Mapping Hidden Patterns In Our Cities

Laura Kurgan is Associate Professor of Architecture at Columbia University in New York, where she is Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL).

A map, by formal definition, is a diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, et cetera. Kurgan and her Design Lab usually map those kinds of things that fall under the ‘et cetera’ category.

Laura Kurgan

Laura Kurgan

Since 2004, when the lab first saw the light of day, they have completed dozens of projects — from mapping Foursquare and Facebook data to understand how social media users explore the city, to mapping city-prison-city-prison migration flows to point out that the government spends more than one million dollars to incarcerate prisoners who live within a single census block.

Mapping Foursquare and Facebook check-ins to understand how social media users explore the city or more importantly how they broadcast their exploits. The motivations behind these broadcasts vary between the two social media sites. Foursquare users tell us more about the mundane nuances of life, while Facebook users tend to use the site to brag about the iconic places they have been to

Mapping Foursquare and Facebook check-ins to understand how social media users explore the city or more importantly how they broadcast their exploits. The motivations behind these broadcasts vary between the two social media sites. Foursquare users tell us more about the mundane nuances of life, while Facebook users tend to use the site to brag about the iconic places they have been to

“We see our task as converting information that is otherwise dormant, invisible, or simply incomprehensible into images and arguments that provide grounds for research, discovery, and action”, says Kurgan.

Million Dollar Blocks
Using rarely accessible data from the criminal justice system, the Million Dollar Blocks project maps city-prison-city-prison migration flows to point out that the American government spends more than one million dollars to incarcerate prisoners who live within a single census block

Using rarely accessible data from the criminal justice system, the Million Dollar Blocks project maps city-prison-city-prison migration flows to point out that the American government spends more than one million dollars to incarcerate prisoners who live within a single census block

Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology and Politics is Kurgan’s latest project. “The maps in this book are drawn with satellites, assembled with pixels radioed from outer space, and constructed from statistics; they record situations of intense conflict and express fundamental transformations in our ways of seeing and of experiencing space.” In the publication, Kurgan digitally visits places like Kuwait and Kosovo, while she touches upon topics like mass graves, incarceration patterns, disappearing forests, and currency flows.