The influential geographer Waldo R. Tobler died last month at the age of 88. Tobler, who taught at the University of Michigan and UC Santa Barbara, was best known for his First Law of Geography, which he coined in 1970: “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” See obituaries from the AAG and UC Santa Barbara.
Alastair Bonnett’s latest book, Beyond the Map, is out today in the U.K. from Aurum Books. An exploration of “thirty-nine extraordinary places, each of which challenges us to re-imagine the world around us,” including disputed enclaves, emerging islands and other idiosyncracies of geography, Beyond the Map looks like a follow-up to his 2014 book, Off the Map (published in North America as Unruly Places), which I reviewed in February 2015.
Computed communities subject to interpretive analysis. From Nelson and Rae 2016.
Tract-to-tract commutes of 160 km or less. From Nelson and Rae 2016.
A commuter flow-based regionalization of the United States. From Nelson and Rae 2016.
In a paper published in PLOS One, Garrett Dash Nelson and Alasdair Rae explore whether megaregions—i.e., a region centred on a major metropolitan area—can be determined algorithmically, using commuter flow data. In the end they conclude that “any division of space into unit areas will have to take into account a ‘common sense’ interpretation of the validity and cohesion of the regions resulting from an algorithmic approach. For this reason, the visual heuristic method coupled with the algorithmic method offers a good combination of human interpretation and statistical precision.” In the process, they’ve generated a series of maps that are fascinating on several levels, including a final map of megaregions that combines algorithmic results with visual heuristics (i.e., human judgment). [Atlas Obscura]
The exclusions were basically driven by the data: where their customers were, driving distance to the nearest fulfillment centre, that sort of thing. But the issue, it seems to me, is that the demographics behind the data are not racially neutral (something that Troy Lambert’s analysis for GIS Lounge, for example, fails to address): Amazon basically failed to ask its data the next question. Be very careful of why your data is the way it is. In the event, Amazon has since announced that excluded neighbourhoods and boroughs in Boston, New York and Chicago will get same-day service.
(Full disclosure: The Map Room is an Amazon associate.)
It is interesting to consider how far the discipline of human geography appears to have distanced itself from maps over recent times, resulting almost in a form of cartophobia. Several papers over the last years showed a decline in map use and mapping practices in high-profile geographic journals. Cartographic skills as a natural expertise of a geographer seems to have vanished in many places, as have the theoretical and practical elements of geographic data visualization. Do many geographers ‘prefer to write theory rather than employ critical visualizations’, as Perkins (2004: 385) notes?