Awards Season

Regular readers of this blog, if they existed, would have noticed a new static “page” listing various awards, scholarships, and bursaries for students in Cartography, Geography, and GIScience. January/February and the spring seem to have clusters of deadlines for these competitions, in which we will see more Ryerson Geography students participate this year!

Today, Ryerson University officially announced the recipients of the research awards handed to faculty members, and you will find yours truly as one of two awardees from the Faculty of Arts: Ryerson maintains a comprehensive approach to faculty contributions to knowledge, which is labeled as Scholarly, Research and Creative Activity (SRC). This year’s Faculty SRC Awards recognize outstanding achievements by faculty members in the 2011/12 academic year.

I would like to acknowledge my students, who continue to play a significant role in my research program, including those in our BA in Geographic Analysis and Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) programs. For example, both peer-reviewed journal articles contributing to the above SRC Award were based on MSA students’ major research papers. As always, details on my team’s scholarship can be found on my homepage,, and many publications are posted with full text in Ryerson’s institutional repository,

Call for applications to the MSA program

‘Tis the season… of admissions to graduate programs and I want to share the call for applications to the MSA program that I am sending to colleagues across Canada :

I am emailing colleagues who have provided reference letters and advice to students from their institutions applying to our Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) program. We are always very grateful for your assessments and I would like to thank you personally for the time and effort spent speaking with your students about graduate school and writing those letters.

I would be grateful if you would again recommend the MSA program to your senior undergraduate students. The program homepage at contains relevant information for prospective applicants. Graduate funding is provided based on incoming qualifications, research interests, and time of application – first-consideration deadline is January 13th, 2013.

The MSA program is an intense one-year program with strong connections to potential employers in the Toronto area, as well as a rigorous research component. A range of research themes, in which MSA graduates have recently published or presented, are listed below. Also listed are additional areas of interest of potential MSA supervisors.

Recent graduates were employed by major retailers and banks (e.g., Canadian Tire, McDonald’s, Walmart; RBC, Scotiabank); environmental and health agencies (e.g., Ministry of Environment, TRCA; St.Michael’s Hospital, Toronto Public Health), police services, GIS vendors, and spatial data producers, or they are pursuing further graduate degrees (including MBAs and PhDs).

Thank you for forwarding this call to your students.

Kind regards,


Selection of recently published MSA research by field of study:

– lake and river sediment contamination
– wildfire modeling
– land-use change detection
– the urban heat island
– urban reforestation
– renewable energy site selection

– Canadian retail trends
– consumer segmentation
– the effect of business improvement areas
– spatial patterns of TV consumption

– access to primary health care
– newcomer health services planning
– local news coverage
– food deserts
– the geospatial web
– public participation GIS

(See details at

Additional areas of interest of potential supervisors include:
– agent-based modeling, self-organizing maps
– economic geography
– environmental justice
– ethnic retail
– geographic visualization
– immigration and settlement patterns
– neighbourhood wellbeing indices
– real-estate valuation
– transportation planning

(See also for program faculty members.)

News from the Sabbatical Front

Wikipedia tells us that a sabbatical is “a rest from work”. And in our collective agreement, Ryerson University “acknowledges the importance of sabbatical leave to the intellectual vibrancy of the Faculty and therefore of the University.” Indeed, the triad of a professor’s duties in teaching, research, and administrative service is often shifted towards teaching and service, because many research tasks are more flexible to schedule than courses and committee meetings, and therefore tend to be postponed if time is scarce. In stark contrast to the introductory note, a sabbatical is NOT a year off (as some of my non-academic friends are thinking), but a year (or half-year) focused on research with no teaching and service duties.

Having half days or even full days available for writing has been a unique experience in the first two months of my sabbatical. The outcome so far: five journal articles under review, by far the most I have had “out there” simultaneously at any time in my career. Two of these are with Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) students who completed their major research papers in August/September; one is with a former student in collaboration with Toronto Public Health; one is with a former postdoc in collaboration with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; and one is led by a colleague in collaboration with the Injury Prevention Research Office at St. Michael’s Hospital. In addition, I have worked on a manuscript with an MSA grad from two years ago in collaboration with a colleague in Ryerson’s School of Journalism, as well as another manuscript with a former Geographic Analysis student of mine. These are still in progress, and several more manuscripts as well as a book project are lined up for the coming months!

