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My takeaways from AAG 2015

May 21st, 2015

The 2015 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in Chicago is long gone – time for a summary of key lessons and notable ideas taken home from three high-energy conference days.

Choosing which sessions to attend, was the first major challenge, as there were over ninety (90!) parallel sessions scheduled in many time slots. I put my program together based on presentations by Ryerson colleagues and students ( and those given by colleagues and students of the Geothink project (, as well as by looking through the presenter list and finding sessions sponsored by select AAG specialty groups (notably GIScience and Cartography). Abstracts for the presentations mentioned in this blog can be found via the “preliminary” conference program at

Upon arrival, I was impressed by the size and wealth of the industrial and transportation infrastructure in Chicago as well as the volume of the central business district, as seen from the airport train and when walking around in the downtown core.

aag-photo1 aag-photo3

My conference started on Wednesday, 22 April 2015, with Session 2186 “Cartography in and out of the Classroom: Current Educational Practices“. In a diverse set of presentations, Pontus Hennerdal from Stockholm University presented an experiment with a golf-like computer game played on a Mercator-projected world map to help children understand map projections. Pontus also referred to the issue of “world map continuity” using an animated film that is available on his homepage at In the second presentation, Jeff Howarth from Middlebury College assessed the relationship between spatial thinking skills of students and their ability to learn GIS. This research was motivated by an anonymous student comment about a perceived split of GIS classes into those students who “get it” vs. those who don’t. Jeff notes that spatial thinking along with skills in orientation, visualization, and a sense of direction sets students up for success in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) courses, including GIS. Next was Cindy Brewer, Head of the Department of Geography at Penn State University, with an overview of additions and changes to the 2nd edition of her Esri Press book “Designing Better Maps”. The fourth presentation was given by David Fairbairn of Newcastle, Chair of the Commission on Education and Training of the International Cartographic Association. David examined the accreditation of cartography-related programs of study globally, and somewhat surprisingly, reported his conclusion that cartography may not be considered a profession and accreditation would bring more disadvantages (incl. management, liability, barriers to progress) than benefits to the discipline. Finally, Kenneth Field of Esri took the stage to discuss perceptions and misconceptions of cartography and the cartographer. These include the rejection of the “map police” when trained cartographers dare to criticize the “exploratory playful” maps created by some of today’s map-makers (see my post at

A large part of the remainder of Wednesday was spent in a series of sessions on “Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS“. Of particular note the presentations by Renee Sieber, professor of many things at McGill and leader of the Geothink SSHRC Partnership Grant (, and Mike McCall, senior researcher at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. Renee spoke thought-provokingly, as usual, about “frictionless civic participation”. She observes how ever easier-to-use crowdsourcing tools are reducing government-citizen interactions to customer relationships, and participation is becoming a product being delivered efficiently, rather than a democratic process that engages citizens in a meaningful way. Mike spoke about the development of Participatory GIS (PGIS) in times of volunteered geographic information (VGI) and crowdsourcing, arguing to operationalize VGI within PGIS. The session also included a brief discussion among members of the audience and presenters about the need for base maps or imagery as a backdrop for PGIS – an interesting question, as my students and I are arguing that “seed contents” will help generate meaningful discussion, thus going even beyond including just a base map. Finally, two thoughts brought forward by Muki Haklay of University College London: Given the “GIS chauffeurs” of early-day PGIS projects, he asked whether we continue to need such facilitators in times of Renee Sieber’s frictionless participation? And, he observed that the power of a printed map brought to a community development meeting is still uncontestable. Muki’s extensive raw notes from the AAG conference can be found on his blog at

In the afternoon, I dropped in to Session 2478, which celebrated David Huff’s contribution to applied geography and business. My colleague Tony Hernandez chaired and co-organized the session, in which Tony Lea, Senior VP Research of Toronto-based Environics Analytics and instructor in our Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) program, and other business geographers paid tribute to the Huff model for predicting consumers’ spatial behaviour (such as the probability of patronizing specific store locations). Members of the Huff family were also present to remember the man behind the model, who passed away in Summer 2014. A written tribute by Tony Lea can be found at

Also on my agenda was a trip to the AAG vendor expo, where I was pleased to see my book – “Multicriteria Decision Analysis in Geographic Information Science” – in the Springer booth!


Thursday, 23 April 2015, began with an 8am session on “Spatial Big Data and Everyday Life“. In a mixed bag of presentations, Till Straube of Goethe University in Frankfurt asked “Where is Big Data?”; Birmingham’s Agnieszka Leszczynski argued that online users are more concerned with controlling their personal location data than with how they are ultimately used; Kentucky’s Matt Wilson showed select examples from half a century of animated maps that span the boundary between data visualization and art; Monica Stephens of the University at Buffalo discussed the rural exclusions of crowdsourced big data and characterized Wikipedia articles about rural towns in the US as Mad Libs based on Census information; and finally, Edinburgh’s Chris Speed conducted an IoT self test, in which he examined the impact of an Internet-connected toilet paper holder on family dynamics…

The remainder of Thursday was devoted to CyberGIS and new directions in mapping. The panel on “Frontiers in CyberGIS Education” was very interesting in that many of the challenges reported in teaching CyberGIS really are persistent challenges in teaching plain-old GIS. For example, panelists Tim Nyerges, Wenwen Li, Patricia Carbajalas, Dan Goldberg, and Britta Ricker noted the difficulty of getting undergraduate students to take more than one or two consecutive GIS courses; the challenge of teaching advanced GIS concepts such as enterprise GIS and CyberGIS (which I understand to mean GIS-as-a-service); and the nature of Geography as a “discovery major”, i.e. a program that attracts advanced students who are struggling in their original subjects. One of the concluding comments from the CyberGIS panel was a call to develop interdisciplinary, data-centred program – ASU’s GIScience program was named as an example.

