Mapping the way we live
"Geography, sir, is ruinous in its effects on the lower classes. Reading, writing and arithmetic are comparatively safe, but geography invariably leads to revolution." So it was said in testimony to Britain’s House of Commons in 1879.
Professor Pauline McGuirk carries this quote on her office door at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) at the University of Newcastle. She says it is a reminder of the power of knowledge, and the role geography plays in understanding the world we live in.
"Geography is about the study of the Earth, people’s relations with the Earth, and their relations with each other," McGuirk says. "That quote shows geography is a radicalising discipline which can promote positive social change."
As a human geographer, McGuirk’s focus is on the way cities and regions develop and change through economic, social and political processes. Her work, and that of her CURS’ colleagues, is playing a significant role in shaping government policy.
"Our involvement with government grew from our capacity for socio-spatial data analysis," she says. "We are able to take a range of information about populations and their socio-economic characteristics, and analyse them geographically using computerised mapping."
One example of CURS’ work is data analysis to help the NSW Department of Housing understand how to address accommodation needs in response to socio-demographic changes in the population.
CURS is also involved in an Australian Research Council Linkage project to develop a multi-agency framework for data sharing. Internationally, there have been significant barriers to agencies sharing data and working collaboratively as a result of data protection and privacy issues.
By establishing a framework that addresses these issues, CURS can help agencies combine their data to provide much richer analysis. McGuirk says the data sharing project has a particular focus on better understanding the geography of social need.
"Agencies will be able to track how particular locations are progressing, and identify in advance areas that need support from a range of social and economic perspectives."
As a result, government agencies will have early intelligence to effectively address problems before they take hold.