The Most Personal City Map, Drawn From One Man's GPS Data Over 3 Years

A map-obsessed child grows into a superb digital cartographer, with help from a whopping 2.5 million GPS data points.

From a young age, Aaron Parecki was obsessed with mapping.

"I remember riding in the back of the car on family road trips, with the big paper fold-up maps that were as tall as I was, tracing our route in real-time on the map with a highlighter," Parecki tells Co.Design. "I’d keep checking out the window for the mile markers, and slowly trace the route on the map, I even drew the little squiggles when we got off the highway at a rest stop."

Years later—before we all had GPS in our pockets—he’d go through a slew of different phones to find one that could track his movements all the time, just as well as his childhood self with the big map and the highlighter. He found it in an HTC Windows 6.5 phone. It only lasted 5 hours with the GPS running, so he bought more batteries.

"Once I had a phone with GPS and a constant Internet connection, I set up a database to start logging my location data I was generating," he writes. That database became the cornerstone of his business and the career manifestation of his long-standing hobby, a GPS platform called Geoloqi that’s behind what you’re looking at here.

This is over three whole years—or 2.5 million GPS coordinates—of Aaron Parecki’s life in Portland, OR. It looks like a grid map of the city, and for good reason: it is. Because Parecki traveled mostly on the beaten path, you can see the streets, the Banfield Expressway leading into the city (that snaking line on the right), the Willamette River (the vertical void on the left) and all of the bridges that cross it. The different colors designate different years.

You can see that, from 2008-10, Parecki never took a boat ride, and there were some places he only traveled once. A one-time bike ride becomes a loose strand of hair on an otherwise well-manicured grid. The map itself becomes a highly personal organic entity, an etching of Parecki’s life—yet it’s just one way of looking at the coordinate data.

Parecki’s handwritten commuter logs.

In another experiment, Parecki animated a large chunk (about a year and a half) of his location data. He layered where he went on a minute-by-minute basis, stacking his travels between, say, 8:00 a.m.-8:01 a.m. The effect is completely different. In the a.m. hours, it’s hard to see Parecki as anything but a prototypical commuter. Then in the evenings, he darts around the city like a Tron lightcycle.

But whatever self-portrait Parecki has been able to capture in his obsessive mapping, it may be his earliest work that’s both most telling, and the most endearing.

"I recently found a stack of handwritten notepads from 3/29/1995 through 6/9/1997 where I logged the commutes to school," he writes. "I have complete logs for the entire two years of driving to school, including start time, end time, time traveled, who drove, and in what car."

It almost sounds unbelievable. Until you see the picture.

[Hat tip: Infosthetics]

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