Project Plan – Phase 1

The following was submitted as part of an application for a Provost Digital Innovation Grant. The direction of the project has recently been updated.

Recalibrating Queens is a digital history and activist scholarship project focused on publicly excavating and exploring the past century of development and change in western Queens. It’s centerpiece will be an interactive, web-based map that draws on statistical and archival data and research to help illustrate changes (in housing, population, business, and zoning) and contestation around development decisions over time. This project was conceived alongside my resident-based organizing efforts with the Justice For All Coalition over the last 2+ years, and the development of my dissertation proposal as a student in the environmental psychology program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. It aims to provide another counterpoint for understanding contestations around development and change in a region that has undergone rapid change in recent decades, and to situate and elaborate residents’ experiences, perspectives and alternative visions for the development of their neighborhoods, which is central to my dissertation research. Taken together, Recalibrating Queens is part of a larger goal to reexamine the past and resituate the present of western Queens so as to to reimagine a more just and community-centered future. The project is currently in its first phase of development; securing this grant will support the next phases of development. 

The first phase of this project began with an expansive exploratory inquiry into what data is publicly available and readily usable, and how that data could be shared publicly. From this first phase, I identified, collected, and cleaned a number of data tables from public sources like NYC Open Data, BYTES of the Big Apple, and the US Census. I also investigated and experimented with using Leaflet, a mapping-specific javascript library, to create a public, interactive interface through which the data could be shared and explored. 

Ultimately, select data points were manipulated (as needed) and mapped using ArcMAP to create a series of 65 maps that speak to population and housing changes in the region of western Queens from 2000 to 2017. This series will be shared at the Mapping (In)Justice Symposium at Fordham University on November 7th and are the basis of a related invited talk with Fordham graduate students on October 28th. This map series is publicly available at, and is accompanied by additional components including: a project statement; background information about highlighting the activist, scholarly and community roots of the project; information about the data, data sources, and resources used in identifying, collecting, cleaning and mapping the data; a set of initial insights into my approach, process, and preliminary findings; and a community forum where site visitors can share what about the maps and/or changes in western Queens stands out to them and/or make suggestions that may inform future directions, expansions, and/or collaborations for the project. 

Beyond an initial opportunity to share and get feedback on this work, this phase sets the groundwork for the larger goal of creating a web-based, interactive digital history project. For example, the existing website serves as a prototype for the final website that will include the web-based interactive map. Also, promotional materials that have been created for distribution at the symposium and meetings and events in Queens can be revised over time and shared and built upon more broadly to make people aware of the project (currently in progress). Moreover, using ArcMap for the first phase was not only about sharing the maps now, but was also a process-based decision about using the functional capabilities of the software program to prepare data for the next phase. 

Towards the goal of building a web-based map using Leaflet, census tract geographies for NYC’s 5 boroughs were merged and joined with census data speaking to population and housing changes. These new shapefiles were then converted to geoJSONs, which is the spatial data filetype that is most compatible with Leaflet. In honor of the commitment to transparency and public use, these new files (shapefiles and geoJSONs) are available on the current website. These files directly prepare me to undertake the next step of this project, which is to use code I’ve identified to build choropleth layers and a control panel to add to the base map I have already built using Leaflet.

More broadly, the next phase will focus on collecting and extending the project’s ability to examine changes and contestations around development in the region over the last 100 years. The City provides insight on how census tracts for the 1990s map onto those from 2000 so this is another ‘next step’. Beyond that, there is much to be investigated and figured out. Some of this will involve focused internet-based research exploring what data is already available. I also plan to meet with the archivist of the NYC City Council, the director of the Department of City Planning in Queens, and a representative of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College. These meetings will provide insight and access to statistical and historical data that can be used to extend the timeline of Recalibrating Queens, and thicken the historical account it can tell. I expect that these meetings will also illuminate further resources to pursue. 

As the project continues to be built out over the next year, it will also be shared and promoted among those for whom the project has been created – fellows activists and advocates, researchers, residents of western Queens. Comments in person or in the community forum will inform still further future iterations of this project. Conversely, the files I will continue to make public may encourage others to take up similar projects in their own neighborhoods. Additionally, I will continue to record insights about my process, and to share any data or technical resources that I rely on, and new datasets that are created. In these ways, the process of pursuing this project is as meaningful as completing the project.

  A final goal related to this project for the next year is to identify and pursue additional funding and conferences. This includes applying to the New Media Lab at The Graduate Center, CUNY. I also plan to submit this project for the NYCDH Graduate Student Award next spring, and I would like to identify conference at which a future iteration of this project can be shared. The hope here is not only to fund and present this work, but to tie in with communities doing similar work, whose input or own projects may inspire and help grow this project. In addition, I think applying for funding and conferences are good opportunities to take stock of and revisit the next steps of a project, and revise or extend as needed.

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