October 6, 2009

billion dollar gram


[Visualization of the relative cost/value of various items measurable in billions of dollars, mostly related to the US, by Information is Beautiful. The version you can see there is much larger and readable. While the bigger items are the obvious attention-grabbers (Iraq War, stimulus plans), some of the smaller ones are just as interesting (and sad), such as "Internet Porn Industry" at $97 billion and "Feed Every Child in the World for a Year" at $54 billion.]

March 5, 2009

visual display of quantified incarceration

[detail from "Prison Block" in The Atlantic Monthly]

Nationwide, an estimated two-thirds of the people who leave prison are rearrested within three years. A disproportionate number of them come from a few urban neighborhoods in big cities. Many states spend more than $1 million a year to incarcerate the residents of single blocks or small neighborhoods.

One such "million-dollar neighborhood" is shown above--a half-square-mile portion of Central City, an impoverished district southwest of the French Quarter. In 2007, 55 people from this neighborhood entered prison; the cost of their incarceration will likely reach about $2 million.

The perpetual migration between prison and a few predictable neighborhoods is not only costly--it also destabilizes community life. Some New Orleans officials and community groups are now using prison-admission maps like these to explore new investments--block by block--in the social infrastructure of these damaged neighborhoods. Plenty of money is already being spent on these neighborhoods, in the form of policing and prison costs; the hope is that by spending more money in them, in a highly targeted fashion, the release-and-return-to-prison cycle can eventually be broken.

October 16, 2008

the chinese dream

At we make money not art, a review of The Chinese Dream, which puts this near the top of the urbanism reading list. The review is glowing, but it is more the pictures than the content of the review that make me eager to read the book:



The authors' self-description is certainly intriguing as well, promising a focus on "the enormous wave of anonymous buildings" and an "encyclopedic", "holistic" approach:

"China is in the midst of breakneck transformation. The last 30 years of astonishing economic growth and political and cultural reform have been driven by the world's biggest ever urban boom. The new China is now halfway built: within the next 30 years the world's most populous nation will most likely take centre-stage as a global superpower, with hundreds of millions of new urbanites flooding into the rapidly swelling cities. But this process -- presenting no less than the construction of a new society -- is taking place almost without time to think. The present is so all-consuming that fast realities threaten to eclipse the slow dream of tomorrow.

Taking as its starting point the goal announced in China in 2001 to build 400 new cities of 1 million inhabitants each by 2020, or 20 new cities a year for 20 years, the book explores the hopes and hazards of dreaming on such a scale. The question being asked is in fact no less than how to build a new utopia. But is China mortgaging its present for a promised future, and doing so at the same time that current speeds of construction eclipse any real forward planning?

The Chinese Dream is a visual tour de force, both encyclopaedic in scope and holistic in approach. Cutting across all levels of scale -- from individual to nation -- and backed by a truly multi-disciplinary team (encompassing architecture & urban planning, politics, economics, arts & culture, environmental concerns, and sociology) the book synthesizes a vast body of research to tackle the big questions of today, and to unpack the paradoxes at the heart of China's struggle for change.

Assembled over a four year continuous presence in China, the book lays aside over-exposed starchitect projects, and looks instead at the enormous wave of anonymous buildings currently reshaping the landscape and fabric of China itself. Bold texts, self-critical design proposals, exploratory photoessays, a unique glossary, and an innovative survey of China's young middle class, reveal China in all its astonishing diversity: from the glitziest megamalls to the gloomiest slums, and from the rural fringe to the mushrooming village. Featuring thousands of photographs, drawings and computer graphics, this is space as you have never seen it before: brash, outlandish, and very Chinese."

Visit BURB.tv, a collaborative research extension of the book project, for more (much more); the blocky, semi-minimalist, text-driven nature of the website reminds me (in a good way) of the now-expired muxtape (well, technically, muxtape is planning on a relaunch, at some point).

July 30, 2008

what music looks like

Since this dates to 2001, this is old news, but I just ran across it last week and thought it was gorgeous:

[The Shape of Song, Martin Wattenberg]

Wattenberg developed this kind of diagram, the arc diagram, to visualize "repetition at varying scales within a linear sequence":

"The diagrams in The Shape of Song display musical form as a sequence of translucent arches. Each arch connects two repeated, identical passages of a composition. By using repeated passages as signposts, the diagram illustrates the deep structure of the composition."

Both macro patterns and micro patterns are documented, with the difference in scale between those patterns immediately obvious. Since that's probably not a very clear explanation, I recommend going to read Wattenberg's own explanation (the explanatory diagrams make all the difference in explaining diagrams). A shorter explanation can be found here.

A number of other people have used this diagramming methodology (or a variation on it) to explore other kinds of data; perhaps my favorite is "Visualizing the Bible", which maps cross-references within the Bible into an interactive diagram.