Data Devolution: The Topography of Crime

Next time my mom berates me for taking the bus late at night, I’ll be able to back up my claim that that particular part of downtown is totally safe at two in the morning. That’s thanks to SF Crimespotting, a new site that superimposes detailed crime data from police records onto an accessible and pretty mapping interface.

Built by Stamen, a design studio specializing in data visualization, SF Crimespotting – like its Oakland-focused predecessor – maps crimes in the city to street level with color-coded dots representing an array of transgressions. The snazziest part is that it lets you limit your search by time period (month, week, day or subsection thereof) or by broader intervals like “commute,” “dark” (nearest hour), and “swing shift.” They’re also working on RSS feeds that send alerts when crimes occur in areas you specify.


Besides the tool’s potential impacts on the real-estate market, crime prosecution and agoraphobia rates, Crimespotting is cool in that it recognizes the connection between space and the social. Most social analysis mistakenly considers the environment to be a neutral backdrop to interactions and ignores the interplay between people and space.

For one, representing information geographically can lead to some unexpected (and aesthetically pleasing) correlations, like this image by Stamen partner Shawn Allen blending trees, cabs and crime.



SF Crimespotting can also serve as a myth buster (there were a lot more crimes around that downtown bus stop when it was light out than when it was dark!) that can not only calm my mom's fears, but also potentially reshape our mental maps of the city. Realistically, though, most people won’t reference the site enough for this objective information to substantially alter their views of neighborhoods, which have a lot to do with personal experience and emotional valence.

The folks at Stamen, who undertook the project independently of the city or police department, are mappers with a mission:
We’ve found ourselves frustrated by the proprietary systems and long disclaimers that ultimately limit information available to the public. As citizens we have a right to public information. A clear understanding of our environment is essential to an informed citizenry.
Crimespotting democratizes access to geo-specific data, making it possible for anyone to get information about their environment. They make it even easier to share information by allowing you to pass on links to a particular view of the map. Decentralizing geographic data not only enables anyone to be a social scientist, but is critical for strengthening local decision-making and community planning efforts.

Credits: Images from Thrillist.com and Flickr user Shawn Allen.

About Polis

Polis is an inclusive blog about cities around the world. The name is an adaptation of its meaning as city-state, representing a virtual gathering place where anyone can address an international community. We offer multimedia posts on diverse urban-related themes, encouraging submissions from experts and enthusiasts alike. Founded in 2009, Polis is a volunteer effort dedicated to facilitating dialogue and collaboration toward improving the quality of life in cities. We embrace theory and practice, observation and engagement, research and development, critique and creativity.

We welcome you to participate by submitting a post. To stay informed of new posts, you can subscribe to the Polis RSS feed or email list. We can also be found on Twitter and Flickr. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, please contact us at info@thepolisblog.org.

Team

Hector Fernando BurgaHector Fernando Burga was born in Lima, Peru, and currently lives in Berkeley, Calif. He is a doctoral candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley and a former graduate fellow at the Center for Research on Social Change. An architect and urban designer by training, his research focuses on metropolitan Miami, where he investigates how empowered immigrant communities challenge institutional planning practices through material, legal and cultural claims to the city. These interrogations are framed by an understanding of critical urban theory, ethnographic methods and professional practice. He is a co-founder of the Design Justice Hub, a project drawing from the fields of urban studies, planning, policy, ethnic studies and design to develop research-oriented initiatives that confront social and racial inequality in the built environment.

Min Li Chan hails from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and has most recently lived in Hong Kong, New York and San Francisco. She is perennially curious and passionate about the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, public policy, international development, anthropology and design. Upon graduating from Stanford University in electrical engineering, Min Li joined Google, traveled and worked across cities in Asia Pacific on a range of initiatives, including technologies for emerging economies, NGOs and open web developers. Previously, Min Li has contributed to iinnovate, a podcast on innovation and entrepreneurship and Solutions Magazine, a publication on social entrepreneurship. Min Li is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. When not traveling and observing the way people live and use technology, she is a self-professed music geek and enjoys playing music, walking in and photographing urban spaces and people, and connecting with fellow global nomads.

