polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Visualizing Data from New York City Runners

by Natalia Echeverri

GPS-enabled hand held devices and their apps are continuously changing the way we experience and visualize cities. Previous posts — including Auto-Cartography, Mobile Dating, and Taxis and a City's Vital Signs — have demonstrated how GPS data has the capacity to improve the way we interact with cities.

Interaction design artist Cooper Smith is using the data collected by multiple users of an app to visualize information in the urban fabric. His data comes from the Nike+ GPS application, which tracks the users' running routes and times, keeping track of metrics like distance, pace, and improvement. While the Nike app compiles data for single users, Smith has been able to collect the data for a thousand runners in New York City and visualize their paths together.

Seeing all the lines together creates an interesting map of the city's "runnability," but it gets very interesting when he correlates the data in different ways, pulling out hidden information in the map. One map shows where running distances are the longest, another shows a heat map of the runs, and another shows where the runners tend to stop.

Smith has made these visualizations beautiful, but they are also useful measurements of the city. From the lines, we might infer the quality of scenery, greenspace, noise, air quality, crime, community, and traffic systems. And perhaps we can plot a better run next time.

Credits: Images from Cooper Smith.