Next, I caught the first of two panels on “New Directions in Mapping“, organized by Stamen’s Alan McConchie, Britta Ricker of U Washington at Tacoma, and Kentucky’s Matt Zook. A panel consisting of representative of what I call the “quick-service mapping” industry (Google, Mapbox, MapZen, Stamen) talked about job qualifications and their firms’ relation to academic teaching and research. We heard that “Geography” has an antiquated connotation and sounds old-fashioned, that the firms use “geo” to avoid the complexities of “geography”, and that geography is considered a “niche” field. My hunch is that geography is perhaps rather too broad (and “geo” even broader), but along with Peter Johnson’s (U Waterloo) comment from the audience, I must also admit that you don’t need to be a geographer to make maps, just like you don’t have to be a mathematician to do some calculations. Tips for students interested in working for the quick-service mapping industry included to develop a portfolio, practice their problem-solving and other soft skills, and know how to use platforms such as GitHub (before learning to program). A telltale tweet summarizing the panel discussion:

Thursday evening provided an opportunity to practice some burger cartography. It was time for the “Iron Sheep” hackathon organized by the FloatingSheep collective of academic geographers. Teams of five were given a wild dataset of geolocated tweets and a short 90-or-so minute time frame to produce some cool & funny map(s) and win a trophy for the best or worst or inbetween product. It was interesting to see how a group of strangers new to the competition and with no clue about how to get started, would end up producing a wonderful map such as this :-)


My last day at AAG 2015, Friday, April 24, took off with a half-day technical workshop on “Let’s Talk About Your Geostack”. The four active participants got a tremendous amount of attention from instructor-consultant @EricTheise. Basically, I went from zero to 100 in terms of having PostgreSQL, PostGIS, Python, NodeJS, and TileMill installed and running on my laptop – catching up within four hours with the tools that some of my students have been talking about, and using, in the last couple of years!

In the afternoon, attention turned to OpenStreetMap (OSM), with a series of sessions organized by Muki Haklay, who argues that OSM warrants its own branch of research, OpenStreetMap Studies. I caught the second session which started with Salzburg’s Martin Loidl showing an approach in development to detect and correct attribute (tag) inconsistencies in OSM based on information contained in the OSM data set (intrinsic approach). Geothink co-investigator Peter Johnson of UWaterloo presented preliminary results of his study of OSM adoption (or lack thereof) by municipal government staff. In eight interviews with Canadian city staff, Peter did not find a single official use of OSM. Extensive discussions followed the set of four presentations, making for a highly informative session. One of the fundamental questions raised was whether OSM is distinct enough from other VGI and citizen science projects that it merits its own research approach. While typically considered one of the largest crowdmapping projects, it was noted that participation is “shallow” (Muki Haklay) with only 10k active users among 2 million registered users. Martin Loidl had noted that OSM is focused on geometry data, yet with a flat structure and no standards other than those agreed-upon via the OSM wiki. Alan McConchie added the caution that OSM contributions only make it onto the map if they are included in the “style” files used to render OSM data. Other issues raised by Alan included the privacy of contributors and questions about authority. For example, contributors should be aware of the visualization and statistics tools developed by Pascal Neis at! We were reminded that Muki Haklay has developed a code of engagement for researchers studying OSM (read the documentation, experience actively contributing, explore the data, talk to the OSM community, publish open access, commit to knowledge transfer). Muki summarized the debate by suggesting that academics should act as “critical friends” vis-à-vis the OSM community and project. To reconcile “OSM Studies” with VGI, citizen science, and the participatory Geoweb, I’d refer to the typology of user contributions developed by Rinner & Fast (2014). In that paper, we do in fact single out OSM (along with Wikimapia) as a “crowd-mapping” application, yet within a continuum of related Geoweb applications.

Notes from #NepalQuake Mapping Sessions @RyersonU Geography

May 4th, 2015

This is a brief account of two “Mapping for Nepal” sessions at Ryerson University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies. In an earlier post found at, I collected information on humanitarian mapping for these same sessions.

Mapathon @RyersonU, Geography & Spatial on Monday, 27 April 2015, 10am-2pm. 1(+1) prof, 2 undergrads, 3 MSAs, 1 PhD, 1 alumnus came together two days after the devastating earthquake to put missing roads, buildings, and villages in Nepal on the map using the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team’s (HOT) task manager. Thank you to MSA alumnus Kamal Paudel for initiating and co-organizing this and the following meetings.


Mapathon @RyersonU, Geography & Spatial on Sunday, 3 May 2015, 4pm-8pm. Our second Nepal mapathon brought together a total of 15 volunteers, including undergraduate BA in Geographic Analysis and graduate Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) students along with MSA alumni, profs, and members of the Toronto-area GIS community. On this Sunday afternoon we focused on completing and correcting the road/track/path network and adding missing buildings to the map of Nepal’s most affected disaster zones. Photos via our tweets:


My observations and thoughts from co-organizing and leading these sessions, and participating in the HOT/OSM editing:

