Want to be a Mapper? Help OASIS Test its Community Layer

In September 2009, Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center, took us on a tour of the Open Accessible Space Information System (OASIS), version 2.0. At its simplest, OASIS is an online interactive map that visualizes information about open space and land use in New York City. But that description only hints at the extraordinary resource that the site has become. The project was launched in 2001 with a focus on open space and green infrastructure. Since then, its scope has expanded exponentially. Oasisnyc.net now delivers mapped data about transit, land use, buildings, combined sewer overflows, historical imagery, zoning districts and more. As Romalewski summarized in his 2009 piece, “The project offers a unique opportunity for users to interact with a mix of data about both social and physical geography that is not otherwise available in one location online.” And OASIS continues to grow. Now, the development team is implementing Community Data features to help expand the project’s usefulness as a community mapping platform — and they are looking for feedback from potential users like you. Steven Romalewski explains below.V.S.

New Community Data Features on OASIS
We are testing some new features on OASIS (the Open Accessible Space Information System), and we’re looking for feedback. We want to make OASIS more open and accessible (pun intended!) for our users. We think that it should be easier to add mapped data to OASIS, and we’d like to test the option of letting anyone add any data layer they want to OASIS (within reason) regardless of whether the mapped information is explicitly related to open space. This would go far to making OASIS a more meaningful community platform for mapping New York’s neighborhoods. This would offer the ease of use of existing platforms like Google Maps, combined with the richly layered mapped data that’s already a part of OASIS.

Some data sets might be small or temporary. For example: wouldn’t it be neat to overlay all of Prospect Park’s destination sites on OASIS’s maps, so you can view them with historical aerial photos? The Prospect Park Alliance website shows the destinations, but doesn’t have the rich detail that OASIS’s maps have.

Or perhaps adding the locations of “stalled development” sites in Brooklyn? City Councilmember Brad Lander’s website highlights these locations (see below), but not along with maps of land use patterns, other housing sites, legislative districts, and more that OASIS provides.

Screengrab from bradlander.com/stalleddevelopment

Screengrab from bradlander.com/stalleddevelopment

Other data sets might be fascinating but totally unrelated to parks and community gardens. For example: 2011 is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire that took the lives of almost 150 workers and provided a tragic but powerful rallying cry for the then-nascent labor movement. Researchers have mapped where each of the victims lived. But what if we could view these locations on OASIS, overlaying historical maps simultaneously with the current street grid, imagining what we might have seen 100 years ago as we walk to the subway along the same path that an immigrant worker in the Triangle factory strode along a century ago?

Last year, New York City was hit with a blizzard that caught city officials unprepared. The local public radio station (WNYC) mapped the locations of people who called in with reports of whether their streets were plowed or not. What if we could view these spots with maps (that we have on OASIS) of demographics, zoning, land use, schools, and transit?

With each of these examples, maybe some interesting geographic patterns would turn up, or maybe not. But at the very least it would be intriguing to open up OASIS as a platform for creating and analyzing visual correlations like these — and more. The sky’s the limit. The only thing holding us back — till now — was the technology.

Fusion Tables & OASIS
Last year Google developed a new service called Fusion Tables that could make this vision a reality. Fusion Tables enables you to quickly upload a list of items (like a spreadsheet) or create one from scratch, save it online, map it (if it includes location information), and share it with the world. The Center for Urban Research’s application architect David Burgoon was able to integrate the Fusion Tables service into OASIS.

Screengrab from oasisnyc.net

Screengrab from oasisnyc.net

In order to test Fusion Tables with OASIS, we have added a “Community Data” tab to the right of the map and we have provided links to several data sets already in Fusion Tables so you can try it out. These are: Daffodil planting locations in 2011 from New Yorkers for Parks (the Daffodil Project is a living memorial to September 11, 2001); the locations of the Triangle shirtwaist fire victims; and waterfront access locations in New York and New Jersey. Eventually you’ll be able to add your own data from Fusion Tables (or any table that’s already been created in Fusion Tables), simply by typing the table ID number in a text entry box on the OASIS map page.

If you’re familiar with Fusion Tables, you know that there are many options you can configure. While we’re testing how this new feature works with OASIS, keep the following things in mind if you’d like to suggest Fusion Tables data we should add: Visibility of your data table must be public or unlisted; it must be exportable; it needs to be point data; and it has to have a location column.

Community Map Layers
We’re also testing a feature that’s somewhat more labor intensive, but nonetheless powerful. And it doesn’t have the limitations of Fusion Tables, in that it can be any type of geographic feature, not just “point” locations. Scroll down the Legend tab in OASIS, and you’ll now see a section called “Community Maps (beta).” For now, this only includes one layer (described below). But think of it as a placeholder for other types of information that you think would be useful as part of OASIS’s maps.

Community Maps Test Layer

Community Maps Test Layer

The map layer we’ve added as a test case shows the areas in western Queens that were impacted by a power blackout in July 2006. For weeks that summer, tens of thousands of residents and businesses were without electricity. Though power was eventually restored, people were justifiably upset and took legal action against Con Ed. The utility eventually entered into an agreement with these groups to provide almost $8 million to invest in energy-efficiency and environmental projects in the Western Queens community affected by the power outage. The NY State Public Service Commission selected a local foundation, the North Star Fund, to administer this project because of the Fund’s expertise in facilitating community led grantmaking processes.

Although the Fund, with Con Ed’s help, has mapped the affected areas and the groups receiving funds, OASIS is supplementing this effort. We’ve added the affected areas map to the OASIS site, making it easy for people involved in the program to easily see which properties are inside or outside the affected areas, what community assets (such as community gardens and schools) are located in the area, and what elected officials represent the areas.

Next Steps
The Community Maps section of OASIS enables us to add maps that may be short-term, focused on specific locations, or change regularly as local needs change or issues evolve.

What are your thoughts? What criteria do you think we should use to add map layers? How much value does this bring to local community organizations? (compared with something like Google Maps, for example.) Should we add layers to this section indefinitely, or only use this to display time-limited information? What Fusion Tables data would you like to see added? We are eager to hear from you. Email your feedback to oasisnyc@gc.cuny.edu.

This is an abbreviated version of a post published on the OASIS wiki, where you can find further information and instructions on testing these new community features.

Steven Romalewski directs the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center. His 25-year career has centered around accessing, understanding, analyzing, and publicizing data for public policy development, community planning, and research purposes. He lives in Manhattan.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.

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