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Column Marianne Loof | Big data

20 November 2015

2obouw marianne loof 151117 big data2

A city is, and continues to be, an amazing phenomenon. The new Amsterdam edition of the Bosatlas, a prestigious Dutch series of atlases, beautifully visualizes the elements of this phenomenon in 270 pages of maps, images, and statistics. It manages to capture the essence of what it is that defines the city of Amsterdam. It covers the well-known themes such as tourism, transport, residents, museums, events, sanitation, and sports facilities. The thinking, however, follows the unusual and unexpected topics. Data on pop-festivals, how many books are lent from libraries, the increase in number of cemeteries and crematoriums; the atlas includes it all.

New hotspots, shopping streets, and nightlife venues; all are meticulously documented for an ever-changing and ever-growing city. The growth of Schiphol Airport for example is pretty confronting: an increase from 5 million departing travellers in 1970 to the current 55 million. Also included are more abstract themes, such as the tiers of the city council and the organisation of municipal services, all depicted in a clear and transparent way. Always been curious about the trajectory of the high-voltage grid or the mechanism of water-purification? Always wondered about cargo traffic in the harbour or where you can find most coffee shops? Every page of the atlas is a frozen image of the city in drawings and diagrams. It shows that the city is in fact a dynamic organism: full of life even in the tiniest cell.

The strength of the Bostatlas is the apparent simple representation of such complex information, which, in this era of Big Data, is almost an art form in itself.

November 2015,