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Center for Spatial Research

The Center for Spatial Research at Columbia University in New York City is an urban research hub linking design, architecture, urbanism, the humanities with data science. It focuses on using data in the service of social justice; building maps and other visual tools to help scholars, students and collaborators understand cities and their inherent issues from conflict to inequality.

The Center first gained international attention in 2003 with its “Million Dollar Blocks” project. Working in collaboration with the Justice Mapping Center, it documented, mapped and created visualization strategies that showed the neighborhoods where the majority of incarcerated people in New York City came from. Unsurprisingly, they uncovered a very few, mostly poor, urban neighborhoods. The costs of incarcerating people from single city blocks are in the millions of dollars; money that could be pro-actively invested in the communities themselves.

Other projects have included data mapping social media in China to examine the intersection of censorship and activism. In 2016, out of an interest in how conflict makes, unmakes and remakes urban spaces, they created a very high resolution, interactive map of the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo.  Data for the maps is taken from satellite images over a number of years, from before the war in 2012, then again in 2014 and 2016.

By harnessing data to create new forms of visualization, the Center hopes to encourage new lines of thinking about urban issues, inequality and conflict.