The Spatial Information Design Lab is now the Center for Spatial Research at Columbia University. Visit our new site at to find out about current projects and upcoming events. This site is an archive of work completed up to 2014.

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Posted on August 8, 2007 by Spatial Information Design Lab

Taking a novel approach to crime research, Columbia University researchers studying New Orleans ignored where offenses happened and looked instead at the home addresses of incarcerated criminals.

They found a few distinct neighborhoods that serve as a home base for lawbreakers who commit their crimes citywide.

Central City, the triangle of territory bounded by Louisiana Avenue, Earhart Boulevard and St. Charles Avenue, emerged as one area with a high concentration of incarcerated residents. Almost 13 percent of the New Orleans residents sentenced in 2006 to state Department of Corrections institutions hailed from Central City, an area that at the time boasted a little more than 5 percent of the city's population, according to the analysis. Other hot spots included the 7th Ward and parts of Algiers.

That information could prove a powerful tool, according to researchers and city leaders trying to fashion a long-term strategic plan to battle crime through neighborhood revitalization. New Orleans City Councilman James Carter said neighborhoods like Central City -- with failing schools, crumbling public housing and rampant blight -- serve as breeding grounds for criminals, a problem beyond the capability of law enforcement to solve. The solution, he said, calls for multiple government agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations to pour money and volunteers into rebuilding neighborhood infrastructure, including schools, parks, community centers, health clinics and recreational facilities.

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Posted on January 8, 2007 by Spatial Information Design Lab

From water pipes to porn shops, cartographers have charted almost every aspect of local urban life, giving rise to a sort of cottage industry: the New York City specialty map. The latest—and one you are not likely to see unless you run in criminal-justice circles—is a rendering of the city that breaks down, block by block, the home addresses of all New Yorkers incarcerated in a given year. This map won’t get you from Century 21 to the Met. But it does reveal that more prison-bound Bronx residents lived in walkups than in any other type of building, that Staten Island is the most law-abiding borough, and that Brooklyn—nicknamed “the borough of churches”—ran up the state’s highest bill in prison costs.

Eric Cadora and Charles Swartz, co-founders of the Brooklyn-based Justice Mapping Center, collaborated on the project with an architect named Laura Kurgan, at Columbia’s Spatial Information Design Lab. “What started out as a scholarly inquiry has turned into a national initiative,” said Cadora, whose team has mapped twelve cities so far. Their New York is a digital crazy quilt of “bright-against-black”: the areas least touched by incarceration in 2003, the year they chose to study (Riverdale, Bay Ridge, the West Village), appear black and gray; those more so (Coney Island, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Hell’s Kitchen) neon orange.

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Posted on September 15, 2006 by Laura Kurgan

September 15—October 28, 2006

The Urban Center

457 Madison Avenue
New York City

Architecture and Justice mapped criminal justice statistics to make visible the geography of incarceration and return in New York, Phoenix, New Orleans, Wichita, and New Haven, prompting new ways of understanding the spatial dimension of an area of public policy with profound implications for American cities. In 2006, the United States had more than two million people locked up in jails and prisons, a disproportionate number of whom come from a small number of neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities. In many places, the concentration was so dense that states spent in excess of a million dollars to incarcerate the residents of single census blocks. In fall 2006 the Architectural League presented the exhibition Architecture and Justice, created by the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL) at Columbia University and the Justice Mapping Center (JMC), which worked together to use the language of design to suggest new ways of understanding problems of incarceration and poverty in American cities.

The exhibition included maps of Phoenix, New Orleans, Wichita, New Haven, and each of the five boroughs of New York City, illustrating prison expenditures by administrative district. Smaller maps of each city illustrated poverty and population density, and an enlarged and detailed map focused on Brownsville, Brooklyn. Additionally, a digital projection enabled viewers to manipulate maps to compare different types of data.

Architecture and Justice was organized by Laura Kurgan and Eric Cadora. It was made possible, in part, by Graphical Innovation in Justice Mapping, a grant from the Open Society Institute and the Jeht Foundation to the Spatial Information Design Lab.