Pretty Data

Neil Freeman takes various forms of data and presents them in visually interesting ways at fakeisthenewreal.org.  A lot of them deal with population density, urban planning, and transportation, which is what caught my eye in the first place, but many others appeal to my inner (ok, I don’t really hide it) datadork as well.  Some are potentially useful, while others are arbitrary (but still cool).

My favorite is probably “traces of new york”.  I’ve been doing something similar by tracing paths through D.C. where I’ve walked or biked, but not Metroed or driven, in my Moleskine city notebook, so I can someday remember at a glance where I’ve been.  I’m thinking about doing the same thing when I get to California, but I’m not sure what area the L.A. map covers; if it’s just “Downtown,” then it’s a no-go.  I’d be interested to know whether Neil’s approach is similarly low-tech with a heck of a lot of data entry, or whether he has some more sophisticated method (like this sweet GPS watch I’ve been drooling over for my bike trip).

I especially like the way he’s taken multiple slices in time to see how his patterns have changed.  A possible extension of this idea would be to create a 3-D or color-coded scale for the lines, such that more frequently traversed routes could be elevated or warmer-colored to give an impression of the “personal walking density” or “route density.”  The relative weight of the graphite lines in my Moleskine provide a weak indication, but someone with a little technology and skill (which Neil demonstrably has) could create a much slicker graphic.

I also like “electoral college reform.”  Commenting on the political implications of the districting would not be my cup of tea, but it is neat to see the country broken up this way.  Particularly striking is the visual importance this representation gives to cities, which are usually indicated by pinhead sized dots on a state boundaries map but clearly have a broader influence.

Neil has been featured (scroll down) in Next American City, an urban planning/city-related magazine that I intend to read more often when I have more time…

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