Testing Crime Theory with Maps: Broken Windows & Violent Crime in Philadelphia

Each year the National Geographic Society sponsors a number of cartography awards to support up-and-coming student map makers. Today I’d like to introduce you to Brad Carter, a student at the Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, who won second prize in the Association of American Geographers-National Geographic Award in Mapping with his map, Broken Windows & Violent Crime in Philadelphia. His prize: $300 and a National Geographic 9th Edition Atlas of the World. Brad shared his map and some insights into his motivations for creating it.
Where are you from?
Toronto, Ontario
Name one or more dream jobs: 
Too many jobs could fit that description for me to pick just one. Any job that provides a challenge, demands creative problem solving, and offers an element of discovery would make it to the top of the list. That’s probably why I’ve gravitated towards cartography. It offers you the opportunity to work across many fields of study, while at the same time demanding the creativity to express complex information in a single image.
Who is your favorite geographer, map maker, scientist, or adventurer?
If I had to choose a favourite adventurer it would probably be Scott Carpenter, the astronaut that flew in orbit during the Mercury program, then left NASA to participate in the SeaLab project. To have had the opportunity to be a pioneer in the exploration of two great frontiers– outer space and the deep sea–makes his story particularly compelling.
What was your undergraduate major?
Marine Biology

Now then, about your map…
What class was it for?
The map was produced for the Thematic Cartography and Geovisualization course, which is part of the curriculum of the Master of Spatial Analysis program at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Broken Windows and Violent Crime.jpg
What inspired you to do this project?
I have an interest in criminology and I thought it would be a rich subject from which to create a compelling map. The purpose of the map was to illustrate two criminology theories by superimposing the spatial relationships between social factors (single-mother households), environmental factors (vacant buildings, as a proxy for urban decay), and crime. My ultimate goal was to allow the map reader to make the determination as to whether either of the theories illustrated, “broken windows theory” and “social disorganization theory,” provide a satisfactory explanation of the distribution of crime in Philadelphia. I was intrigued by the idea of trying to illustrate two theories that attempt to explain the root causes of crime.
What were your biggest design decisions/challenges?
That’s an interesting question because the parameters of the assignment played a role in my choices. We were asked to incorporate two thematic mapping techniques, preferably ones which are not commonly used. That provided a challenge in itself. I chose the dasymetric mapping technique in order to allow all of the rich detail of the residential areas to show. After that the toughest decision was choosing a colour scheme that would allow for enough diversity to make the map easy to read while at the same time retaining a unified look.
Any other details you’d like to add?
It’s an absolute thrill to receive an award from National Geographic. In our house, there were always two or three issues of National Geographic on the coffee table. My mother’s subscription dates back to 1967, so I grew up reading the magazine, and I have no doubt that my career path was inspired by the many articles and maps that I read during my childhood.
-Sean O’Connor, for National Geographic Education
NOTE: The National Geographic Award in Mapping is administered by the Cartography Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers. Find out more about this and other National Geographic student mapping awards here.


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