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Episode 65 | Data, Design and Social Practice

Laura Kurgan of the Center for Spatial Research joins us to talk about how data and the design of data systems can be applied to social justice.

Episode 65 | Data, Design and Social Practice

About The Center for Spatial Research
The Center for Spatial Research is a cutting-edge laboratory at Columbia University in New York, USA, founded by Laura Kurgan. The Center is known for using advanced information tools and data gathering to build maps and other forms of representation in order to shed light on conflict, inequality, and other social justice issues. The Center was preceded by the Spatial Information Design Lab, also founded by Kurgan.

However, the Center has worked a wide array of projects, ranging from social media to human migrations. Kurgan’s work grew with the technology itself. The Digital Revolution put many new tools in the hands of designers, which were typically used to explore new formal directions in architecture. However, Kurgan embraced the tools of the digital era (principally, GIS and GPS) to begin to conceive of new ways of looking at the city.

The Center first gained international attention with its “Million Dollar Blocks” project. The project, in collaboration with the Justice Mapping Center, examined patterns of incarceration in New York City, and found that disproportionate numbers of inmates were from very small, concentrated areas of the city. While this was not a surprise to those who lived there, Kurgan’s work made the data intelligible to a wider audience, and provoked an urgent question: “if we’re spending $1M USD per year to incarcerate just the residents of this one block, could those funds be better spent?”

The Center’s more recent work examines ‘conflict urbanism,’ a broad study of different types of urban conflict, in different stages, and how those conflicts manifest in the creation or destruction of physical space. By presenting new forms of visualization, the Center hopes to encourage new lines of thinking about conflict.


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2018 is "Alright With Me" by Reggie Young from his album "Young Street." The break music is "Biza" by Juluka from their album "Ubuhle Bemvelo."