advisory Council. While for the most part I support the work of these groups, I’m currently unaffiliated (though with CNU and NYSGISA, it’s simply because I haven’t gotten around to renewing). I have to say though that in general I’m not a joiner, perhaps the anarchist in me keeps me at arm’s length from groups and group think.

eSpatiallynewyork:  If you had an extra $50K in your budget, what would you do with it?

Todd:  If it was a yearly allocation I would establish two part-time paid internship positions. CDRPC has been working on a climate and energy issues over the past few years and there are some interesting ways that GIS can be applied. So for example, a good intern project might be to identify (by analyzing the utility zones, solar orientation, area requirements, land uses and zoning laws) the places where community distributed solar might be feasible (community distributed solar allows one to receive solar energy from an offsite location).

eSpatiallynewyork:  Biggest professional accomplishment?

Todd:  Using GIS, imagery analysis and photography to document and portray sprawl and urban decline in the Capital District and through over two hundred presentations inciting a regional conversation on these issues back when it was politically and professionally risky to do so. This was the same presentation I made at the first NYS GeoSpatial Summit in 2006. http://www.nysgis.net/nygeosummit/year/2006/speakers.htm

eSpatiallynewyork:  What do you think of GISP certification?

Todd:  I don’t. I’m not concerned with merit badges. I’d rather let mapping do the talking.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Open Source or ESRI?

Todd:  We’re an ESRI shop but I’m open to whatever works best in a given situation…and the lower the cost the better.

eSpatiallynewyork:   If you could change one thing here in New York that you feel would make GIS more widely used, or more appreciated and understood – what would that be?

Todd:  Start teaching kids how to use GIS as part of the middle and high school curriculum.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What advice would you give to the next generation of individuals starting a career in GIS here in New York State?

Todd:  I’ve been teaching an Intro to GIS course at UAlbany for the past thirteen years and I think I counted seven different people at the most recent NYGeoCon that had taken my course and were now working professionally in NYS using GIS, which is satisfying. I reinforce to my students that GIS is a tool for something else, so get knowledgeable about something else, and then use GIS to help.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Any thoughts on the future of government GIS in the State of New York?

Todd:  There’s not much that state and local governments do that doesn’t have a spatial component, so the more we integrate GIS into government operations the more efficient those operations will be. I’ve heard you sing the gospel of web services for data delivery and I get that and think that is largely the direction things will head. Web-accessible GIS for basic tasks will also continue to proliferate, though there will still be a role for the desktop user with the full suite of tools at their disposal. I saw a presentation at the recent NYGeoCon about the City of Rochester’s various GIS applications that I found quite inspiring and think they’re setting an example of how GIS can be used in local government.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What would you be doing if you weren’t working with CDRPC?

Todd:  Assuming I was retired and didn’t have to earn a living I’d be playing my drums, writing, and traveling.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Your band is in the studio working on its 11th album – what can you tell us about it? 

Todd: Well, as some of my planning and GIS colleagues know, I’m also a professional drummer, and over the past eighteen years I’ve been the conga player for a twelve-piece original salsa band called Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra. It’s a fun alternative to the office. We get to make people smile and dance, which isn’t something urban planning usually accomplishes. We did a ten-day tour of Shanghai, China this past March, which was a high point for us. And as you noted, we are currently in the studio working on our 11th album. We’ve been in the early rounds of the Latin Grammy’s with a few of our past records. Maybe this will be the one in which we nail it? For anyone interested in the band see: www.alextorres.com.