Natalia EcheverriNatalia Echeverri was born in New York City but grew up in Bogota, Colombia. She is an architect and lecturer in the urban design program at the University of Hong Kong. She received a master’s degree in architecture and city planning from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was awarded the J.K. Branner Traveling Fellowship to research the impact of financial speculation in cities at the onset of the 2008 global economic crisis. Her current research centers on the consequences of urban transformations occurring at an unprecedented pace and scale in Asia. Before joining the University of Hong Kong faculty, Natalia developed an architecture, urban design and landscape architecture practice that continues to take on interdisciplinary projects.

Melanie FriedrichsMelanie Friedrichs grew up outside of Washington DC and graduated from Brown University with a degree in economics in the spring of 2012. Her interest in cities stems from a round-the-world comparative study abroad program that looked at urban issues in New York, Delhi, Dakar, and Buenos Aires. She joined the first class of Venture for America fellows after graduating and will spend her next two years working for urban revitalization through entrepreneurship in low-income American cities. She has a strong interest in social enterprise and its intersection with community development, and in the role of institutional change in economic growth. She is also an avid ultimate frisbee player.

Anna FogelAnna Fogel works for ShoreBank International, an international consulting firm in Washington, D.C., that works to expand access to finance, focusing on microfinance, housing finance and small business finance. She was previously a Trustman Traveling Fellow and studied low-income housing development in India and Israel for a year. She spent six months in India evaluating the sustainability of the design and financing of slum redevelopment programs. She then worked in Israel on the beginnings of community participation in planning in Jaffa. She returned to the USA to work on Obama’s campaign in Youngstown, Ohio, where she witnessed a rustbelt city’s housing challenges. She worked with housing advocacy organizations in New York, Boston and DC while earning her BA at Harvard College where she wrote a thesis on the design of a low-rise, high-density housing project in Brooklyn.

Tere García AlcarazTere García Alcaraz is an architect and development practitioner from Catalonia, with a focus on community planning in informal settlements. She studied architecture at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and, after several years of working in Barcelona, continued her architectural studies at London Metropolitan University. Fascinated by cities and their cultures and people, Tere researches gaps between the formal and informal in urban environments. She specializes in participatory planning and design, slum-upgrading and diversity in the built environment. She has worked on research projects in Spain, Venezuela and the United Kingdom. Tere is also a member of L.P.U., and the author of Train of Thought.

Melissa García LamarcaMelissa García Lamarca spent her formative years in Mexico City, which subconsciously piqued her fascination with cities, especially issues of space, place, community, social change and sustainability. She explored these themes through studies in geography, economics, development and urban design in development. Melissa has grown up a nomad, working and living in many places around the world. Her longest "home" was Montreal, where she worked on sustainability issues at Concordia University, and with Sustainability Solutions Group, a consulting cooperative that helps create more sustainable institutions and places. She was a traveling faculty member for IHP Cities in the 21st Century in 2011, and a teaching fellow at the UCL Development Planning Unit in 2012. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Manchester School of Environment and Development, studying the institutionalization of insurgent claims in urban development.

Rebecka GordanRebecka Gordan is a journalist focusing on the social aspects of architecture, design and city planning. She is an editor and reporter at Arkitekten, the journal of the Swedish Association of Architects, and editor for New Urban Topologies, an international urban exchange project. She is the author of a forthcoming book on informal housing in India. Previously, Rebecka was assistant editor at The Architect's Newspaper in N.Y. and a contributor to the 2010 yearbook of the Swedish Museum of Architecture. She received a B.A. in Modern Urban History and an M.A. in Journalism from Stockholm University.

