What if we could know the future? we can.

HeyOn January 17, 1890, explorer and scientist John Wesley Powell testified before the US Senate about the development of the western United States, and how the scarcity of water in those vast, uninhabited lands would limit what was possible in the future. To prove his case, he used maps.

Powell was the country’s most famous and influential scientist, and head of the US Geological Survey. His appearance in the Senate was significant enough for accounts of him to be widely published. Stories go that Powell presented the Senate with a map that was exceptional and radically innovative.

Powell titled the map “The Arid Zone of the United States: A View of Drainage Areas.” It was a mosaic of colors – an expanse of land covered in carefully defined spots of green, pink, purple, blue, orange and brown. Each color represents a distinct turning point in the West, of which there are 22 colors. Powell designed the map to tell a story—to show how dry the West is compared to the East and to illustrate the region’s complex and often dramatic differences in topography, rainfall, rivers, and streams.

At the time, according to Powell’s biographer, John F. Ross, the map was as eye-catching as the famous “Earthrise” photo taken by Apollo astronauts from the moon a century later.

Powell’s map was ahead of its time, a map that combined environmental, geographic, and human information not only to tell a story, but to make an argument that the American West was a desert. Let’s develop it carefully.

The map has another innovative feature: it predicts the future. It predicted the Dust Bowl in 1930 and the Colorado River withering in 2023.

John Wesley Powell knew something about the creative power of maps in the 19th century that we are rediscovering in the 21st century.

WWe’ve become accustomed to a new kind of map in the past decade—one that does more than just show a slice of geography.

We tell our phones where we want to go, and they give us turn-by-turn directions. They tell you with remarkable accuracy what time you will arrive at your destination. They basically predict your driving future.

We touch the weather app and can instantly see advanced radar images of upcoming storms. Your weather app screen has an unobtrusive function: it will show you radar images for the last hour or two. It will also show you radar images of the next One or two hours using computer modeling. It will predict your future weather.

Maps are the original data visualization tool. Going back 25 centuries, maps showed what the seacoast looked like, where fortifications were located, and where taxable property was located.

But the last 10 years — in fact, just the last five years — have given maps a whole host of new powers. Today he asks What can a map do? It’s like a question What can a satellite do? or What can a computer do?

Maps can show us our world in ways we’ve never seen it before. They can focus on both problems and solutions. Maps can show us the future we face, whether bad or good, and then guide us to avoid risks and create a better future.

HHere’s a simple question: Where are the gaps in broadband internet coverage in the United States?

It is not difficult to answer the question. We can quickly map your current broadband Internet connection — down to the level of a city block, a suburban subdivision, or a rural highway — and see where it’s missing.

This would certainly be a useful map but it won’t answer the most important question: Where are the broadband gaps affecting people? That is, where the people places He lives But don’t have access to broadband?

We can take a map of broadband access and broadband gaps, and population stratification—demographics by race and age, by income and family size. We add schools and public libraries, places that need high-speed Internet and can provide it to others. We can also layer data on who has smartphones because it may be faster and cheaper to bring high-speed Internet using wireless networks.

Now you have a map that shows not only where there is no access to high-speed internet, but also who is affected by this gap. It’s a map that quickly answers two urgent questions: Who doesn’t have broadband but needs it — such as neighborhoods with many school-age children? And if you’re going to spend $1 million or $100 million to bridge communication gaps, where can you get the most bang for your buck? You can even begin to answer the question, how should we build the network?

This type of map changes the idea of ​​what a map really is.

Ten years ago, it would not have been possible to make a map like this. Even five years ago, compiling these layers of data took days or weeks. Now, thanks to modern GIS technology, this map can be created in minutes. Can be shared. It can be updated in real time. It can be characterized by the simplicity of its storytelling to make it accessible and attractive to anyone in any community. At the same time, it can have the detail and accuracy necessary for a telecom company’s engineering staff.

Indeed, just as all sorts of information, data and tools are now instantly available on the Internet, sophisticated base maps are now also available – often with details down to the levels of individual streets and residential buildings, including a huge range of ready-made maps. – Making maps called the Living Atlas of the World.

What if you want to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations? Want to know where existing stations are located. Want to know where EV owners live. At their workplace. What routes do they travel? Want to know where Possible Electric car buyers live.

If you’re in the US, you’ll also want to take advantage of the federal government’s new inflation-reducing law, which provides money to build electric vehicle charging networks. Forget reading pages of requirements to qualify for those subsidies and trying to match them to your market. You can program requirements directly on the map, which will show you which geographic areas are eligible. Then you can immediately see the overlaps between your customers and subsidies.

Or you can build the map the opposite way: Start with the communities eligible for charging station dollars and see how those places fit into the business model and customer base.

Until 2015, it would have taken months of marketing and demographic research to try to answer these questions. The resulting PDF map may have been outdated before it was finished.

Now, Smart Map fills those information gaps. It can be created in less than an hour. It can be constantly updated with new data on electric vehicle sales, on electric vehicle traffic patterns, and on evolving rules for government subsidies.

Moreover, it is a map that can tell you what might happen in the future. A community that wants more charging stations can use a map like this to create appropriate incentives to incentivize their installation.

It’s not just that maps have become a framework for collecting all kinds of data. Maps are now fast. They can be made quickly, without losing detail, reliability or authority.

This means that decisions about how to address issues can be made more quickly too, because we’re not just waiting weeks or months to understand the problem.

IIt’s amazing how a familiar tool—the map—has become so powerful, so insightful, and so adaptable.

Maps are a common and timeless language. We can look at maps made 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago and understand them.

They provide us with a way to care for our environment, manage the economy, and plan for the future – whether we focus on cities, companies, or entire countries.

Last fall, the Biden administration rolled out an example of exactly this kind of problem-solving map. It’s called CMRA, Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation. The CMRA can show how vulnerable any place in the United States is to the impact of climate change — drought, floods, wildfires, extreme heat. It’s based on data about people by age, race, and population density. It’s layers of infrastructure that may be in the path of climate disasters — down to street level. It shows what really happened in the past everywhere in the United States

The CMRA has quickly become an essential part of America’s infrastructure — vital for zoning and development decisions, thinking about how to spend resiliency funds or building new cell phone towers, and planning emergency responses to everything from the wildfires that devastated Maui to the upcoming hurricane season.

CMRA is free. It is open and constantly updated. The data behind it is available to local officials, business people, experts and academics who want to build their own tools. CMRA uses modeling to project the future, telling CEOs, city leaders, or first responders what might happen in 2025 or 2035.

CMRA is an understandable map for any of us. But calling it a map is like calling the Internet a set of connected data cables. Similar mapping efforts, under the Global Geodesign Challenge, are underway to reduce human-caused carbon emissions while protecting and enhancing globally important ecosystems. These are actually tools for mapping the future; To create thriving communities, resilient infrastructure, thriving ecosystems, and a thriving economy.

This is what John Wesley Powell understood about the power and utility of maps when he first submitted a map of the West to the Senate in 1890. Maps have a dual purpose. It’s largely practical, but also ambitious. We need maps to understand what is, but also to imagine what could be.

Join Washington Post Live on Wednesday, September 20, to hear from Esri President Jack Dangermond about how modern maps are revealing solutions to climate risks in a segment presented by Esri. Register here.

(Tags for translation)CMRA

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