Perhaps the most exciting outcome of the last few weeks though is a 250-word abstract submitted tonight for the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in April 2013. Together with my PhD student Victoria Fast, we are proposing an exciting new perspective on the burgeoning phenomenon of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). Basically, we are saying that there is no such thing as VGI! That’s because what researchers call VGI is really just user-contributed data. We argue that information cannot be volunteered; instead, it is a meaningful system output that is generated from volunteered geographic data (VGD) for the purpose of answering a question. We think that this systems perspective on VGI provides a framework for VGI research and will eventually help devise more effective geospatial Web applications.

Visual Analytics for Spatio-Temporal Data

I am starting my sabbatical year with a long overdue participation in the GIScience conference series. GIScience 2012 is taking place at Ohio State University. There was an excellent selection of pre-conference workshops today, of which I attended the one on “GeoVisual Analytics, Time to Focus on Time”, see GeoVA(t) 2012.

I presented research completed last fall by Master of Spatial Analysis student Andrew Lee under my supervision. We used a technology called “Self- Organizing Maps” to visualize changes in socio-economic status of Toronto neighbourhoods between 1996 and 2006. The presentation garnered a short but intense discussion of the limitations of the SOM technology – something to look at in future research!

Other presentations of interest introduced the “Great Wall of Space-Time”, a wall-like 3D visualization for time series data; interactive temporal zoom & pan tools using multi-touch displays; and another SOM-based cluster analysis for weather data, in which the “Multiple Temporal Unit Problem” was discussed (in analogy to geography’s well-known multiple areal unit problem). All workshop slides will be made available by the organizers at the above Web site.

50 Years of Geographic Information Systems

Some 50 years ago, the Canadian government started the development of a computerized land inventory which would become the prototype of geographic information systems (GIS). Its early history is detailed in a blog post by leading GIS vendor ESRI at

In addition to the interesting links they provide at the end of their post, I really like the three-part documentary “Data for Decision” on the Canada GIS, which you can access via the GIS and Science blog at, or directly at (part 1).

Ryerson’s Department of Geography (formerly School of Applied Geography) has a long tradition of using GIS in research and in the classroom/lab, and thereby training a modern type of geographer and contributing to a new perspective on the study of social and earth systems.

The Death of Evidence: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy.

“The scientific community is sad to report the death of evidence, which passed away June 18th, 2012, after an over six year battle with Harper government policies. Objective and honest, evidence was heavily involved in all aspects of Canadian prosperity and will be sorely missed by all Canadians, whether they currently realize it or not.”

Cited from one of the most distressing Web sites out there,

More about GEOIDE – student participation and outcomes

As reported on 16 May 2012 (below), student participation was a major benefit of the GEOIDE research funding. I was recently asked to provide information about all students funded from my GEOIDE projects and found 21 individual students. By the numbers reported in the other post, that’s 1.5% of all students who ever participated in GEOIDE, while I was just one out of 400 investigators ;-)

Nine of my GEOIDE  students were Bachelor’s, nine Master’s, one doctoral, and two students participated as both Master’s and doctoral students. Most of the Bachelor’s students were from our BA in Geographic Analysis while a couple came from Ryerson’s and UofT’s BSc in Computer Science programs. All of the Master’s students were in our Master of Spatial Analysis. The doctoral students are in Ryerson’s Policy Studies or Environmental Applied Science and Management PhD programs.

Of the 21 students, six are now working in industry, three have government positions, and three are employed in the academic sector. In addition, seven are completing either the same degree as when they were participating in GEOIDE, or the next degree level. Only two are unemployed or have unknown status, both with their final degree just completed (and not under my supervision!). The jobs that my GEOIDE alumni are holding include several software developers, spatial (data) analysts, an enterprise GIS consultant, a health informatician, and a postdoctoral researcher.

While the GEOIDE Network always had to demonstrate short-term benefits for the funding it received, my own GEOIDE research was conceptual – not highly theoretical but not directly applied either. I consider it “blue sky research” (see 26 April 2012, below), since it is driven by my own and my students’ curiosity. I did not directly collaborate with industry partners within GEOIDE, and planned collaborations with government and non-profit partners were often slow. But apparently, this approach has worked well for my students, while making a significant contribution to the advancement of knowledge in geography, GIScience, and geomatics!