  • In addition to supporting the #EqResponseNp in a small way, the situation provided an invaluable learning opportunity for everyone involved. Most participants of our sessions had never contributed to OSM, and some did not even know of its existence, despite being Geography students or GIS professionals. After creating OSM accounts and reading up on the available OSM and Nepal-specific documentation, participants got to map hundreds of points, lines, or polygons within just a couple of hours.
  • The flat OSM data model – conflating all geometries and all feature types in the same file – together with unclear or inconsistent tagging instructions for features such as roads, tracks, and paths challenged our prior experience with GIS and geographic data. Students in particular were concerned about the fact that their edits would go live without “someone checking”.
  • While the HOT task manager and general workflow of choosing, locking, editing, and saving an area was a bit confusing at first, the ID editor used by most participants was found to be intuitive and was praised by GIS industry staff as “slick”.
  • The most recent HOT tasks were marked as not suitable for beginners after discussions among the OSM community about poor-quality contributions, leaving few options for (self-identified) beginners. It was most interesting to skim over the preceding discussion on the HOT chat and mailing list, e.g. reading a question about “who we let in”. I am not sure how the proponent would define “we” in a crowd-mapping project such as OSM.
  • There was a related Twitter #geowebchat on humanitarian mapping for Nepal: “How can we make sure newbies contribute productively?”, on Tuesday, 5 May 2015 (see transcript at
  • The HOT tasks designated for more experienced contributors allowed to add post-disaster imagery as a custom background. I was not able to discern whether buildings were destroyed or where helicopters could land to reach remote villages, but I noticed numerous buildings (roofs) that were not included in the standard Bing imagery and therefore missing from OSM.
  • The GIS professionals mentioned above included two analysts with a major GIS vendor, two GIS analysts with different regional conservation authorities, a GIS analyst with a major retail chain, and at least one GIS analyst with a municipal planning department (apologies for lack of exact job titles here). The fact that these, along with our Geography students, had mostly not been exposed to OSM is a concern, which however can be easily addressed by small changes in our curricula or extra-curricular initiatives. I am however a bit concerned as to whether the OSM community will be open to collaborating with the #GIStribe.
  • With reference to the #geowebchat, I’d posit that newbie != newbie. Geographers can contribute a host of expertise around interpreting features on the ground, even if they have “never mapped” (in the OSM sense of “mapping”). Trained GIS experts understand how feature on the ground translate into data items and cannot be considered newbies either. In addition, face-to-face instructions by, and discussion with, experienced OSM contributors would certainly help to achieve a higher efficiency and quality of OSM contributions. In this sense, I am hoping that we will have more crowd-mapping sessions @RyersonU Geography, for Nepal and beyond.

MSA Poster Day 2015

May 1st, 2015


On Wednesday, 29 April 2015, 22 Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) students presented their research ideas/plans for their major research papers or theses to the Department. The students’ posters represented a mind-blowing diversity of research topics, with the important common denominator of using spatial analysis concepts and techniques. Techniques ranged from self-organizing maps to location-allocation, risk terrain modeling, cluster analysis, and various forms of regression analysis. Proposed tools included ArcGIS, MapInfo, QGIS/PySAL, and R. Finally, the fields of application span sustainable development to informal caregiving, housing deprivation, food access, regional transit planning, road salt usage, traffic injuries, ground-penetrating radar, urban heat island, and book retailing and mall tenant mix. Enjoy studying the following list of all poster titles!


The MSA Best Poster Award 2015 went to Daniel Liadsky for the poster on “Neighbourhood Effects on Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in the Toronto CMA” shown below (click to enlarge). Congratulations, Daniel!!


Ryerson Geographers at AAG 2015

April 17th, 2015

The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies is sending a sizable delegation of researchers down south (or should that be west?) to Chicago, to spread the word about our awesome research in applied and other geographies! The annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) also is the premier venue to pick up research trends and network with colleagues representing the full breadth of the discipline.

Here is the “Ryerson program” in detail, with an update to the “Retail and Business Geography I” session. In all, there are about 14 faculty members and 7 students presenting (not including co-authors), and we are involved in 29 sessions (including organizer, chair, panelist, etc.)!


Paper Session: Trees in the City 1: Biophysical Conditions
Tuesday, 4/21/2015 at 8:00 AM

Abstract Title: The Effectiveness of Tillage Radish® to Improve the Growing Medium for Urban Trees
Shawn Mayhew-Hammond, MASc* – Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group, Ryerson University
Andrew A Millward, Ph.D. – Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group, Ryerson University

Abstract Title: Virtual Daylighting: Enhancing Arboriculture Consulting Practices Through Tree Root Location with Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR)
*Vadim Sabetski – Ryerson University
Andrew Millward, Dr. – Ryerson University

Abstract Title: Influence of Organic Mulch on Soil Characteristics in a Forested Urban Park
*Andrew A Millward, Ph.D. – Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group, Ryerson University
Todd Irvine, MFC, ISA Certified Arborist – Bruce Tree Expert Company Ltd.

Paper Session: Trees in the City 2: Mapping and Measurement
Tuesday, 4/21/2015 at 10:00 AM
Abstract Title: Enabling Environmental Agents: Can Citytrees Help our Cities Grow?
Nikesh N. Bhagat* – Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group, Ryerson University
Andrew A Millward, Ph.D. – Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group, Ryerson University

Paper Session: 1457 Geographies of Media III: Multicultural media, international migration, and transnationalism
Tuesday, 4/21/2015, from 12:40 PM – 2:20 PM
Discussant(s): Sutama Ghosh – Ryerson University

Paper Session: Trees in the City 4: Human- Forest Relationships
Tuesday, 4/21/2015 at 14:40 PM.
Abstract Title: Assessing Urban Forest Ecosystem Change and the Vulnerability of Ecosystem Service Supply in a Residential Neighborhood
James Steenberg* – Ryerson University
Andrew Millward, PhD – Ryerson University


Paper Session: 2178 Retail and Business Geography I
Wednesday, 4/22/2015, from 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University
Murray Rice – University of North Texas
Chair(s): Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University

Abstract Title: The Mixed Use Challenge: Turning Tides of Retail Development
Christopher Daniel* – Ryerson University – CSCA
Tony Hernandez, Ph.D. – Ryerson University – CSCA

Abstract Title: The Polarizing Canadian Market: High-end Retail Change
*Stephen Swales – Ryerson University
Wayne Forsythe – Ryerson University

