If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a map worth?

By Robin Miller

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I have always been  intrigued by the power of maps and their ability to draw the viewer into the narrative they illustrate. It is understandable that I was thrilled when I learned the Information School at Pratt would be hosting a workshop entitled “Storytelling with Maps: Visualization as Narrative” presented by Jessie Braden from the Pratt Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI). After attending the workshop, I knew that I wanted to learn more about SAVI and geographic information systems (GIS) technologies, so I approached Jessie with a request to visit onsite at SAVI and she was kind enough to accept.

So, on a cold and blustery autumn morning, I travelled to Brooklyn and had the pleasure of spending three hours in the warm company of Jessie Braden, Case Wyse and their hardworking team at the Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative. Located in a newly redesigned subterranean space on the Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus, SAVI serves as a technical research and service center for the greater Pratt community as well as external clients, through the use of mapping, data and design. When I arrived I had the opportunity to speak one on one with Jessie Braden, SAVI Director and co-founder, who gave me an overview of what they do, who are their clients, and what type of technologies they use. In brief, the SAVI team provide GIS lab support to Pratt students and faculty on the Brooklyn campus and consulting services for non-profit and community-based organizations, often pro-bono. She also noted that they have been very fortunate and have never had to do any formal advertising. All of their contract work comes via word of mouth from previous clients. When I asked what a normal day looked like, she told me it would be roughly 30% consulting services, 30% support to the Pratt community, 30% administration of SAVI, and 10% research.

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Additionally, she provided a detailed overview of their certificate program for professionals as well as information on upcoming workshops at SAVI. They also offer a GIS and design certificate program for professionals to incorporate data driven mapping and visualization tools into their problem solving toolbox. As I am very interested in GIS work, I was excited to learn about the different technologies employed by the SAVI team. Jessie was happy to provide a short list of the products they use most often which include:

MAPPING

  • Arch GIS – (heavy usage)
  • QGIS
  • Carto
  • Map box
  • Leaflet
  • Esri

DATA CLEANING & ORGANIZATION

  • Excel
  • R & Python
  • SQL (in ArchGIS)
  • Open Refine
  • Adobe

I was then invited to attend their Friday check-in meeting where the full team discuss current, upcoming, and possible future projects. During the meeting Jessie discussed several projects that are currently being reviewed including the Hudson River project for graphic design and data mapping services, pro bono work for Mixteca working with undocumented immigrants, and a vacancies project which looks at commercial vacancies in New York City. The meeting closed with a team review of their new business cards.

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After the meeting, I was able to meet one on one with Case Wyse, who works as a Spatial Analyst. He gave me an overview of his work which he stated is more on the data analysis side, whereas Jessie does most of the visualization.

Additionally, I had time to speak with their 2017 GIS and Design Certificate Program Student Fellow and two of their graduate student assistants who were working in the lab. All three provide support to Pratt students and faculty who come to use the lab or need help incorporating GIS and mapping tools into their own work, as well as work on projects, as assigned by the SAVI team leaders.

“We are absolutely inundated with volumes of geospatial data,” says Mike Tischler, director of the US Geological Survey’s National Geospatial Program, “but with no means to effectively use it all.”1

In conclusion, SAVI is doing great work and if the folks at Wired and the US Geological Survey are to be believed then they are going to continue to be very busy. I am grateful to Jessie, Case and their team for taking the time to speak with me.

https://commons.pratt.edu/savi/

1 Enthoven, T. 2017. Mapping the Future: Cartography stages a Comeback. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/mapping-the-future-cartography-stages-a-comeback/

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