A new animated map, Breathing City, beautifully visualizes the cliché of New York as the “city that never sleeps.” The map displays a 24-hour cycle of Manhattan’s populations at work and home. The slightly lung-shaped island appears to breathe as it reflects hourly changes, flaring orange (people working) midday, and cooling into an electric blue (people at home) at night. Times Square and the Financial District, where workers on the graveyard shift are most densely concentrated, glow around the clock.
The map’s creator, Joey Cherdarchuk of data firm Darkhorse Analytics, was inspired by data visualizer John Nelson’s Breathing Earth and data consultancy Conveyal’s explanation of aggregate-disser, a disaggregation tool that reverses aggregated data into its original set in order to get more specialized data.
Based on Cherdarchuk's explanation of the map’s mind-boggling data-crunching and design process, we’re guessing he’s one of the dots on his map that stays orange (working) around the clock.
On Cherdarchuk's website, he describes how he had to find and then meld six data sets, which he mined from various census counts: population, employment, land use, building footprints, hours of work distribution, and work-related activity percentages by time of day. He ultimately used Python to code a dot density plot, inspired by Dustin Cable's racial dot map project.
Each dot is smaller than a pixel and represents one person—and with about 1.5 million people living in Manhattan and 2 million people working in Manhattan, you can imagine how complicated it must have been to assign work schedules to each dot. “We’re making some huge simplifying assumptions (e.g., Manhattan’s work profile is the same as the rest of the U.S., when people aren’t at work they are at home, there are only 200 possible ways to spend your day, when we build this someone will want to see it), but we have a reasonable data set,” Cherdarchuk writes. Caveat: The 2013 Census says 3.1 million people work in Manhattan and 1.6 million live in Manhattan.
After all the data crunching, “we just make some maps and push pixels around on the screen until they look good, then painstakingly create 24 versions to string together for the animation.” As a cherry on top, he added what he calls "a mesmerizing heart rate monitor-looking thingy to go with our breathing theme." The city inhaling and exhaling like a single giant organism is one of the more poetic data visualizations we've seen in a while.