Laura Kurgan, Eric Cadora, David Reinfurt, Sarah Williams, Spatial Information Design Lab, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University. Architecture and Justice from the Million Dollar Blocks project. 2006
  • Not on view

Of the more than two million people in jails and prisons in the United States, a disproportionate number come from just a few neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities. In many places, states are spending more than $1 million per year to incarcerate residents from single city blocks. Using rarely accessible data from the criminal justice system, Columbia University’s Spatial Information Design Lab and the Brooklyn-based Justice Mapping Center created maps of these “million-dollar blocks” and of the city-to-prison migration flow in five of the nation’s cities. Shown here is the map of Brooklyn, New York, in which each red line connects a person’s residence to the location of his or her incarceration.

Million Dollar Blocks introduces us to the political potential of data visualization, a form of design that has existed for centuries but has recently begun developing at breakneck speed along with the capacity of computers to process data ever more quickly. Kurgan, director of the Spatial Information Design Lab, explains that, guided by these maps “urban planners, designers, and policy makers can identify those areas in our cities where, without acknowledging it, we have allowed the criminal justice system to replace and displace a whole host of other public institutions. . . . What if we sought to undo this shift, to refocus public spending on community infrastructures that are the real foundation of everyday safety?”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

Of the more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, a disproportionate number come from very few neighborhoods in the country's biggest cities. In many places the concentration is so dense that states are spending in excess of a million dollars a year to lock up the offending residents of single city blocks. Using difficult to obtain data from the criminal justice system, Spatial Information Design Lab, in partnership with the New York-based Justice Mapping Center, has created maps of these "million dollar blocks" and of the migratory flow between city and prison in five of the nation’s cities. "The maps pose difficult ethical and political questions for policy makers and designers," Kurgan has explained. "When they are linked to other urban, social, and economic indicators of incarceration, they also suggest new strategies for approaching urban design and criminal justice reform together."

Gallery label from SAFE: Design Takes on Risk, October 16, 2005-January 2, 2006 .
ESRI ArcGIS (Geographic Information System) software
Gift of the designers
Object number
© Laura Kurgan, Spatial Information Design Lab, GSAPP, Columbia University
Architecture and Design

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