Ali MadadAli Madad is a designer, writer, educator, hierophant and principal in New York and Los Angeles based SCTY, a multi-disciplinary art and design practice dedicated to the manifestation of creative disruptions. His work focuses on the both the theoretical and practical role design plays within culture and public space. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Design at Pratt Institute since 2004 and was a Visiting Artist at Cooper Union in 2009.

Vivien ParkVivien Park is a Hong Kong-born, Chicago-based installation and new media artist. After working for several years as an interaction and graphic designer for the high-tech industry in Seattle, Vivien returned to the academic setting in 2005 to complete her degree in painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Fascinated by topology, place and non-place, she explores these ideas in site-specific installations that draw references from architecture, construction materials, and her experiences in the corporate world. Vivien has exhibited in various group and solo shows in Chicago. She designs next-generation user experiences for Motorola during the day, and occasionally VJs for electronic music shows under the name gravitymax.

Jordi Sánchez-CuencaJordi Sánchez-Cuenca is a Spanish urban planner, trained in Barcelona’s School of Architecture and London’s Development Planning Unit. He has lived and worked in Barcelona, Hanoi, London, Nagercoil, Pondicherry and Palma de Mallorca, and had short work experiences in Accra, Belo Horizonte, Ho Chi Minh City, Madrid, Mumbai, Nanjing and Pune. Jordi is currently working in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating 3 ministries and 5 UN agencies in the implementation of an innovative water and sanitation programme. Jordi is a particularly stubborn supporter of participatory democracy and environmental sustainability, and he’s constantly looking for new opportunities to be challenged on these issues.

Katia SavchukKatia Savchuk is a freelance journalist and photographer and a Fellow at the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she is a graduate student. Previously, she spent a year and a half as a consultant for the Mumbai affiliate of Shack/Slum Dwellers International and worked as a private investigator conducting due-diligence, anti-corruption and litigation-related investigations around the world. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, City Limits, PBS MediaShift and the Palo Alto Weekly. She received a B.A. in Social Studies from Harvard and an M.Sc. in Urbanisation and Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Follow her on Twitter @katiasav.

Alex SchafranAlex Schafran is a planner, urbanist and geographer living in Paris. He recently completed a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, and now teachers urban studies and geography at two universities in Paris and does research on the transformation of French and American suburbs. A collection of his writing, including an anthology of 50+ pieces for Polis, can be found at alexschafran.com.

Peter SigristPeter Sigrist is a doctoral student in City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. He is currently working on a historical study of shared space around apartment buildings in Moscow. His interests include adaptive reuse, horticulture, art and walking around in cities.

Cristiana StravaCristiana Strava was born and raised in Romania. After studying anthropology and visual and environmental studies at Harvard, she was awarded a Michael Rockefeller Fellowship to travel to Morocco, where she worked with the Moroccan Energy Ministry to document the potential for solar-powered architecture in the Middle Atlas region and studied vernacular architecture and sustainable building techniques. Cristiana is a budding audio-visual artist who has filmed and produced videos on community adaptation to climate change and representation of the exotic "other." She is currently a doctoral student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where she explores new methodological tools for a phenomenological approach to slum redevelopment.

Andrew WadeAndrew Wade is faculty on the International Honors Program “Cities in the 21st Century” – a comparative cities course that critically investigates urban issues in New Orleans, São Paulo, Cape Town and Hanoi. His research aims to diversify applications of design thinking and interpret the spatial consequences of development and planning policies. He has consulted for strategy and design practice 00:/ in London and authored a case study on sustainable housing for the United Nations Environment Programme. Raised in rural Maryland and based in New York, he studied at the McGill University School of Architecture in Montréal and the Development Planning Unit of University College London. Follow him on Twitter @taylorwade.

