Thoughts on VGI

In Elwood et al’s article “Prospects for VGI Research and the Emerging Fourth Paradigm” I am drawn to the schism described between the spatial orientation of geographers and the ‘platial’ orientation of most people who “tend to refer to locations by name, whether or not such names refer to precisely bounded areas” (363). Furthermore, Elwood et al suggest that “it is remarkable that place-names have played a surprisingly minimal role in traditional GIS”, instead adopting the spatial precision orientation of most geographers.

I wonder if it is possible for VGI to help develop a more ‘platial’ GIS and, if so, what that would look like. If people perceive the world more platially than spatially, then what phenomena are geographers (the supposed monopoly on understanding the world in spatial terms) missing major trends in political, cultural, and urban geography? For instance, I have long that transit-dependent and transit-oriented Montrealers exist in predictable axes that influence the behaviour of otherwise unlinked neighbourhoods. For instance, many anglophone Montrealers live in the West End of the city, and may attending major institutions such as Dawson College, or Concordia or McGill Universities. All of these neighbourhoods and schools are within very close proximity to Sherbrooke Street West. How does the relative connectedness of these neighbourhoods influence the psychology of the area? Does this spatial cluster inhibit flows of contacts, ideas, and investment between relatively well-educated and affluent anglophones and other residents of the city? How do francophones who live in this area perceive their belonging to their neighbourhoods and their contact with anglophones relative to other anglophones?

That example is a bit obvious, but I suspect that many other associations and flows of people impact the city in many ways. I envision that the incorporation of VGI analyses into travel surveys, for example, could help detect more of these axes. For instance, urban geographers, using travel data derived from travel surveys or even OPUS card data could evaluate the movement of Montrealers relative to likelihood of those movements based on the existing network. In other words, what flows are overrepresented given their non-ease (e.g.: 45 minutes drive or 2 metro rides and a bus transfer) and what flows are underrepresented given their ease (e.g.: only 10 minutes drive or 1 or 2 metro stops away).

Of course, it could be argued that such information is interesting but non-useful to geography. But I think there is a rich level of study that is going unexploited given the available technology and our admitted discrepancy between the way people perceive their relationship to space versus the way that geographers conceive it. Studies could be used not only to describe the phenomena of flows but also how to better provide links in the city in order to help facilitate existing but underserved flows, and also to integrate the city’s residents.


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