On November 16, 2018, the Master of Urban Spatial Analytics (MUSA) graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania hosted a Master Class that brought together civic technologists and data scientists around the world to gain expert knowledge within the rapidly evolving field of spatial analytics. Dr. James Cheshire, a Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Human Geography at the University College of London’s Department of Geography, led the workshop style event. Cheshire specializes in the use of “big” and open datasets for the study of social science and has published in a range of journals, and on a variety of topics, including the use of cycle-hire schemes, the spatial analysis of surnames, and new ways to visualize population data.
Participants joined the workshop at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, as well as through a live webcast. After a brief introduction, Dr. Cheshire demonstrated how to create visualizations using a tutorial in the programming language R that he created exclusively for the event. R, which Cheshire explained has been growing in popularity over the last decade, is commonly used as a tool for statistical analysis and reporting. There has also been an explosion of interest in using R and the package “ggplot” as a way of visually producing maps, while simultaneously working with spatial data. The plots are constructed through a series of data layers, which are intuitive for anyone who has previously worked with spatial geographic data and is trained to turn these layers on and off. This small tweak produces a number of different visual forms, highlighting the power of R and its ability to link analytical capabilities with visual representation.
Following a sequence of steps that visually created a map of road traffic accidents in Chicago, Dr. Cheshire encouraged attendees to replicate his analysis using existing or self-selected datasets, emphasizing that the purpose of the workshop was about the process, and not the finished product. Using the platform provided by the software company Socrata, a sponsor of the workshop, over 100 participants created maps that visually displayed publicly provided data. By using graphic design as an alternative way of building data visualization, participants were able to open up a world of customization not fully accessible through traditional design software. Their work can be seen on social media using the hashtag #MusaMasterClass.