Google introduces historical Street View

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It has been a while since I’ve posted, and that is mostly due to my new job! I’m doing research for a transportation modeling team, and my job mostly consists of keeping our network models up to date using GIS and other programs.

Anyway, enough about me. Today Google released an improvement for their maps functionality that makes one aspect of my job so much easier. I’ve been working on a 2010 network model (note that it is now 2014), which means I have to pull roadway information (number of lanes, length, speed limit, etc) from 2010 in order to have an accurate model. Since roadways often change, especially in the downtown area, this is not always an easy task. Until now, I’ve been using Google Earth, which has the ability to view historical satellite imagery. So, until today, I’ve been verifying lane counts from a bird’s-eye perspective. This is not always easy when there’s shadows from tall buildings or trees in the way.

But luckily, now I can use Street View from roughly any time since 2007. That means I can go back to 2010 and view what the roads actually looked like from a human’s-eye perspective (or car’s-eye perspective). This makes things way easier! And better yet, it’s built into Google Maps so I can do it right from my browser.

According to the Google Earth blog,

Activating it is quite simple. While viewing imagery in Street View, simply click the clock in the upper-left part of the screen (as shown in the image above) to choose a different time. Note that this feature is rolling out in stages, and you may not yet have access to it.

Easy peasy. I’m going to be using this a lot from now on. Thanks Google!

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The 10 most segregated US cities visualized with GIS

Main city population: 3,792,62
Metropolitan population: 12,828,837
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 67.84

Salon wrote an interesting article a few years ago about modern segregation, and they used GIS to help readers visualize the separation of race in urban areas. What I found interesting about the data is that there is not a single southern US city in the top 10 most segregated American cities. During the majority of the 20th century, the southern United States was considered the region with the most racism and segregation, and rightly so. The citizens and politicians of many southern states were largely opposed to legislation that would give minorities more rights, whereas citizens and politicians of northern states were much more progressive and willing to give civil rights to all citizens. Even now, I think many Americans share the opinion that the south is still behind the rest of the nation as far as racism goes.

Even though the maps show segregation, it’s not anything like the segregation of the early 20th century, where certain races were forced to live in a particular area. I think it’s likely that some of these groups choose to live among those similar to them. For example, hispanics who are new to the US would probably feel much more comfortable living near those who they can communicate with and relate to. It would be much more difficult to start a new life in a new country if you felt totally isolated.

Los Angeles is the 10th most segregated city in the US, according to 2010 census data. You’ll see in the graphic above that hispanics tend to live in one area, while asians and blacks largely group together as well. Segregated communities are much more rampant in the nine following graphics, all of which are located in the northern United States.

9. Philadelphia, PA

Main city population: 1,526,006
Metropolitan population: 5,965,343
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 68.41

8. Cincinnati, OH

Main city population: 296,943
Metropolitan population: 2,130,151
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 69.42

7. St. Louis, MO

Main city population: 319,294
Metropolitan population: 2,812,896
Segregation level (dissimilarity):72.3

6. Buffalo, NY

Main city population: 261,310
Metropolitan population: 1,135,509
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 73.24

5. Cleveland, OH

Main city population: 396,815
Metropolitan population: 2,077,240
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 74.14

4. Detroit, MI

Main city population: 713,777
Metropolitan population: 4,296,250
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 75.25

3. Chicago, IL

Main city population: 2,695,598
Metropolitan population: 9,461,105
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 76.43

2. New York

Main city population: 8,175,133
Metropolitan population: 18,897,109
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 78.04

1. Milwaukee, WI

Main city population: 594,833
Metropolitan population: 1,555,908
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 81.52

After seeing how badly Los Angeles was segregated, I didn’t think it could get as bad as Milwaukee. Blacks are incredibly highly concentrated in one area of this Wisconsin city, as are hispanics. Whites make up at least 85.1% in both Washington and Ozaukee counties, and Waukesha county is almost that high.

