DataMatters Interview Series: InvestigateWest's Lee van der Voo

Data is changing our world. It’s changing the way we make sense of the world, the way we interact with one another, and the way we work. Arguably, there’s been no field as affected by the changes in data accessibility, management, and presentation as journalism. Where data sources used to be row upon row of file cabinets, they have now become row upon row of Excel spreadsheets, and what those spreadsheets have become is a story. Those data sources, and the all of the visual and interactive ways they’re presented, have become a way for people to engage with news and better understand its effect on their lives. News consumers have begun to expect dynamic storytelling that uses the rapidly growing amount of technology to breathe life into stories, and journalism is responding.

I spoke to Portland, Oregon-based journalist Lee Van der Voo, who also serves as the Managing Director of the non-profit journalism organization InvestigateWest about open data, journalism’s approaches to technology, and how data-driven journalism is helping us “get at deeper truths about the world.”

Continue reading “DataMatters Interview Series: InvestigateWest's Lee van der Voo”

A New Name, a New Mission

CDA-02-tagThere have been a few changes happening that we’re excited to share. Parsons Institute for Information Mapping is now known as the Center for Data Arts. With this new name comes a revitalized mission that is focused, more than ever, on our commitment to pioneering radical new techniques for transforming data into meaningful narrative experiences. Part of this change comes from the appointment of our new director, artist and designer Ben Rubin, who we were thrilled to welcome aboard in January of this year. Ben will be building on our history of innovation, developing a new world-class laboratory for information design, visualization, critical thinking, and experimental data art practice.

From the Provost’s Office announcement:

This appointment, the result of an extensive international search, will revitalize the center’s mission, emphasizing public programs and new research collaborations with faculty and students across the university. “We are increasingly digitizing our actions and ourselves, and that data is changing our lives,” says Ben. “The Center for Data Arts will be a laboratory for inventing new ways to perceive and engage with data, as well as an intellectual hub for discussions about the new roles information plays in society.”

Ben is an internationally renowned artist whose work centers on critical encounters with data. His pieces incorporate information from literary works, legal documents, news, financial data, and other traces of human communication, recasting these data streams into immersive installations. His commissioned work includes the Public Theater’s site-specific sculpture Shakespeare Machine; And That’s the Way It Is for the University of Texas, Austin; and (with Mark Hansen) Moveable Type, for the lobby of the New York Times Building, and two editions of Listening Post, which were acquired by the London Science Museum and the San Jose Museum of Art. Ben’s artwork was recognized with a Webby Award in 2003, the 2004 Golden Nica Prize from Ars Electronica, the 2012 PAD Award for achievement in the field of public art, a Design Excellence Award from the New York City Design Commission in 2013, and an Obie Award in 2014.

With this new direction comes a few other changes; under a grant awarded by PressForward, an open-source software initiative housed at George Mason University, CDA is part of an 11-partner pilot program aimed at expanding the reach of scholarly work. Under this award, we launched our blog, and will revamp our quarterly publication, the Journal for Data Arts (formally Parsons Journal for Information Mapping).

We’re excited about our new direction and all of the possibilities ahead. Please check out our new website to learn more about our future plans.




Cover Story

MIT PressWe’re pleased to announce that CDA Director Ben Rubin’s piece “Listening Post” is gracing the cover of the upcoming release Information (MIT Press) edited by Sara Cook. Continue reading “Cover Story”

New York City's Rising Sea Levels, Visualized

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation website notes:

“New York has experienced at least a foot of sea-level rise since 1900, mostly due to expansion of warming ocean water. Certain conditions along New York’s coast make sea-level rise here somewhat higher than the global average.”

Scientists project that  by 2100, our sea levels will be anywhere from 18 to 50 inches higher along the coastlines. It’s not so much a matter of if, but when and how much.

Landscape MetricsA recent CityLab article outlines the ways that data visualization is helping New York City respond to these changes. The rising sea levels are a particularity pressing issue here in the city, as noted in the article:

A 5-foot rise would affect nearly 1,500,000 people and 350 schools. [. . .] A new interactive visualization by Landscape Metrics illustrates exactly what that means for the city’s residents and its infrastructure.



Using data from data from the 2010 Census, the National Elevation Dataset, and the NYC Selected Facilities and Program Sites datasets, Landscape Metrics created interactive maps to visualize the impact of rising sea levels on New York City. The maps track the impact of the rising waters on people, schools, transportation, and waste treatment. Put simply, the higher the water, the higher the impact.

So what does this mean for the city? Is our infrastructure prepared for these changes? The city is a part of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which looks at how cities can respond to, not just disasters, but economics, transportation, and environmental issues. The initiative is looking at financial as well as design solutions for this problem. In the end, clear visualizations of the problem can help our government and our citizens realize that solutions need to be found. CityLab spoke to 100 Resilient Cities president Michael Berkowitz:

“[C]ities are piloting different solutions to different problems all the time.” The hope now is that these city-driven solutions are readily accepted and implemented in time.