Geographic Information Systems

Geographic information system is a clunky term for what the layman simply calls maps. Ok, ok, there is more to it than that with shapefiles and polygons and metadata, etc, etc. But the general gist is a visualization of geographical data and this challenge has been tackled for aeons, or at least for a long time before data-viz became trendy. In 2012, Tableau put together what they consider to be The 5 Most Influential Data Visualizations of All Time and I was not surprised to see John Snow’s Cholera Map of London in the mix as well as Napoleon’s March on Moscow (which is kinda sorta GIS mapsy).

Personally, I cut my teeth in GIS as a young civil engineer when I worked in the Irish sewerage and rain water drainage industry – this Wad River Catchment Flood Study (pdf) includes some elegant geographic visualizations that I helped develop. Being a an engineer during the Irish property bubble I witnessed a lot of housing construction in areas where there was subsequently little or no demand. Depending on who you talk to this was either due to greedy bankers, over-exuberance in the market or a myriad of other explanations that spew from experts’ mouths. Given my proximity to the construction industry I was keenly aware of various tax incentives that were on offer for building houses in certain geographic areas and I suspected these government interventions, although well-intentioned, may have had a negative impact.

In 2012 I analyzed the National Unfinished Housing Developments Database to see if there was a link between government incentives and ghost estates. The results of my geographic analysis indicate that, yes, there is some evidence to suggest that the government exacerbated the housing bubble/bust for the very areas they were trying to help. My analysis was crude but compelling (if I do say so myself!)


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