Category Archives: Urbanity

Visualizing the Food Desert

It’s been a long time since I did anything related to cartography. I think the last project I did using GIS was back in 2008. It’s been too long and I need to find a way to become much more proficient at it. I’d like to someday develop the skills and knowledge that would make me a good map/GIS librarian – perhaps I could pursue a MURP or an MA in Geography…

In any case, I thought this might be an interesting project – visualizing Food Deserts. So for those unfamiliar with this concept, the USDA has kindly provided this definition:

The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as places where at least a fifth of the population lives at or below the poverty line, and a third of the population lives more than a mile from a large grocery store.

I’d love to get some data from the Census bureau and create an interactive map that allows you to visualize food deserts in local areas, perhaps add an additional layer to it that shows the availability of fast food restaurants as a replacement for a grocery store.

Project aside, it seems odd that in this day and age there could be a food desert – I guess what makes me  question this is the fact that I’ve lived within a mile of a large grocery store pretty much my entire life. I can’t imagine that it’s like to not have access to one. Granted, that’s only half of the definition – to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t lived in an area where a fifth of the population lived below the poverty line. I guess I’m blessed in that I have never had to worry about where my next meal will come from. I wish there was a way for me to help the community better…

Source: Beyond the Food Desert Mirage – Food – GOOD.

Locally aware, yet not newsworthy

Context is king. One of the most important things I’ve learned in my MLIS program is that the context of an information need is very important. There is the traditional sense of context: I need help with a project, I need help finding information about such-and-such, What websites are good for solving this type of problem, etc. Basically, this context revolves around the project.

However, I also feel there is the important context of space. For one thing, how do our information needs change based on our location? Remember, the Guinness Book of World Records started as a way to answer bar bets. Who is to say that now, instead of using this tome, we use our phones to Google our questions. In this sense, it is a social context – answering a question that you probably wouldn’t worry about on your own but only with friends.

What about physical location? Does our physical location affect our information needs? Well..yes. What if you are in the middle of a city and completely lost – your information need could be to find the nearest bathroom or the nearest police station. In this sense, the context is purely selfish – not a very social need. However, this does not always need to be the case. Sometimes we are lost in the city as a group and we all need to find the answer for something.

This brings me to the subject of the below link: hyperlocal awareness. With the rise of location-based services, we are now in an environment in which we can find information about our surroundings quickly. Foursquare, Twitter, Yelp, Loopt – these are all sources for information around us. If we are so hip to these apps, why haven’t hyperlocal news technologies been able to gain a foothold?

As awful as this is to say, I tend to find local newspapers lacking in quality. Perhaps people are used to this stereotype of local news and don’t consider the quality of hyperlocal news outlets to be worthy. Do you use any hyperlocal news site, such as What do you think of it?

Hyperlocal Heartbreak: Why Haven’t Neighborhood News Technologies Worked Out?.

What can libraries do during a crisis?

A recent tweet I just saw from ALA Library twitter account made me think of what libraries can do during moments of crisis, such as the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan.

In moments of crises, what can libraries do to help their communities? There is the physical help they can offer, by having their libraries open for people to use them as shelter. Of course, this only works if the building itself isn’t damaged.

What else can we offer? How about information, seeing as how we are librarians. We can be a source of information for people who are lost, we can offer advice on rebuilding, we can offer simple first aid tips and manuals.

But I think the most important thing we can offer is distraction. We can stay open for people to check out books, movies, magazines, anything. We can host events for kids. We can be a resource for the community.

What do you think? What else can libraries do?

@ALALibrary – No damage to Japanese libraries


See what I did there? I referenced a poor excuse for a musical track by a washed up backup dancer to introduce something TOTALLY wicked awesome.

For those unfamiliar with the idea of a POPOS, it’s an acronym standing for Privately Owned Public Open Spaces. Essentially, what they are places around the downtown San Francisco area which the public has access to and is provided by a private company. This is because of an agreement between the city and these companies, that they must provide some sort of public space.

The terrible thing is that these spaces aren’t very well indicated or are hidden. This is unfortunate, as some of the images that I have seen of them make them look so appealing. My goal before the end of this year (or whenever I move to San Francisco) is to visit each and every one of these spaces.

And with this Google Map showing their location, this will be even easier. Who want’s to go on an adventure with me?

SPUR POPOS guide now in Google Maps | SPUR – San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association.

No sense of place

I feel a little lost. Though I know physically where I am, I don’t know where I am in the sense of where I really belong.

I love the Bay Area. Having lived here for three years, I’ve grown very fond of it’s people and its quirks. I love the many restaurants that dot the city. I love the bars and it’s eclectic mix of patrons. I love the weather and its annoying ability to change at the drop of a hat. I love it all.

At the same time, I don’t know where I want to be. I’ve lived in California most of my life. I need a change of pace. Moving up here from Southern California was probably the best thing I’ve ever done – the Bay Area is my speed. This is the type of life I want to live. I feel as if my life is incomplete – I haven’t spent much time outside of the state.

Things are weird for me right now. My program is finishing up and I can go wherever I want to for a job. I don’t have a place I want to be, I just have a desire to be.

In this new book about San Francisco, the author looks into our definition of place – not just a geographic location, but the complete sense of it. From the culture that surrounds, to the physical buildings that imprison in, place is defined not only by geography but by society and culture. The relationships we have between people and places.

I’ve often referred to my interest in geography and urban planning as being about SPACE – the physical location we all live in day to day. But maybe what I am interested in is PLACE – the space we live in, along with our networks and connections. This is what information science should look at, our sense of place and it’s connection to information discovery, sharing, creation.

Book Review: ‘Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas’ –

The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture


That’s pretty much all I can say about this book. The design is fantastic, the depth of the coverage for each architectural piece is phenomenal, the scope is global.

Everything about this book is great. I wish I owned it. It’s been on my wish list for months – every time I buy something at Barnes and Noble, I see it mocking me from behind the register, begging me to buy it. Teasing me with its bright green plastic cover. Making me salivate at the thought of walking out with it.

It’s 15 pounds of glorious architecture-gasm. And I can’t wait to own it.

The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture.

LIFE on US Cities – 60’s edition

I was chatting with a friend when I saw he had a bookmark for a Life magazine special on American cities.

Being the good librarian that I am, I had to look it up myself. I remembered that the entirety (or nearly all of it) is available in Google Books. So here it is. I asked what he was using the magazine for, but he was very vague about it. Something about a personal project. Which kind of makes sense since he works in IT and why would an IT guy be reading up on urban design…Granted, I’m a tech person and I love urban design.

I’m hoping to have the time soon to read it, but I’ve been consumed with my personal life, along with a project for ALASC – a redesign of our website. The website itself is coming along nicely – much slower than I had expected, but that’s my fault for being super picky about everything.

Lazy update for today, but I’m being hammered with projects right now. Let’s see if I can even keep up with my updates once the semester starts!

LIFE – Google Books.