Spatial models have often been constrained by political boundaries (i.e. vectors) like Census Tracts or Zip Codes. Dana Tomlin's Map Algebra exploded the notion of boundaries by employing raster-based Map Algebra, and since, GIS systems have utilized heat maps, 3D volume models (voxels), quadtrees, and other modeling and visualization options to look beyond sometimes artificial bounding boxes. Now comes, aboutPLACE, a newly released API allowing developers to leverage the notion that a "place" can be characterized by many variables and should not be confined by political structure and may indeed be amorphous.
Let's dig a little deeper. URBAN4M, the company behind aboutPLACE, has its roots in urban analytics and studied the systems that comprise an urban setting. These systems could be transportation, utilities, hospital, retail, etc. The result, according to CEO Hillit Meidar-Alfi, provided the company a more fundamental understanding of how cities function.
PLACES, in the vernacular of aboutPLACE, are "created by the existence and abundance of the user's selected criteria." These criteria may include demographics but it may also be characterized by say, the number of hotel rooms in a particular location, or the number of pediatricians. So, in theory and practice, the size of the PLACE varies depending on the criteria. PLACE is not defined as a boundary. The area of the PLACE can be an amorphous shape and may vary in extent depending on the application and the data applied to define it.
URBAN4M has aggregated or licensed data from many sources, both public and proprietary. The result is a catalog of over 400 end points that developers can access through the API. Each endpoint is an API element, a data feature like a hotel or the number of hotel rooms, and is represented true to their services. Context can be built and changed according to the needs of the user or purpose.
At this time, the aboutPLACE API is being released for three MSA's: Austin, Boston, and Miami with more metros coming soon. According to URBAN4M:
The API requires two quick inputs that capture your geographic area of interest and the list of criteria (services, amenities, demographics, etc.) that matter most to you or your business. The aboutPLACE API offers independent and relatable key deliverables, including PLACE (interactive map), Pulse (evaluates and compare PLACES), Quality of Life Index (measures walkability, safety, schools and public transit) and Vibe (captures the area's personality).
A developer using the API must decide the target audience for the application under development. If they are creating a mobile tourist application whereby the end user requires the location of a hotel or restaurant near 4th and Main, for example, then the developer may tap into specific variables and return the name of a hotel. If however, the application is for economic development, then the API may tap into more variables associated with 4th and Main and return an area that satisfies specific criteria, such as the number of hotel rooms in that area. In short, the PLACE doesn't change but the context of the application may. Choosing different variables from the API can be an exploratory way of finding the best park in an area, for example. Or, from a completely different perspective, a user may create a query such as "here is where I am now; tell me if this is the best place for a park."
Meidar-Alfi says she wanted to create a platform to look at location differently and as such allow developers to employ spatial models she's developed through the API. In the end, she believes, developers may derive different results to common location-based problems.