Paper Session: 2184 Biofuels, Bioenergy, and the Emerging Bio-Economy I: Visions
Wednesday, 4/22/2015, from 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Peter Kedron – Ryerson University
Jennifer Baka – London School of Economics
Kirby Calvert

Paper Session: 2284 Biofuels, Bioenergy, and the Emerging Bio-Economy II: Landscapes
Wednesday, 4/22/2015, from 10:00 AM – 11:40 AM
Peter Kedron – Ryerson University
Jennifer Baka – London School of Economics
Kean Birch – York University

Paper Session: Geographies of Activism and Protest II
Wednesday, 4/22/2015 at 10:00 AM
Abstract Title: Indigenous Armed Resistance as Activism
Author(s): Valentina Capurri* – Ryerson University

Panel Session: 2278 The Huff Model: from origins to modeling legacy
Wednesday, 4/22/2015, from 10:00 AM – 11:40 AM
Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University
Anthony Lea
Daniel A. Griffith – U. of Texas at Dallas
Chair(s): Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University

Panel Session: 2478 Dr. David Huff: a tribute to his contribution to applied geographical and business research
Wednesday, 4/22/2015, from 1:20 PM – 3:00 PM
Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University
John Frazier – Binghamton University
Chair(s): Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University

Paper Session: 2484 Biofuels, Bioenergy, and the Emerging Bio-Economy III: Transitions I
Wednesday, 4/22/2015, from 1:20 PM – 3:00 PM
Peter Kedron – Ryerson University
Kean Birch – York University
Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen – SUNY-Buffalo
Chair(s): Peter Kedron – Ryerson University

Paper Session: 2584 Biofuels, Bioenergy, and the Emerging Bio-Economy IV: Transitions II
Wednesday, 4/22/2015, from 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM
Peter Kedron – Ryerson University
Kirby Calvert
Jennifer Baka – London School of Economics

Abstract Title: Geographies of bioenergy from corn to high-tech biofuels
Author(s): Peter Kedron* – Ryerson University

Paper Session: Land Use Change and Ecosystem Services
Wednesday, 4/22/2015 at 17:20 PM.
Abstract Title: Spatiotemporal patterns and landscape metrics on First Nation reserves: The case of southern Ontario
Author(s): Eric Vaz* – Ryerson University


Paper Session: Immigrants, ethnicity, gender, race and health disparities in North American Cities
Thursday, 4/23/2015 at 8:00 AM.
Abstract Title: Composition and locational strategies of International Medical Graduates (IMGs) in Canada
Lu Wang* – Ryerson University
Jacob Levy – Ryerson University

Panel Session: 3132 Immigration and Law, Migrant Activism, ‘Citizenship after Orientalism’
Thursday, 4/23/2015, from 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Leif Johnson
Harald Bauder – Ryerson University
Pierpaolo Mudu – University of Washington – Tacoma
Sutapa Chattopadhyay – UNU-Merit & Maastricht University

Panel Session: 3178 Faculty Opportunities for Research and Teaching in Location Intelligence
Thursday, 4/23/2015, from 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Murray Rice – University of North Texas
Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University
Panelist(s): Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University
Simona Epasto – University of Macerata
William Graves – UNC-Charlotte

Paper Session: 3276 2nd Special Session Retail aspects in Urban Geography and Urban Planning IV: Spatial impact of key supply and demand trends in retailing
Thursday, 4/23/2015, from 10:00 AM – 11:40 AM
Discussant(s): Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University

Paper Session: Weather, Climate, and Health IV: Interventions and Solutions
Thursday, 4/23/2015 at 15:20 PM
Abstract Title: An analysis of the influence of multi-scalar characteristics of city trees on microclimatic variation within Toronto’s urban forest: a hierarchical approach
Christopher Greene* – Ryerson University
Peter J. Kedron, PhD – Ryerson University


Paper Session: 4102 Retail and Business Geography II
Friday, 4/24/2015, from 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM
Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University
Murray Rice – University of North Texas
Chair(s): Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University

Abstract Title: Location Strategies of Foreign Retailers in Canada
Joseph Aversa* – Ryerson University
Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University

Abstract Title: Reconstructing Target’s Location Strategy in Canada
*Peter Pavlakidis, MSA – Environics Analytics
Shuguang Wang, Dr. – Co-Presenter

Abstract Title: Rethinking Retail Geography
Author(s): Tony Hernandez* – Ryerson University

Panel Session: 4202 Rethinking Ethnic Entrepreneurship
Friday, 4/24/2015, from 10:00 AM – 11:40 AM
Antonie Schmiz – Goethe-Universitaet Frankfurt a.M.
Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University
Shuguang Wang – Ryerson University
Zhixi Zhuang – Ryerson University
Felicitas Barbara Hillmann – Free University Berlin
Veronique Schutjens – University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Linda Szabó – Central European University
Charlotte Rauchle – Humboldt-University Berlin, Geography Department

Paper Session: Food Networks and Politics I: Urban Scenarios
Friday, 4/24/2015 at 10:00 AM.
Abstract Title: Food Consumption and the Retail Food Environment: Examining Toronto’s Food Scapes
Daniel Liadsky* – Ryerson University
Brian Ceh – Ryerson University

Poster Session: Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIS&T) Poster Session
Friday, 4/24/2015 at 10:00 AM

Abstract Title: Conceptualizing Volunteered Geographic Information and the Participatory Geoweb
Victoria Fast* – Ryerson University
Claus Rinner – Ryerson University
Blake Byron Walker – Simon Fraser University

Abstract Title: The Role of Maps and Composite Indices in Place-Based Decision-Making
Claus Rinner* – Ryerson University, Geography
Heather Hart – Ryerson University, Geography
Meghan McHenry – Ryerson University, Geography
Carmen Huber – Ryerson University, Geography
Duncan MacLellan – Ryerson University, Politics