All data and info from Salon

Geographic imagery will be dramatically updated with launch of new Landsat satellite this morning

This morning at 10AM (PST), NASA launched its next iteration of Landsat satellites. The Landsat 8 is the 8th satellite since 1972 launched with the purpose of capturing images of earth’s surface. As of right now, all modern interactive maps used in programs such as Google Maps, Google Earth, and GIS programs use data from Landsat 7, which was sent into the atmosphere on April 15, 1999. This means that every image of the earth’s surface we see in those programs is outdated by nearly 14 years. The period of time between the launches of Landsat 7 and Landset 8 is the longest in the Landsat program’s history, and the new satellite is sure to update our understanding of the earth’s surface considerably.

Much has changed in the 14 years since the launch of Landsat 7, including the technology that powers the satellite’s imagery capabilities. All of the previous Landsat satellites used sensors with mirrors that simply oscillated back and forth, whereas Landsat 8 will use new sensors designed to continually measure infrared wavelengths, surface temperature, and the image of the earth’s surface. This way, we will have the clearest images of the earth’s surface, as well as information about the surface that we couldn’t have received from earlier Landsats.

According to the NASA blog post on the subject, Landsat 8 will be able to provide a complete picture of the earth’s surface every 16 days using the new sensors. Now, I’m not sure if this means that interfaces such as Google Maps will be updated every 16 days with new imagery or not, but that would certainly be a huge leap in mapping technology.

All info via NASA and Wikipedia

Leo Belgicus: 16th and 17th century mapmakers drew the Low Countries as a lion


The Low Countries – or the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a small part of northern France – were often displayed in the form of a lion on 16th and 17th century maps. The “Belgian” lion was often displayed in homes as a symbol of Dutch patriotism. Strangely, it followed one of the two iterations shown above – it either had a normal orientation as it is in the upper image (north at the top, Netherlands as the head, the spine following the coast of Belgium), or it was rotated at is in the lower image (west at the top, Netherlands being at the rear of the lion, and Belgium and the modern French department of Nord-Pas-de-Calais at the lion’s head). I made two maps in arcGIS to give a better idea of what these maps show.

This map displays the same area shown in the uppermost Leo Belgicus, with north as it truly is. The shape of a lion’s head, face, back, and chest is easily discernible. However, this lion shape only covers roughly from the shoulder up. The shape below covers more of the area of a lion.

This map is a rotated view of the Low Countries, with the shape of the lion in the lower image of Leo Belgicus above. This design is also a convincing lion-like shape, as it encompasses more of the body and only cuts off the legs and the face.

Now my question is, was the rotated design considered that much more lion-like that artists like Jodocus Hondius would rather sacrifice proper orientation in favor of a nice design? Hondius’ rotated design, created in 1611, came 28 years after the original design of Leo Belgicus by Michael Eytzinger in 1583. Nearly every subsequent incarnation of Leo Belgicus would be properly oriented as well, including those in 1609, 1617, 1648, 1650, and 1707.

Either way, it’s pretty cool how pride can be put into the design of a map.

Info from wikipedia and world digital library.

Antiquity À-la-carte uses GIS to display roads used in ancient times

The Ancient World Mapping Center over at the University of North Carolina has made an awesome application with GIS interface that combines my love of maps, history, and transportation. You can look at different geographical features from various eras of history, from Archaic Greece to Late Antiquity. Among the features are cities, temples, roads, aqueducts, and urban areas, among others.

Pictured above is Ancient Rome and the roads leading out of it, which I find fascinating. I think it’s amazing to see the roads that were used by the ancients to travel and transport goods and to see how Romans navigated through the mountains to get where they needed to go. The map is incredibly detailed and has roads that stretch throughout the extent of the Roman empire, as well as roads used during other eras.

Here’s Rome and the whole of modern Italy at 1:3120000. It’s incredible to see the roads used throughout the peninsula. This can be done anywhere in the world. Finally, below is the whole of Europe. I’m just blown away that we have the ability to visualize roads used 2000 years ago! I’m going to be playing with this website for a long time.

The application: Antiquity À-la-carte