Before the beginning of our weekly Visualizing Cities Lab meetings, I was apprehensive yet excited. I was happy to finally be surrounded by people who were excited by the same things as I was, but I was scared of learning things that were outside of my comfort zone. As a public policy major, I had little to no experience with any form of data visualization, let alone how data visualizations could be used to represent things pertaining to art history, such as cities.
During our first couple of meetings, my excitement eventually overpowered my nervousness. The graduate students gave pitches on their own projects and we would have the opportunity to be able to work with them. Each of their projects were unique, different, and interesting, and it was very cool to see just how many different approaches there were to looking at and studying cities.
I eventually was given the opportunity to work with a group on a workshop titled, “Making Maps in R”. I chose this group because I had experience in R, but only in relation to my statistics 101 class. I had no idea that R could be used as a way to make maps, and I was eager to learn more about how that could be done. Throughout the planning process of our workshop, I really appreciated the collaborative nature in which our team was able to work. I feel as though I have always viewed data visualization as an “individual” process. I saw it as something that was not conducive to multiple people sharing ideas and working together. However, I quickly learned that it was indeed collaborative and rather easy for multiple people to work together. I also learned just how powerful those that make the decisions for what exactly to visualize and represent are. Every decision reflects something larger. What you choose to omit, what you choose to include, what colors you use, the size of different items, and where you include things all has an impact on what it is you are visualizing and those that are perceiving it. It is important to be aware of the weight seemingly small decisions will have on your final product and its audience. I really appreciate this new level of awareness as I hope to make more data visualizations throughout my professional life.
My perspective on cities had also previously been rather short sighted. When I think of cities, I think of lots of people, lots of traffic and lots of things to do. I quickly learned that cities are much more than that. Cities represent and reflect the history, culture, religions, hardships and triumphs of its people and its geographical space and location. All of the different workshops showed me just how representative cities at large are of their own people. I think it is truly beautiful that cities have this ability, and I almost think of cities as pieces of art that are constantly being built and added upon. They are always being changed and updated to reflect the desires of those that inhabit it at the time while still retaining the mark of those that lived there not long ago. My experience with VCL has shown me that cities serve as a monument to what has passed and a canvas for what is yet to come.
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