Submission Guidelines

Polis welcomes posts on urban themes from contributors of all backgrounds, from all over the world. Pieces should relate to cities, broadly speaking, and can include text (less than 1500 words), images, audio, video or a combination of these. On-the-ground posts encouraged! We don't accept material that is commercial, propagandist, antagonistic or that has already appeared elsewhere online. We may edit for clarity and grammar. Include at least one image (with credits) and a 1-2 sentence bio. If you would like to submit, please contact us at info@thepolisblog.org or @thepolisblog.

Writers

Hector Fernando BurgaHector Fernando Burga was born in Lima, Peru, and currently lives between Miami, Florida and Berkeley, Calif. He is a doctoral candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley and a Graduate Fellow at the Center for Research on Social Change. An architect and urban designer by training, his research focuses on metropolitan Miami, where he investigates how empowered immigrant communities challenge institutional planning practices through material, legal and cultural claims to the city. These interrogations are framed by an understanding of critical urban theory, ethnographic methods and professional practice. He is also the co-founder of Up-Lab, a Design Think Tank Startup based in Miami.

George CarothersGeorge Carothers trained as an urban planner in Waterloo and later worked as a researcher of urban studies in Toronto. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Geography, investigating the function of participation in planning amidst deepening neoliberal conditions in South India. George holds a master's degree from the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, where he explored processes of participatory planning in informal settlements in India. His research and interests in urbanism have taken him to numerous cities, villages and huts around the globe. He is based in London, Bombay and Trivandrum.

Min Li Chan hails from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and has most recently lived in Hong Kong, New York and San Francisco. She is perennially curious and passionate about the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, public policy, international development, anthropology and design. Upon graduating from Stanford University in electrical engineering, Min Li joined Google, traveled and worked across cities in Asia Pacific on a range of initiatives, including technologies for emerging economies, NGOs and open web developers. Previously, Min Li has contributed to iinnovate, a podcast on innovation and entrepreneurship and Solutions Magazine, a publication on social entrepreneurship. Min Li is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. When not traveling and observing the way people live and use technology, she is a self-professed music geek and enjoys playing music, walking in and photographing urban spaces and people, and connecting with fellow global nomads.

Natalia EcheverriNatalia Echeverri was born in New York City but grew up in Bogota, Colombia. She is a candidate for the joint Masters in Architecture and City Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. She studied architecture at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota and graduated with a B.A. from the University of Washington in Seattle in 2001. In 2008, she received the J.K. Branner Traveling Fellowship, which allowed her to travel around the world researching the topic “Neoliberal Fragments: Speculations in the Urban Landscape.” Her graduate thesis, “After the Crash: Reinventing Suburbia,” has been short-listed for the exhibition Parallel Cases in the 4th International Architectural Biennale in Rotterdam in September 2009.

Anna FogelAnna Fogel works for ShoreBank International, an international consulting firm in Washington, D.C., that works to expand access to finance, focusing on microfinance, housing finance and small business finance. She was previously a Trustman Traveling Fellow and studied low-income housing development in India and Israel for a year. She spent six months in India evaluating the sustainability of the design and financing of slum redevelopment programs. She then worked in Israel on the beginnings of community participation in planning in Jaffa. She returned to the USA to work on Obama’s campaign in Youngstown, Ohio, where she witnessed a rustbelt city’s housing challenges. She worked with housing advocacy organizations in New York, Boston and DC while earning her BA at Harvard College where she wrote a thesis on the design of a low-rise, high-density housing project in Brooklyn.

Melissa Garcia LamarcaMelissa Garcia Lamarca spent her formative years in Mexico City, subconsciously piquing her fascination of cities, especially issues of space, place, community, equity, social change and sustainability. She explored these themes through studies in geography, economics and international development (McGill) community economic development (Concordia) and more recently through a Masters in Building and Urban Design in Development (University College London). Currently based in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Melissa has grown up a nomad, working and living in many places around the world; her longest ‘home’ was Montreal, working on sustainability issues at Concordia University for many years and with Sustainability Solutions Group, a workers cooperative consulting firm helping create more sustainable institutions and places. She was Traveling Faculty with the IHP's Cities in the 21st Century programme in 2011 and is now a Teaching Fellow at UCL's Development Planning Unit.