Panel Session: 4437 The Housing and Economic Experiences of Immigrants in U.S. and Canadian Cities
Friday, 4/24/2015, from 1:20 PM – 3:00 PM
Margaret W. Walton-Roberts – Wilfrid Laurier University
Wan Yu – Arizona State University
Sutama Ghosh – Ryerson University
John Frazier – Binghamton University
John Miron – University of Toronto

Paper Session: Restore Urban River’s Water Quality to Swimmable/Fishable
Friday, 4/24/2015 at 13:20 PM
Abstract Title: Using Geospatial Techniques for Water Research: Disinfection Byproducts in Drinking Water in Ontario, Canada
Brian Ceh* – Ryerson University
Mary Grunstra – Ryerson University
Eric Vaz – Ryerson University

Panel Session: 4513 Student Opportunities for Study and Career Development in Location Intelligence
Friday, 4/24/2015, from 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM
Murray Rice – University of North Texas
Tony Hernandez – Ryerson University
Simona Epasto – University of Macerata


Paper Session: Mental Health Geographies
Saturday, 4/25/2015 at 8:00 AM
Abstract Title: Crowd mapping mental health promotion through the Thought Spot project
Heather A Hart* – Ryerson University
Victoria Fast – Ryerson University

Paper Session: Dialectics in Geography: Opportunities and Limitations
Saturday, 4/25/2015 at 14:00 PM
Abstract Title: Reflections on Dialectics as Theory and/or Method
Author(s): Harald Bauder* – Ryerson University

Panel Session: 5531 Radical teaching
Saturday, 4/25/2015, from 4:00 PM – 5:40 PM in Columbian, Hyatt, West Tower, Bronze Level
Harald Bauder – Ryerson University
Sutapa Chattopadhyay – UNU-Merit & Maastricht University
Pierpaolo Mudu – University of Washington – Tacoma

Paper Session: The Role of Geography in Shaping Sustainability Agendas in the Higher Education – session 2
Saturday, 4/25/2015 at 16:00 PM.
Abstract Title: Examining Patterns of Sustainability Across Europe: A Multivariate and Spatial Assessment of 25 Composite Indices
Author(s): Richard Ross Shaker, Ph.D.* – Ryerson University


Twitter Analytics Experiments in Geography and Spatial Analysis at Ryerson

April 3rd, 2015

In my Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) course “Cartography and Geographic Visualization” in the Fall 2014 semester, three MSA students experimented with geospatial analysis of tweets. This post provides a brief account of the three student projects and ends with a caution about mapping and spatially analyzing tweets.

Yishi Zhao wrote her “mini research paper” assignment about “Exploring the Thematic Patterns of Twitter Feeds in Toronto: A Spatio-Temporal Approach”. Yishi’s goal was to identify the spatial and thematic patterns of geolocated tweets in Toronto at different times of day, as well as to explore the use of R for spatio-temporal analysis of the Twitter stream. Within the R platform, Yishi used the streamR package to collect geolocated tweets for the City of Toronto and mapped them by ward using a combination of MapTools, GISTools, and QGIS. Additionally, the tm package was used for text mining and to generate word clouds of the most frequent words tweeted at different times of the day.

Toronto tweets per population at different times of day - standard-deviation classification (Source: Yishi Zhao)

Toronto tweets per population at different times of day – standard-deviation classification (Source: Yishi Zhao)

Frequent words in Toronto tweets at different times of day (Source: Yishi Zhao)

Frequent words in Toronto tweets at different times of day (Source: Yishi Zhao)

One general observation is that the spatial distribution of tweets (normalized by residential population) becomes increasingly concentrated in downtown throughout the day, while the set of most frequent words expands (along with the actual volume of tweets, which peaked in the 7pm-9pm period).

MSA student Alexa Hinves pursued a more focused objective indicated in her paper’s title, “Twitter Data Mining with R for Business Analysts”. Her project aimed to examine the potential of geolocated Twitter data towards branding research using the example of singer Taylor Swift’s new album “1989”. Alexa explored the use of both, the streamR and twitteR packages in R. The ggplot2, maps, and wordcloud packages were used for presentation of results.

Distribution of geolocated tweets and word cloud referring to Taylor Swift (Source: Alexa Hinves)

Distribution of geolocated tweets and word cloud referring to Taylor Swift (Source: Alexa Hinves)

Alexa’s map of 1,000 Taylor Swift-related tweets suffers from a challenge that is common to many Twitter maps – they basically show population distribution rather than spatial patterns that are specific to tweet topics or general Twitter use. In this instance, we see the major cities in the United States lighting up. The corresponding word cloud (which I pasted onto the map) led Alexa to speculate that businesses can use location-specific sentiment analysis for targeted advertising, for example in the context of product releases.

The third project was an analysis and map poster on “#TOpoli – Geovisualization of Political Twitter Data in Toronto, Ontario”, completed by MSA cand. Richard Wen. With this project, we turn our interest back to the City of Toronto and to the topic of the October 2014 municipal election. Richard used similar techniques as the other two students to collect geolocated tweets, the number of which he mapped by the 140 City neighbourhoods (normalized by neighbourhood area – “bubble map” at top of poster). Richard then created separate word clouds for the six former municipalities in Toronto and mapped them within those boundaries (map at bottom of poster).

#TOpoli map poster - spatial pattern and contents of tweets in Toronto's mayoral election 2015 (Source: Richard Wen)

#TOpoli map poster – spatial pattern and contents of tweets in Toronto’s mayoral election 2015 (Source: Richard Wen)

Despite the different approach to normalization (normalization by area compared to Yishi’s normalization by population), Richard also finds a concentration of Twitter activity in downtown Toronto. The word clouds contain similar terms, notably the names of the leading candidates, now-mayor John Tory and candidate Doug Ford. An interesting challenge arose in that we cannot tell just from the word count whether tweets with a candidate’s name were written in support or opposition to this candidate.

