Posts Tagged ‘new york city’

Creating a New Shapefile in ArcGIS: Part II

Friday, May 15th, 2009

In my previous post I gave an overview of how to create a shapefile from scratch, where we created a point layer to identify places and neighborhoods in NYC. In this post, I’ll pick up where we left off.

Whenever you create new features in a shapefile, ArcGIS automatically adds a couple of fields, including an auto-number ID field that uniquely identifies each feature. This was sufficient for our example as the 291 place names we were working with do not have a standard ID number that represents them. If we were creating features that did have a recognized ID number or code, we certainly would want to add an additional field to hold that number. This would allow us to share and relate our data to other datasets that use that conventional ID. For example, if we had a layer with the 50 states, we would want to have a FIPS number or the two digit postal code for each state in the attribute table, so we could relate our states feature to the zillions of other state-based data tables out there that also use these codes.

It’s also helpful to add other identifiers to relate our place names to some larger geographic area. Why? Let’s say we want to filter our neighborhoods by borough – perhaps we just want to label neighborhoods in Manhattan or calculate distances only between places that appear in the Bronx. It would be useful to have a borough code or some other code associated with each of our place names for running queries.

scrnshot6As it turns out, the City of New York does use a standardized system of three digit codes to identify all boroughs and community districts in the city. In our example, the code for Manhattan Community District 12, which contains Inwood and Washington Heights, is 112. The first digit identifies the borugh and the second two digits identify the district. It would be a good idea to assign each of our neighborhoods this district code, so we could filter our features by either borough or district.

When we create each feature, we could manually type in the code in it’s own field just like we added the neighborhood names, but that would be rather tedious – and unnecessary. A better choice would be to do a spatial join. Whereas a “regular” join allows us to join attribute tables based on a common ID field, a spatial join allows us to assign attributes to one layer based on their geographical relationship to another layer.

scrnshot7In the Table of Contents, right click on the neighborhoods layer and choose Joins and Relates – Joins. We’ll get the familiar Join dialog box. However, if you hit the first drop down box that says Join Attributes From a Table and choose Join Data Based on Spatial Location, we’ll get the options for doing a spatial join. Choose the community districts as the layer to join to the neighborhoods, and since we’re joining points to polygons we’ll choose parameters that are relevant for relating these two features. In this case, give each point (neighborhood / place) the attributes of the polygons (districts) that it falls inside. ArcGIS will create a new point layer with the joined fields when you hit OK. Open the attribute table of the new point layer, and you’ll see the additional fields, including the community district numbers. You’ll also get some rather useless fields from the district layer, like the length and area of each district, which you can safely delete.

So instead of tediously entering these numbers by hand for each neighborhood, we simply run the spatial join process once (after we’ve finished adding the points for all 291 neighborhoods) and the IDs are automatically added.

Creating a New Shapefile in ArcGIS: Part I

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I’m working with a grad student who needs to create a new shapefile from scratch, and thought I’d turn the instructions for doing this in ArcGIS into a tutorial / post for creating new point layers. The idea in this example is to create a point layer that shows the relative center of 291 neighborhoods in New York City. Since many of these neighborhoods are place names without finite boundaries, we’ll have to use various sources (NYC Planning map and Rand McNally street maps) to pinpoint the relative center of each neighborhood.

These points will be used for labeling each neighborhood. In this case, creating a new, georeferenced layer is preferable to creating 291 text labels on a map that are not tied to geography in any way.

