John Cochran blogs about his coursework at University of Virgina. His project on ‘Urban Metabolisms’ has this Sankey diagram of food being transported to New York City. Data is from The Federal Highway Administration (USDOT) Freight Analysis Framework.

The first Sankey diagram shows transports to New York (excluding the Northeastern States and transports within NY). The food supplied by other US states becomes relatively insignificant:


The second one includes food transports within NY state (still excluding the Northeastern States):


John, however has not been satisified with the results of his work. He writes (scroll down to his September 21, 2011 notes):

“Neither produced effective graphics, but what they did demonstrate was the inability of the information to be able to represent food going to New York. (…) As a result, the data “revealed” that we already have a very local food system, when in reality this is not the case; instead, it does indicate how many extra miles are traveled for food around the location of purchase. (…) The images below demonstrate just how disproportionate the amount of miles traveled in New York are to the miles traveled bring food to New York from the rest of the country.”

It remains unclear whether the flows displayed in the diagram are for payload (e.g tonnes of food) or payload distance (e.g. tonne-kilometres). Also, it is not mentioned, whether, for example, water and drinks (typically sourced locally) are included.

I think the idea of thie Sankey map overlay is great, but the issue of spatial representation of (dense) data points has not been adequately adressed. A zoomed NY state would maybe help.

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