By KIM BELLARD
Since I first heard of it, I have been fascinated and appalled by the concept of “million dollar blocks”. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it doesn’t refer to, say, Beverly Hills, Chicago’s Gold Coast, or Manhattan’s Hudson Yards – areas where the wealthy congregate. No, this refers to city blocks where the company spends over a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of that block.
Of course, I have to think about the parallels of health care.
The concept dates back many years, credited to Eric Cadora, now at Mapping of justice, and Laura Kurgan, professor of architecture at Columbia University, where she is the director of the Space research center (CSR). The power of the concept is to use data visualization to illustrate the problem.
Here is, for example, the Brooklyn CSR card for prison expenses:
CSR describes the results as follows:
The maps suggest that the criminal justice system has become the predominant government institution in these communities and that public investment in this system has resulted in significant costs for other elements of our civic infrastructure – education, housing, health and family. Prisons and prisons today form the distant ostructure of many American cities.
Think about it: “Criminal justice is the predominant government institution in these communities.” Something is wrong with this image – not theirs, but rather the image of our society that it portrays.
Mr. Cadora Told NPR in 2012:
No one had ever sat down and had never obtained the home address of all the incarcerated and imprisoned people, as well as all the general information about their age and professional situation, etc. And when you have all of that data, it tells you a lot about what’s going on on the block.
In in all fairness, what we mapped didn’t come as a big surprise to people. But when you put the real data together … on maps, [it becomes] immediately understandable to people who haven’t seen it – like lawmakers, city councilors, researchers.
No, not a big surprise, not for most people. We know we spend a lot of money on criminal justice; we just don’t always realize how we’re spending it. We have long had the dubious distinction of lock up more people – in total and per capita – than any other country.
But if, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, then maybe data visualization is worth a million dollars. Even the most seasoned criminal justice advocates must complain about how spending is so often concentrated in certain blocs, and should wonder if there perhaps are better ways to use that money for them.
CSR has a variety of projects in addition to their criminal justice work, some of which focus on healthcare. Earlier this year, for example, they created a interactive vaccine allocation map to help guide decisions on allocation of then scarce COVID-19 vaccines, and late last year New Politics of Care Project used an interactive map to highlight existing healthcare areas. They came up with a New Deal for Public Health, with one million new community health workers deployed across the country based on identified needs.
Kim is a former emarketing executive in a Big Blues plan, editor of the late Tincture.io and now a regular contributor to THCB.