Political Space

Friday, November 26, 2010
As the dust settles following the 2010 midterm elections, we're back to agonizing over the political nature of spatial relationships.  Both sides are gearing up for the state-level redistricting fights that will occur with the arrival of data from the most recent nationwide census.  Gerrymandering is the oldest geostatistical art, but it doesn't have a long history in the public eye.  This could be intentional; dividing a republic into fair, representative districts is both a philosophical and a practical exercise, mind-boggling in its complexity.  Small wonder that it becomes a game of party advantage, played by a select few.

Two recent projects have sought to shed some light on the process of redistricting:
  • The Redistricting Game, produced by Annenberg Center for Communication and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  It raises all sorts of insights about how the current process is tailor-made to reinforce partisanship, including this excellent point by David Winston, a former RNC mapping strategist: 
" . . . When I, as a mapmaker, have more of an impact than the voters, the system is out of whack."
From The Redistricting Game (USC, 2010)

  • David Sparks could be referred to as a "Cartographic Political Scientist". His recent work on redistricting alternatives should - and most likely will not - be considered at the national level as a fairest way to subdivide the population into voting units. In a manner not unlike the geodemographic segmentation analyses offered by GeoSprocket, he's created voting districts based on the greatest possible contiguity, or the shortest travel distance for voters to their district center. This is a stated - but largely ignored - goal of redistricting today; contiguity is usually only considered when it works to party advantage.
Demo "Contiguous" Districts in North Carolina (D. Sparks, 2010)

Geospatial technologies have proven to be essential tools for partisan demographic division in politics.  In a representative democracy, how can spatial analysis be used to promote real representation?
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Memory and the Vertical Perspective

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yesterday Google marked the 150th anniversary of the first aerial photo acquired in the U.S.  They overlayed the photo (of what is now downtown Boston) on Google Earth imagery, and set it at the appropriate viewing angle in the video above.
In the scope of human history, aerial photography can seem like a very young technology.  But for those of us watching the updates and advances roll out on a near-daily basis today, the 1860 image of Boston has a ghostly quality, as though we're looking into the past through a window that shouldn't exist.  I often get a similar sensation when analyzing land surface changes over much shorter timescales - looking at forest mortality since 1980, for instance, or urban growth between 1970 and 1990.  It seems like pixels should have a harder edge to them than memories, but they often feel like ephemeral impressions.  This is especially true if they represent something lost like the Boston Common of 1860, or the Cornfields of South Burlington, VT in 1937:

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