The three MSA students used the open-ended cartography assignment to acquire expertise in a topic that is “trending” among neo-cartographers. They have already been asked for advice by a graduate student of an environmental studies program contemplating a Twitter sentiment analysis for her Master’s thesis. Richard’s project also led to an ongoing collaboration with journalism and communication researchers. However, the most valuable lesson for the students and myself was an increased awareness of the pitfalls of analyzing and mapping tweets. These pitfalls stem from the selective use of Twitter among population subgroups (e.g., young professionals; globally the English-speaking countries), the small proportion of tweets that have a location attached (less than 1% of all tweets by some accounts), and the limitations imposed by Twitter on the collection of free samples from the Twitter stream.

I have previously discussed some of these data-related issues in a post on “Big Data – Déjà Vu in Geographic Information Science”. An additional discussion of the cartography-related pitfalls of mapping tweets will be the subject of another blog post.

A Raster-Based Game of Life Using Python in QGIS

March 8th, 2015

Blog post authored by Richard Wen and Claus Rinner

A great way to demonstrate the manipulation of geospatial raster data is Conway’s Game of Life [1]. The “game” starts with a grid (“board”) of binary cells, which represent either alive (populated) or dead (empty) states. Each cell interacts with its eight adjacent neighbours to determine its next state. At each iteration of the game clock, the following rules are applied [1]:

  • A live cell with less than two or more than three live neighbours dies (under-population, overcrowding).
  • A live cell with two or three live neighbours continues to live.
  • A dead cell with three live neighbours becomes alive (reproduction).

The free and open-source Geographic Information System (GIS) software package QGIS [2] offers support for scripting with the Python programming language (pyQGIS module), which enables the use of powerful libraries such as NumPy and GDAL for dealing with raster data. Numerical Python (NumPy) [3] is a package developed for Python that is geared towards scientific computation with support for multi-dimensional arrays and matrices. The Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL) [4] is a library for translating raster and vector geospatial data formats available as a binding for Python.

Using NumPy, GDAL, and pyQGIS, we implemented the Game of Life, where NumPy manipulates the arrays, GDAL handles reading and writing of the raster data, and pyQGIS visualizes the rasters and their relative changes. The source code was written by Master of Spatial Analysis student Richard Wen with input from Dr. Claus Rinner and is available at The project was inspired by Anita Graser’s visit to Ryerson’s Lab for Geocomputation in October 2014, during which Anita developed a vector-based version of the Game of Life in QGIS (see

Our implementation takes an object-oriented approach, in which an object of a Game of Life class is instantiated and the gaming board is updated with the cycle() method using the QGIS python console. The core function is the manipulation of individual raster cells based on a coded algorithm – in this case, the rules defined by the Game of Life.

Let’s start by initializing and cycling a gaming board using default parameters:

# Instantiate a starting board
x = GameofLife()


# Cycle the board twice


The gaming board may be initialized with a random raster, a filled raster, a custom raster, or from a pre-defined raster file:

# The default is a random raster, we can set the width and height as well
x = GameofLife(width=3,height=5)
# Cycle the board


# Fill a cells object with 1s
y = Cells(inRaster=1)
# Create a raster with the filled cells object in the directory
# Instantiate a starting board with the filled raster
x = GameofLife(raster="path\\to\\filledraster\\file.tif")
# Cycle the board


# Generate a raster from a list of tuples
# Create a raster with the custom cells object in the directory
# Instantiate a starting board with the custom raster
x = GameofLife(raster="path\\to\\customraster\\file.tif")


# Instantiate a starting board with a raster
x = GameofLife(raster="path\\to\\raster\\file.tif")


Date source: City of Toronto Open Data [5]

Some other interesting features include changing animation speed, jumping cycles, and applying customized layer styles:

# Adjust delay to 3 seconds
# Cycle 10 times normally
# Cycle 5 times and display every 2nd cycle
# Set the style to the defined qml file = “path\\to\\qml\\style\\file.qml”

This post focuses on the functionality of the program, while its inner workings can be grasped from comments in the Python source code posted at The code was written and tested for QGIS 2.6; feedback on any issues is most welcome. The use of a NumPy array to iterate through the grid cells was found in an answer by user “gene” on GIS StackExchange [6]. Reading and processing raster data does have its challenges. When dealing with large grids, reading raster data in blocks rather than as a whole is advisable, because there may not be enough RAM to store an entire file at once [7].

The aim of implementing the Game of Life with Python and QGIS is to demonstrate some fundamental concepts of raster data analysis and cellular automata modeling, both of which have important applications in Geography and GIS. Existing QGIS functionality and scripts for raster processing seem to focus more on low-level input/output operations than higher-level analysis functions. For example, we did not find advanced local and focal raster operations in QGIS’ raster calculator. Thus, we envision that the RasterArray code could serve as a basis for expanding raster analysis in QGIS. The code will also be used in a yet-to-be-written lab assignment in GEO641 “GIS and Decision Support” in Ryerson’s BA in Geographic Analysis program.



[1] Wikipedia, Conway’s Game of Life

[2] QGIS

[3] NumPy, Numerical Python

[4] GDAL, Geospatial Data Abstraction Library

[5] Toronto Open Data, Regional Municipal Boundary

[6] How to do loops on raster cells with python console in QGIS?

[7] Chris Garrard, Utah State University, Reading Raster Data with GDAL


Ryerson Geographic Analysis students put restaurants, airports, cities, and cropland on the map!

