USC Price School of Public Policy

Sloane, colleagues win planning journal’s most innovative paper award

September 11, 2015

By Matthew Kredell

Graphics of participant‑drawn fear spaces

Graphics of participant‑drawn fear spaces

USC Price School of Public Policy Professor David Sloane and Price PhD alumni Ellen Shiau and Bryce Lowery won an award for co-authoring the most innovative paper to appear in the academic journal Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design for 2014.

Titled “The Prospects and Problems of Integrating Sketch Maps with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to Understand Environmental Perception: A Case Study of Mapping Youth Fear in Los Angeles Gang Neighborhoods,” the paper was chosen by the publication’s editors for the Michael Breheny Prize, awarded annually in honor of a former editor of the journal.

“Awards for journal articles are not that common in our field,” Sloane noted, “so it’s a very nice moment to have your colleagues saying you did a good job.”

The paper focuses on how to best integrate sketch maps with GIS to understand the spatial relationships between place and perception in an urban environmental context, a new methodological approach that is being taken to find out how people feel about places.

Professor David Sloane

Professor David Sloane

Sloane and USC Dornsife Adjunct Assistant Professor Karen Hennigan had been working on surveying micro-neighborhoods of East Los Angeles with Shiau and Lowery playing a key role, asking youth to anonymously mark an “X” in locations they feel afraid.

With Sloane’s encouragement, Shiau – who is now an assistant professor at California State University, Los Angeles – borrowed the data to apply spatial analysis in a geography class taught by then-USC Dornsife Assistant Professor Jacqueline Curtis, who is now at Kent State University.

Shiau ran into difficulty interpreting people’s marks on sketch maps when integrating them with GIS. Some people wrote their “X” in bolder ink, some expressively large and others more reserved. Some circled the mark. All of this could be misleading for researchers in a digital transfer.

Shiau, Sloane, Curtis, her husband Andrew Curtis who works with her at Kent State, Hennigan and Lowery, now an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma, came together as co-authors to suggest better ways to approach sketch maps intended for GIS transfer.

“It was a collaborative effort and without each one of us the project probably would not have moved forward,” said Shiau.

According to Sloane, their methodological concerns of data representation and spatial analysis are applicable to any study of environmental perception that uses the emerging sketch map-GIS approach.

“Because participatory mapping has become so popular, this methodology paper can have a broad use in the GIS community, and I think that’s one of the reasons it won the award” Sloane said. “It can be used for analyzing any sketch map where someone is asked to put an ‘X’ for whatever reason. It has a much wider impact than one might think with the narrow way it appears in the article.”

This fall, the co-authors will be working on a second paper using the improved methodology to analyze youth fear in Los Angeles gang neighborhoods, which they hope to have published by the end of the year.

Shiau explained that, “Ultimately, the goal is to move the research along and try to understand connections between crime, the built environment, how people feel about neighborhoods and the policy implications of that.”