A recent post by fellow blogger and downtown resident Kad Barma which showed fragments of a broken beer mug in a downtown doorway got me thinking about a book called “Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson. Subtitled “The story of London’s most terrifying epidemic – and how it changed science, cities and the modern world”, “Ghost Map” tells of an 1854 outbreak of cholera in London that killed more than 600 people and terrorized the population. At the time, top medical authorities maintained that cholera was spread by “miasma” or unhealthy air. One doctor, John Snow, suspected that it was a water-borne disease and set out to prove his theory by plotting on a street map the place of residence of each person who died from the disease. The completed map showed that most of the deaths were clustered around a single public water pump located on Broad Street. Although not fully convinced of Snow’s theory, the authorities removed the handle from the pump and the disease soon abated. Through this statistical and visual analysis, Snow was able to localize the problem and appropriate and effective action was taken.
Which brings me back to Kad Barma’s photo. In a recent post I advocated the widespread use of video cameras as a deterrent or at least as a way of identifying those who misbehave in downtown after dark. Nothing like that happens quickly, however, so why not create a “Ghost Map” equivalent in the meantime. Each morning following a night of street-level carousing, residents could roam around and photograph the damage – the broken glasses, puddles of vomit and all the other leavings of the problem-causers. These photos would then be plotted on a Google map (of the type I created last year for “The Fighter”). Perhaps the Downtown Neighborhood Association or some less formal coalition of residents could create the map and oversee its updating. Such photographic evidence would not only bring more attention to the situation, but the plotting on the map might tend to identify those establishments whose patrons are the biggest offenders.