Rebecka GordanRebecka Gordan is a journalist focusing on the social aspects of architecture, design and city planning. She is an editor and reporter at Arkitekten, the journal of the Swedish Association of Architects, and editor for New Urban Topologies, an international urban exchange project. She is the author of a forthcoming book on informal housing in India. Previously, Rebecka was assistant editor at The Architect's Newspaper in N.Y. and a contributor to the 2010 yearbook of the Swedish Museum of Architecture. She received a B.A. in Modern Urban History and an M.A. in Journalism from Stockholm University.

Ali MadadAli Madad is a designer, writer, educator, hierophant and principal in New York and Los Angeles based SCTY, a multi-disciplinary art and design practice dedicated to the manifestation of creative disruptions. His work focuses on the both the theoretical and public role design plays within culture and public space. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Design at Pratt Institute since 2004 and was a Visiting Artist at Cooper Union in 2009.

Vivien ParkVivien Park is a Hong Kong-born, Chicago-based installation and new media artist. After working for several years as an interaction and graphic designer for the high-tech industry in Seattle, Vivien returned to the academic setting in 2005 to complete her degree in painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Fascinated by topology, place and non-place, she explores these ideas in site-specific installations that draw references from architecture, construction materials, and her experiences in the corporate world. Vivien has exhibited in various group and solo shows in Chicago. She designs next-generation user experiences for Motorola during the day, and occasionally VJs for electronic music shows under the name gravitymax.

Jordi Sánchez-CuencaJordi Sánchez-Cuenca is a Spanish urban planner, trained in Barcelona’s School of Architecture and London’s Development Planning Unit. He has lived and worked in Barcelona, Hanoi, London, Nagercoil, Pondicherry and Palma de Mallorca, and had short work experiences in Accra, Belo Horizonte, Ho Chi Minh City, Madrid, Mumbai, Nanjing and Pune. Jordi is currently working in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating 3 ministries and 5 UN agencies in the implementation of an innovative water and sanitation programme. Jordi is a particularly stubborn supporter of participatory democracy and environmental sustainability, and he’s constantly looking for new opportunities to be challenged on these issues.

Katia SavchukKatia Savchuk spent a year and half as a documentation consultant for SPARC, an Indian NGO supporting urban poor communities to access secure shelter, and co-organized Urban Typhoon Koliwada, a participatory planning workshop in Mumbai's largest informal settlement. She subsequently worked as a private investigator at the James Mintz Group in San Francisco, conducting due-diligence, anti-corruption and litigation-related investigations around the world. Her writing has appeared in Environment and Urbanization, PBS MediaShift, SF Public Press, Palo Alto Weekly, Ethical Traveler and Let's Go Travel Guides. She has a B.A. in Social Studies from Harvard and is completing an MSc in Urbanisation and Development at LSE. She is chief editor for Polis.

Alex SchafranAfter a decade doing immigrant rights and housing justice work in California and New York, Alex Schafran is now a doctoral student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, where his main focus is attempting to understand (and articulate) the connection between the shifting geographies of race and class segregation in the American metropolis, neoliberal urban policy and the urban crises of the postwar era and today. He continues to work as a practicing planner and advocate with the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative, a partnership of community-based organizations and non-profit advocates working for social justice and equitable development in Richmond, CA, and remains active on the steering committee of Planners Network. In order to remind himself not to take himself (or any of us) too seriously, he maintains a blog dedicated to urban satire, where he actively welcomes contributions.

Peter SigristPeter Sigrist is a PhD student in City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. He is currently working on a historical study of public parks in Moscow. His interests include adaptive reuse, horticulture, art, and walking around in cities. He is author of the blog Civic Nature.