February 25th, 2015

Blog post authored by Claus Rinner and Victoria Fast

In response to a recent lab assignment in GEO441 “Geographic information Science”, 49 second-year Geographic Analysis students selected a crowdmapping application and actively contributed valuable geographic information.

The most popular choice was the global OpenStreetMap initiative ( From updating the name and hours of their favourite restaurant or adding their local bank to a plaza, to identifying community gardens, adding a newly built hospital or geocoding new condos, the students used their local knowledge of the GTA to update and expand the freely accessible OpenStreetMap dataset.


For example, second-year Geographic Analysis student Stephanie Dizonno added a restaurant, George’s Pizza, to a set of businesses already represented along Toronto’s Dundas Street East.

ksmith-osm-airportSome of the more unusual edits were made by GEO441 student Kyle Smith, who is a recreational pilot. Kyle corrected and added key features to a local airport, such as a taxiway, the airport restaurant, and the apron, which we learned is the paved area used for aircraft parking. An essential part of his contribution was to update “crucial attribute data about the airport’s characteristics using the Canadian Flight Supplement,” writes Kyle.

In addition to OpenStreetMap, other students elected to contribute to Wikimapia, Cropland Capture, Night Cities, and the David Rumsey Map Collection. For example, instead of the point, line, polygon, and/or attribute data added to OpenStreetMap, the Cropland Capture online game ( has ‘players’ indicate whether or not a given satellite image includes agricultural land. Mooez Munshi highlights the relevance of his contribution: “The geographic data collected will help in building a map that shows all of the world’s cropland.”


Geographic Analysis student Daniel Bocknek elected to geographically reference a 100-year old map from the David Rumsey Map Collection ( showing the Aberfoyle area in Scotland. After identifying at least three control points on both the historic map and a contemporary basemap such as OpenStreetMap or Google Maps, the historic map is automatically geo-referenced and can be integrated with other GIS data as shown in Daniel’s screenshot above.

A similar approach is used by the Night Cities application ( to geo-locate photographs of world cities taken at night by astronauts on board the ISS. In his GEO441 assignment, Navdeep Salooja explains that this project involves “citizen scientists”, like himself, in research about global night-time light pollution.

Overall, the 49 Ryerson students contributed important bits (and bytes) to the growing body of volunteered geographic information, while experiencing the broad applicability of geographic knowledge and principles of geographic information science to real-world issues.

Thought Spot – Crowdmapping of Mental Health and Wellness Resources

December 10th, 2014

Thought Spot is a project designed by post-secondary students to support mental health and wellbeing among Toronto-area youth. The main feature is the online map at, which is based on the Ushahidi crowdsourced mapping platform. The Thought Spot project was initiated at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in collaboration with the University of Toronto, OCAD, and Ryerson. The map allows students to find mental health and wellness resources in ­their geographic area, without the need for an intermediary (parent, teacher, physician). The mapped information originates from ConnexOntario and Kids Help Phone data as well as data that were crowdsourced from members of the target audience.


Ryerson Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) candidate Heather Hart took a lead role in designing the Thought Spot map (shown above), bringing unique geospatial expertise to the table of the project’s student advisory board. Through her MSA practicum placement with a different research group at CAMH, Heather got in contact with the Thought Spot team and brought the funding for her own summer position to Ryerson, to devote half of her time to ensuring that the project’s crowdmapping would be successful. Heather’s involvement culminated in co-organizing a Thought Spot hackathon at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone in October 2014, which led to the ongoing development of a mobile version of the Thought Spot map.


This photo shows Heather at GIS Day at Ryerson on November 19th, 2014, presenting the Thought Spot project to an interested University audience. In collaboration with Environmental Applied Science and Management PhD candidate Victoria Fast, Heather has now also submitted a conference abstract about “Crowd mapping mental health promotion through the Thought Spot project”. The abstract brings together Victoria’s extensive expertise in volunteered geographic information systems and Heather’s on-the-ground experience with the Thought Spot project. Their presentation at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in April 2015 is part of the “International Geospatial Health Research” theme.

It is wonderful to see two enterprising Geography graduate students contribute to supporting mental health and wellbeing on campus, a goal that the University is committed to. At the same time, the Thought Spot project informs Heather’s thesis research on the role of maps in evidence-based health care decision-making and Victoria’s dissertation on crowdmapping of local food resources.

Toronto’s Traffic Lights Re-Visited and Animated

May 30th, 2014

My map of Toronto’s traffic signals described in a post on April 4th, 2014, was recently published on the title page of Cartouche, the newsletter of the Canadian Cartographic Association (CCA). This is my first-ever published map that is stand-alone, not included in an article or other text document! Here is a screenshot of the newsletter title:


Motivated by this unexpected outcome and using the occasion of the launch event of Maptime Toronto on May 29th, 2014, I wanted to try animating the dots representing the traffic signals. More precisely, each traffic light should iterate through a green-yellow-red sequence, and each mid-block pedestrian crossing should go through an off-blinking-off sequence. I was aiming for an animated GIF image with ten frames displayed in a continuous loop.

To create the colour sequences for each dot in QGIS, I copied the last digit of an existing  feature ID from the City of Toronto traffic signals data table into a new field to act as a random group assignment. Using a suggestion by Michael Markieta, I then created nine additional integer fields and cycled through the group numbers by adding 1. To keep these numbers in the 0…9 range, I used QGIS’ “modulo” function, e.g. Cycle1 = (“Cycle2” + 1) % 10. I then assigned the green, yellow, and red dot symbols from the static traffic lights map as a categorized “style” to different group numbers. Finally, I manually iterated the symbology through the ten group columns and took a screenshot each time. I put these together in the animated GIF shown below.


