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From Origins to Destinations: The Past, Present and Future of Visualizing Flow Maps

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Flow maps are an established cartographic method to depict movements over time and space. In recent years, the exponential increase of geospatial information – what we call urban 'big data' – has introduced new uses and highlighted the need to expand cartography. In this paper, we define existing visualization strategies and tools, and examine their characteristics. From this, we identify challenges and opportunities for data-driven flow maps and suggest future developments. Specifically, we apply a new taxonomy to compare several geospatial data visualizations from the MIT Senseable City Lab and extract principles that can define the capabilities of a new interactive flow mapping tool. We have begun to work on such a tool – called the Datacollider – that is public, powerful, intuitive, and scalable. In the latter portion of this paper, we describe the Datacollider, detail its limitations, and outline directions for future development. We conclude by extrapolating broader trends for the field of geospatial data visualization. We articulate a shift from visualization as a set of graphic tools for representing found insights, to visualization as a way of engaging with data and deriving knowledge.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2016

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  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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