Recognizing postermakers

Congratulations to BA in Geographic Analysis candidate Michael Markieta, who won a GEOIDE Student Poster Award at the Global Geospatial Conference 2012. Michael’s poster was entitled “Using Web Map Overlay for Visual Multi-Criteria Analysis: The Example of the Ontario Human Influence Index”. It presents a newly developed version of an online map overlay tool, with which we can represent multiple criteria or indicators in a composite index through the opacity/transparency of map layers.

A screenshot of the poster is seen above. The poster is listed at with ID P411. Partial funding for Michael’s work-study position was provided by the GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence, project PIV-41.

The GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence – an era of geomatics research in Canada

The GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence is holding its final annual conference as part of the Global Geospatial Conference 2012 in Quebec City. From 1999-2012, GEOIDE brought together some 400 Canadian University researchers and over 1,400 students in collaborative, multi-year projects that spanned Geomatics engineering and the natural, social, and health sciences. At Ryerson, faculty members in Civil Engineering, Geography, and Planning were involved in GEOIDE-funded research. Upon a quick count, at least ten graduate and five undergraduate students contributed to my own research within GEOIDE between 2005-2012. During this time, we developed and tested tools for argumentation mapping to engage stakeholders in spatial planning and decision-making.

An argumentation map combines an online cartographic map of an area of interest, e.g. for urban re-development, with a discussion forum. People interested in, or affected by, a spatial planning or decision-making issue can reference their comments and opinions to specific places in the mapped area. This enables others to read existing posts from either the map view or the threaded structure of the discussion forum. Additionally, decision-makers can investigate hot spots of discussion, the most contentious areas within the plan, as well as the patterns of contribution (by date/time and by participant) during an online public participation period.

Interest in argumentation mapping and related concepts has gained traction with the increasing availability of geospatial Web tools such as Google Maps, OpenLayers, etc., many of which have a global reference map already included (e.g. from the OpenStreetMap initiative). Building on my most frequently cited article in Environment and Planning (2001 – over 90 citations), the GEOIDE network has enabled student research such as the project that led to an article in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems (2008), which draws the link between Web 2.0 concepts and argumentation mapping. That article has 57 citations as of today and is featured as the third-most cited article of the journal since 2007.

Besides the direct funding of graduate student stipends and undergraduate research assistantships and work-study positions, attending the annual GEOIDE summer school was a highlight for a number of students. A series of my students were actively involved in the GEOIDE student network and the planning of the last three summer schools. The network provided a great deal of organizational and leadership experience and valuable professional networking to Ryerson students and helped involve them in cutting-edge research at the intersection of geography, geomatics, planning, and policy studies.

Current issues in academia: Calling students “clients” doesn’t fly

At the risk of raising a few eyebrows among my own students, I want to pass along another pointed opinion from the ranks of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). This time, Michael Morse, a professor at Trent University, wrote in the CAUT Bulletin Vol 59 | No 4 | April 2012 about why “Calling Students ‘Clients’ Doesn’t Fly“.

Prof. Morse argues that students or their parents are not the clients of the university. University serves society as a whole, not individual customers. This leads to an interesting association with the student protests going on in Quebec. In a comment on “Tuition hikes, student strikes and lessons in applied politics” for the Toronto Star, Prof. Pierre Martin of the Université de Montréal notes that the Quebec view of higher education used to be that of a “collective good for society as a whole rather than a personal investment made by individuals in search of future income gains”. But through increases in tuition, this culture is gradually shifting towards the latter view.

While Prof. Morse uses the example of a flight school to present education/training as a public good, my example is broader. Consider the road network in Toronto as government-funded infrastructure. It is so varied in its form and function, and more importantly its uses and benefits, that we accept that it is built and maintained from our tax money. Higher education is a critical part of this country’s infrastructure too. And its job is to get its users (students) through effectively for their own direct benefit but more so for indirect societal benefits (greater productivity, increased tax revenue, good decision-making, responsibility, civic engagement, …). I can think of additional parallels, e.g. regarding express toll routes (~fast-track programs, continuing education) or fees for out-of-town drivers (out-of-province/country students), but I want to leave these for another time!