I must admit that I am not super convinced of the outcome. Maybe, ten frames are not enough to overcome the clocked appearance of the traffic signal system. But at least, things are moving now :)

It is important to note that this animation does not show the real-time status of the traffic lights! In fact, there is only one dot for an entire intersection that would include two to four sets of vehicle traffic lights, plus pedestrian lights, etc. – all represented by the same green-yellow-red cycle on the map. I also made the assumption that the green and red phases are the same length (4 out of 10 ticks each, with the remaining 2 ticks used for the yellow phase). You will note that the mid-block crossings have an active phase with three on-off cycles followed by a longer off phase. In this case, it would be fancier to individually control each crossing and have it come on randomly.


Ryerson Geographers at the Upcoming CAG Meeting

May 21st, 2014

Guest post by Dr. K. Wayne Forsythe:

The Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) 2014 Annual Meeting will be held at Brock University from May 26-30. It is part of the larger 2014 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

A number of Ryerson Geographers are taking part. The papers and sessions are as follows:

1) TUE-08:30 POSTER SESSION – Physical Geography, Environmental Geography, Climate Change (Mackenzie Chown Complex C407). Posters will be displayed all day.

K. Wayne Forsythe, Meghan McHenry, Stephen J. Swales, Joseph M. Aversa, Daniel J. Jakubek, Ryerson University.
Bathymetric Visualization of Contaminated Sediments in Lake Ontario

2) TUE-13:30 Geographies of Health and Wellbeing I (Mackenzie Chown Complex D400).
Chair: Gavin J. Andrews, McMaster University

Eric Vaz, Ryerson University; Michael Cusimano, University of Toronto; Tony Hernandez, Ryerson University.
Spatial heterogeneity of self-reported health in Toronto: Exploratory analysis of anthropogenic land use phenotypes

3) TUE-15:30 Geographies of Health and Wellbeing II (Mackenzie Chown Complex D400).
Chair: Allison Williams, McMaster University

Peter Kedron, Rajiv Lalla, Adam Mckay, Ryerson University
A Study of Within Group Inequality in the Geographic Distribution of HIV/AIDS in Thailand

4) WED-10:30 Selling the City (Mackenzie Chown Complex D400).
Chair: Phillip Gordon Mackintosh, Brock University

Chris Daniel, Tony Hernandez, Ryerson University
Scale effects on retail co-location analysis

5) WED-13:30 Critical Legal Geographies (Mackenzie Chown Complex D303).
Sponsorship: Indigenous Peoples Working Group; Historical Geography Study Group; Social Justice Research Institute (SJRI), Brock University
Special Session Organizers: Vanessa Sloan Morgan, Dalhousie University; Laura Schaefli,
Queen’s University
Chair: Vanessa Sloan Morgan, Dalhousie University

Valentina Capurri, Ryerson University
The Chester Case: the Canadian Immigration Act and the interconnections between law and spatiality in the lives of immigrant applicants with disabilities

6) WED-15:30 Possibilities and Limits of Scholarly Activism In and Outside of the Classroom II: How to Bring Academy to Activism (Mackenzie Chown Complex C405).
Sponsorship: Social Justice Research Institute (SJRI), Brock University
Special Session Organizers: Ebru Ustundag, Brock University; Emily Eaton, University of Regina
Moderator: Ebru Ustundag, Brock University
Fran Klodawsky, Carleton University
Valentina Capurri, Ryerson University
Vanessa Sloan Morgan, Dalhousie University
Emily Eaton, University of Regina

7) THU-10:30 Urban Inequalities in Canadian and US Cities – Exploring the Interconnections among Housing, Food Insecurity, and Environmental Justice I: Exploring the Links Between Housing and Food Security (Mackenzie Chown Complex C405).
Sponsorship: Social Justice Research Institute (SJRI), Brock University
Special Session Organizers: Sutama Ghosh, Peter Kedron, Ryerson University
Chair: Peter Kedron, Ryerson University

Brian Ceh, Tony Hernandez, Ryerson University
Measuring food deserts and implications of local, independently-owned grocers on the food landscape: The case of Toronto, Ontario

Discussant: Sutama Ghosh, Ryerson University

8) THU-13:30 Urban Inequalities in Canadian and US Cities – Exploring the Interconnections among Housing, Food Insecurity, and Environmental Justice II: ‘Mapping’ Links Between Housing and Environmental Justice (Mackenzie Chown Complex C405)
Special Session Organizers: Sutama Ghosh, Peter Kedron, Ryerson University
Chair: Sutama Ghosh, Ryerson University

Victoria Fast, Ryerson University
Building collaboration into the Food Security Equation: Participatory Mapping of Local Food Systems using Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)

Heather Hart, Peter Kedron, Ryerson University
Understanding the statistical bias of geographic scale in environmental inequity research

Cosmin Marmureanu, Ryerson University
Poverty, Housing, and Urban Forestry: Interrogating Intertwined Social and Environmental Justice in Toronto’s Inner Suburbs

Discussant: Peter Kedron, Ryerson University

9) FRI-15:30 Thinking About Learning (Mackenzie Chown Complex C407)
Chair: Dragos Simandan, Brock University

Rajiv Lalla, Ryerson University
Proximity to LGBT Social Resources as a proxy for defining Queer Communities in Ontario: A GIS Perspective

The presentations span the breadth of Geography, Environmental Studies and GIScience, and involve students/alumni from the Geographic Analysis and Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) programs, in addition to students in the MAsc and PhD in Environmental Applied Science and Management. See you in St. Catharines!

K. Wayne Forsythe  Ph.D.
Professor, Program in Geographic Analysis, Graduate Program in Spatial Analysis, and President, Canadian Association of Geographers – Ontario Division (CAGONT)
Department of Geography, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street
Toronto, Ontario,  CANADA   M5B 2K3