Introducing MapLab

Welcome to the first edition of MapLab, a newsletter exploring how maps illuminate the world around us. Here there will be many, friendly dragons: featurettes on newsworthy mapping efforts, fascinating cartographers, snippets of history, eye-popping data visuals, and intriguing map links. I’ll drop you a mix every two weeks.

You’re probably getting this because you subscribe to another CityLab newsletter. Yes, your inbox is jammed. But these dispatches won’t be designed for passive receipt. I want to pull map makers and map lovers together, to share and discuss the incredible landscape of cartographic work this digital century has spawned.

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Anchors aweigh,


Orient yourself: gerrymandering


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Paris’s Car Debate Gets Personal

If you’re sick of Paris’s traffic jams, go ahead and tell the mayor directly. That’s the gist of a motorists’ campaign launched Monday, which shared Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s direct phone number in a bid to encourage protestors to jam it.

Working under the hashtag #disleaAnne (“#tellAnne” in English), the motorist pressure group “40 Million Drivers” plans to do to City Hall’s switchboards what they say the administration has done to the roads: clog them up. Their goal is to ensure the mayor can no longer ignore their calls, and, more generally, force her to the negotiating table over the future of Paris’s streets.

The spat—and the distinctly personal assault on one figure—is a sign of how heated the city’s debate around cars has become. … Read the rest

What’s the Future of the Urban Farmers’ Market?

Locally sourced food, it seems, is pervasive these days—especially in cities. Once only available at a farmers’ market one morning a week in front of city hall, it’s now on offer at most urban supermarkets, many bodegas and corner stores, on converted buses driven deep into neighborhoods, and even delivered straight to the doorstep. Now that Amazon has acquired Whole Foods, some are speculating that drones will bring us our fresh produce in the not-too-distant future.

But don’t count out the traditional farmers’ market just yet. These aren’t the fusty, American Gothic-like experiences of your parents and grandparents. Farmers’ markets, especially the ones in cities, are adapting to the times, getting smart about data and technology, catering to new customer bases, and offering lots … Read the rest

Inside the Radical Community Response to Baltimore’s Spiking Murder Rate

Forty-one hours into a 72-hour ceasefire called by a group of Baltimore citizens, someone shot Lamontrey Tynes, a 24-year-old African American man. Tynes was the 209th person murdered in Baltimore this year.

“Everybody got the wind knocked out of them that weekend hearing that news,” Erricka Bridgeford, one of the people behind the Ceasefire movement, said of Tynes’ murder. “It made us realize that we hadn’t reacted to hearing about murder before like that and we must have been numb.”

A second person was shot five hours later.

The Ceasefire plan was simple. “Nobody kill anybody for 72 hours.” The conceit of citizens calling a ceasefire is a radical, first-of-its-kind tack to addressing the city’s historically high homicide rate. And whether it has yet been successful … Read the rest

How to Solve the Environmental Information Divide

The cattle herders of Mongolia’s Tuul River Basin can’t use cell phones—the only technology readily available to them—to access their government’s online portals on pollution data. Herders are left in the dark about effects that nearby mining is having on their land, groundwater, and livestock. This lack of accessibility is not solely a Mongolian problem. In a recent report, the World Resources Institute has found that information about water quality is not being broadcast in a way that vulnerable communities can easily find or utilize.

The report, “Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand,” is the result of a three-year investigation into the efficiency of approaches these governments are taking to release water quality data. … Read the rest

Lab Report: Judge Rips Into Texas’s Anti-Sanctuary Cities Law

‘Arbitrary and discriminatory’: Texas’s controversial ban on so-called sanctuary cities won’t be taking effect Friday as planned. A federal judge temporarily blocked the law on Wednesday, dealing a blow to one of the toughest state-issued immigration laws in the country. The New York Times reports:

In his ruling, Judge Garcia said that the law’s provision banning policies that limit enforcement of immigration laws was unconstitutionally vague and failed to define the specific prohibited conduct. The provision, the judge wrote, “ascribes criminal and quasi-criminal penalties based upon violations of an inscrutable standard, in a manner that invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against disfavored localities.”

Texas vowed to appeal Judge Garcia’s decision, setting the stage for the case to be heard by the United States Court of Appeals

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Southern Crawfish Are the Newest Scourge to Northern Infrastructure

Wildlife authorities in Michigan received the two reports just days apart in July, one from a lake near Vicksburg and another 100 miles away in a retention pond outside of Detroit. Both tips concerned the same critters—red swamp crawfish, or Procambarus clarkii, pint-sized crustaceans with a bloodletting pinch native to Southern states like Louisiana.