Andrew WadeAndrew Wade graduated from the McGill University School of Architecture in Montréal, later gaining an MSc in development planning from University College London. His professional life evolved through working in professional architectural practice, serving on the board of directors of the American Institute of Architects (UK chapter), and contributing to reports commissioned by the Government of Ghana and the United Nations Environment Programme. He engaged academia as the postgraduate teaching assistant for the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development programme in the Bartlett's Development Planning Unit, where he questioned the formation of coordinated spatial strategies for development in the Global South.

Summer Interns

Dylan Bulkeley-Krane will be a senior at Stanford University majoring in Urban Studies. He is director of Stanford’s Speakers Bureau, through which he has invited a variety of fascinating and influential people to campus (including Thomas Friedman, Perez Hilton, Wolf Blitzer, and James Franco). Within the Urban Studies department, Dylan is concentrating on Cities in Comparative and Historical Perspective, with a special interest in the cultural and social dynamics of large metropolitan centers. He is focusing on San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. as major case studies, and in the fall he is heading to Paris to study abroad. Previously, Dylan was a research assistant for the Sociology Department, analyzing the political effects of boarding houses on America’s first congressmen in Washington, D.C. In addition to his academic work, Dylan loves politics, cooking, and exploring new places.

Dylan CraryDylan Crary is an aspiring urbanist. He was born and raised on the east side of Los Angeles, where his love for city exploration and taco connoisseurship was born. He is an undergraduate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley studying housing and local government. He recently returned from a semester with IHP’s Cities of the 21st Century program comparing urban issues through experiential learning in New York, Delhi, Dakar, and Buenos Aires. He is currently an intern with the Los Angeles Housing Department’s Policy and Planning Unit.

Melanie FriedrichsMelanie Friedrichs was born in Washington, D.C., and has lived most of her life in Bethesda, Maryland. In the fall, she will begin her final year at Brown University, where she studies economics and pursues interests in social entrepreneurship and development studies. From January to May 2011, she traveled to New York, India, Senegal, and Argentina with Polis writer Melissa Garcia Lamarca and fellow interns Julia Waterhous and Dylan Crary on an around-the-world comparative urban studies program. In her free time, she is an avid ultimate frisbee player.

Yolanta SiuYolanta Siu spent most of her life in a quiet, suburban neighborhood in Southern California but has fond feelings for large cities due to close ties with her busy hometown of Hong Kong. She is currently a second year-student at UC Berkeley, working towards a bachelor’s degree in urban studies. She is particularly interested in the ways in which design impacts how people interact with the built environment and the role of technology in shaping cities.

Sosseh Valentine TaimoorianSosseh Valentine Taimoorian is a fourth-year undergraduate at UC Berkeley, with a major in urban studies and minor in global poverty and practice. She is currently conducting fieldwork in Washington, D.C., where she hopes to engage with and critique methods of funneling aid to developing countries. Previously, Sosseh was a student researcher for the School of Public Health and the Institute of Transportation Studies, conducted ethnographies on cities across California, and reported on topics like the Rwandan genocide, commodification along the U.S.-Mexico Border, and institutional causes of poverty in Jamaica. Sosseh enjoys discovering underground hip-hop artists, delving into the spoken-word scene, and listening to the countless stories the world has to offer.

Julia WaterhousJulia Waterhous is from the family-friendly, middle-class, suburban town of Corvallis, Oregon, where she was thoroughly bored and hence decided to pursue her undergraduate degree at Boston University, where she studies journalism and psychology. She is spending the summer interning at Seattle Weekly. Julia recently returned from a semester abroad with the International Honors Program studying urban planning and public policy in Delhi, Dakar, and Buenos Aires, which sparked an interest in sustainable food production, land and housing rights, and the rights of the poor, particularly urban recyclers. She continues to look for ways to humanize issues and remind people that, in a globalized world, our actions affect not only the planet but the people everywhere.