  • The first step is to download some layers from the NYC Department of Planning to use for reference, such as a layer for boroughs and community districts. Community districts are used by the city to approximate neighborhoods. Many of the neighborhoods that we are trying to plot are, in many cases, smaller areas or places within these boundaries.
  • scrnshot1Next, open ArcCatalog and create a folder to store the data. Then, right click on the folder in the table of contents and select New – Shapefile. In the Create New Shapefile window, we give the shapefile a name, select Point as the feature type, and hit Edit to change the
    coordinate system. In the Spatial Reference Properties menu, we’ll import a coordinate system from one of the files we downloaded from NYC Planning, which uses New York State Plane for Long Island. Click OK and OK again, and we’ll have a new shapefile.
  • scrnshot2Right now, our new shapefile isn’t very exciting because it’s empty – you can preview it in the catalog to see for yourself. If you preview the table, you’ll see that Arc created three fields – FID, Shape, and ID, which it will automatically fill in when we start creating features. Before we do that, we’ll have to add an additional column to store the name of the neighborhood. To do that, open ArcMap and add the neighborhood layer to the map. Then, right click on the layer in the Table of Contents and open the attribute table. Hit the Options button and choose Add Field. In the Add Field menu, name the new field, choose Text as the type, and change the length to 80 (in case we have some neighborhoods with long names). Hit OK, and you’ll have a new field.
  • scrnshot3Let’s add our reference layers next. Hit the Add Data button (or File – Add Data), and add the borough boundaries and community districts (if you don’t see anything after you add them, right click on one of these layers and choose Zoom to Layer). Go into the symbology tab for each layer and change their display to make the areas appear more distinctive. Make sure your neighborhood layer is on top of your other layers.
  • Now it’s time to start plotting neighborhoods. Go to the Selection menu – Set selectable Layers, and turn off all the layers except the neighborhood layer. Then, use the dropdown on the Editor Toolbar and Select Start Editing (if you don’t see the Editor Toolbar, make sure it’s activated by going to View – Toolbars and select it). scrnshot4On the Editor Toolbar, make sure the Create New Feature task is activated and that the target layer is the neighborhood layer, and not any of the reference layers. Zoom in to the top of Manhattan. With the Pencil tool selected in the toolbar, and using your sources (NYC planning map, Rand McNally street map, whatever), click on the map to approximate where the center of the Inwood neighborhood would be. A blue dot should appear on the map. Then right-click on the neighborhoods layer in the Table of Contents and open the attributes table. You’ll see a brand new record for your new dot. Click in the empty field for Name, type in the name of the neighborhood, and press enter.
  • That’s the process! Next, locate the area for Washington Heights and click on the map to create the point for that neighborhood. The new dot will appear hi-lighted, while the previous dot for Inwood will now appear as a regular point symbol. Now it’s just a matter of plugging away. Make sure to occasionally save your edits by clicking Editor and choosing Save Edits. If you make a mistake, you can delete a feature by selecting the Select Feature tool in the regular tool bar (white arrow with a blue and white feature box next to it), select the particular point, and hit the delete key. If you’re having trouble pinpointing the right location for the neighborhood, try downloading additional reference layers to guide you. The NYC DOITT also has a page with GIS layers for the city with features like parks and streets that may be helpful. When you’re finished editing, choose Stop Editing under the Editor Toolbar.


  • The ultimate goal of this exercise was to get neighborhood labels to appear without the actual point. To accomplish this, change the point symbol for the neighborhood to nothing by going into the Symbology tab for the layer and reducing the fill to no color, the outline to nothing, and the size to zero. Then open the Labels tab under the Properties menu, turn labels on using the name field as the label field, select Placement Properties and choose the setting to place the labels on top of the point, hit ok, and voila! Perfectly centered neighborhood names that are part of a georeferenced layer.

This covers the basics. In the next post, I’ll go a little further and discuss adding additional fields to the new file, without having to type them in manually.

NY Times Interactive Maps

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

The New York Times has been putting together some great, web-based, thematic maps lately. I thought I’d provide a summary of some of the latest and greatest here.

US Maps

  • Immigration Explorer – Explore foreign born groups for the United States by county, based on the decennial census from 1880 to 2000. Choropleth maps of the largest immigrant group per county and graduated circle maps depicting the size of each group. 3/10/2009.
  • The Geography of a Recession – Choropleth map of the US that shows the annual change in unemployment by county. Lets you filter by county type (urban, rural, manufacturing areas, housing bubbles). 3/7/2009.
  • A Growing Detention Network – a graduated circle map of the US that shows detention centers where people are held on immigration violations, by number of detainees and type of facility. 12/26/2008.
  • Where Homes Are Worth Less Than the Mortgage – State-based US choropleth and graduated circle maps of the housing and debt crisis. 11/10/2008.

NYC Maps

  • New Yorkers Assess Their City – How New Yorkers rate their neighborhood based on quality of life, city services, education, transportation and crime. Based on a large survey of city residents. Choropleth maps of community districts. 3/7/2009.
  • Census Shows Growing Diversity in New York City – Choropleth maps show median rent and median income by PUMAs in 2000 and 2007. An example of mapping 3-year ACS data by PUMAs to show patterns below the county level. 12/9/2008.

World Maps

  • A Map of Olympic Medals – A cartogram of countries based on the number of olympic medals they’ve won for every olympics from 1896 to 2008. Mouse over to get medal counts. 8/4/2008.

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