When state workers visited the Detroit-adjacent pond in Novi, they found the land around the water shot through with what looked like cannon fire. “You wouldn’t be able to walk through without probably sinking your shoes in,” says Michelle Crook, a senior project engineer for Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources. “On better than half of the pond, I’d say there’s probably a two-foot width of the shoreline where there … Read the rest

This Map Wants You to Stereotype Your City

You probably know where the hipsters, students, or rich people people hang out in your city. But when you’re traveling somewhere new and want to know the same thing, where can you go to figure it out?

Hoodmaps might have your back. Launched in July, this crowdsourced, color-coded map features more than 2,000 cities around the world, letting users draw and highlight parts of each city depending on what kind of urbanite they think is most likely to be found there.

Each city is divided into six color-coded categories: hipsters, “normies,” suits, tourists, “uni” (students), and rich. Users can also add tags wherever they want to say something that goes beyond one of the six categories.

Pieter Levels, the developer behind Hoodmaps, said in a … Read the rest

Bangkok’s Street Vendors Are Not the Enemies of Public Space

For a moment, it seemed like Bangkok was going to lose the very street food culture that’s defined the city for decades. Local newspaper The Nation reported last Tuesday that the city was planning to ban food stalls in all 50 of its districts as part of an effort to “clean up” the streets and “return the pavements to the pedestrians.” All would disappear by end of this year—the sweet and sticky aroma of coconut (a staple Thai ingredient), the sizzle of noodles hitting the wok as vendors fire up an order of pad thai, and the chaotic charm that draws some 20 to 30 million international tourists to the city each year.

After a public outcry, garnering media attention across the globe, Thailand’s chief of … Read the rest

Anatomy of the 7 Train

The 7 train is known for more than just rogue subway surfers. It’s a key line on the New York City public transit network, and arguably, the most diverse commute in the country. And this year, it marks its 100th year in operation.

Nicknamed the “International Express,” the 7 kicks off on Main Street, in Flushing, Queens; cuts through East Asian, Latino, South Asian, and other immigrant locales; and terminates in Hudson Yards, Manhattan. In 1999, the White House Millennium Council deemed it a National Millennium Trail for being a testament to the immigrant experience.

The route of the 7 train and the Flushing catchment area (Courtesy of Columbia University Press)

A new book by urban sociologists Stéphane Tonnelat and William Kornblum sketches a … Read the rest

This Magic Dutch Traffic Light Helps Bicyclists Avoid Stopping


Red lights are the momentum-sucking bane of any bicyclist—they add time to the trip and kill your physical efficiency (just ask a physicist!). But thanks to some weird, animal-based technology in the Netherlands, riders may soon be able to sail through the city on a magic wave of green lights without having to worry about stopping for cars.

Flo, a traffic system that went into place last week in Utrecht, is a tall, blue kiosk abutting a bike path. Using sensors, it determines cyclists’ speed from hundreds of feet out and displays several kinds of symbolic advice. If cyclists need to speed up to catch a green light at the next intersection, they get a hare (not to be confused with a rabbitRead the rest

The Invisible Network That Makes Cities Work

Do you trust your neighbor? With your spare keys? With your dog? To not look when you change clothes with the blinds open? And has that behavior changed?

As patterns of communication, social interaction, and economic exchange shift, so too does the nature of trust. You can’t see trust. You can’t touch it. But like the copper below city streets and the wires above them, a network of trust undergirds urban neighborhoods and communities. And it’s undergoing something of a revolution.

Economists who write about trust love behavioral game theory experiments that measure the risk-reward premium of trust. The Trust Game, a version of Daniel Kahneman’s famous Dictator Game, allows counterparts to loan or give each other money … Read the rest

The Hopes and Fears Around Ben Carson’s Favorite Public Housing Program

When Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren asked Ben Carson what he would do as HUD secretary to address the condition of U.S. public housing, Carson enthusiastically singled out one program for praise—the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD), a five-year-old federal initiative that has gone largely under the radar. He said he’s “very encouraged” by RAD’s early results, and “looks forward to working with Congress to expand this worthy program.”

RAD works by transferring public housing units to the private sector, so that developers and housing authorities can tap into a broader range of subsidies and financing tools to rehab and manage the units. Given Congress’s refusal to adequately fund public housing and the billions of dollars needed for backlogged repairs, supporters say RAD is the best available … Read the rest