Map­ping Mav­er­ick

Jens von Bergmann, the re­cently emerged go-to ex­pert on cen­sus and hous­ing data in Van­cou­ver, on the rise of the cit­i­zen ex­pert and the down­fall of the city’s hous­ing mar­ket.

Vancouver Magazine - - City - BY Frances Bula

Q: So, you’ve be­come one of Van­cou­ver’s ex­perts, in this new era of self-de­clared cit­i­zen ex­perts, on con­tro­ver­sial top­ics like real es­tate and hous­ing data. The maps you pro­duce from an ap­pli­ca­tion you de­vel­oped get used by me­dia and par­ents and gov­ern­ment agen­cies. How did that hap­pen, when you’re not a„li­ated with an in­sti­tu­tion? A: I started to get in­ter­ested in hous­ing is­sues and tear­downs. A friend sent me a cen­sus data set from the city. Ididn’t know what to do with it, so I made a web map. It sat there for a while un­til ajour­nal­ist picked it up to do a story about peo­ple re­port­ing less in­come than they had in shel­ter costs. Then other peo­ple started ask­ing me all kinds of cen­sus data ques­tions. I re­al­ized what a pain it was to do cen­sus data lookups. So I built Cen­sus Map­per as a so­lu­tion, to make that data ac­ces­si­ble. Q. Had you done any­thing like that be­fore? What’s your back­ground? A.

I grew up mostly in Bonn [in Ger­many]. Ihave aPhD fromMichi­gan State in math­e­mat­ics, but my area is pure math and string the­ory. For awhile, my wife and I were do­ing the univer­sity thing, both teach­ing, both at dier­ent in­sti­tu­tions. Then we spent time in Tai­wan, where she’s from, when our kid was young. I built an app for day­care cen­tres in Tai­wan, where there are lots of gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions on day­cares, so they keep a lot of records. It’s now used by sev­eral of them. Most of the money I make from that goes into busi­ness de­vel­op­ment in Tai­wan. When my wife got a job oer here (at UBC, as an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the fac­ulty of den­tistry), we de­cided to come here and I would ­gure out what to do for work on my own. Q.What’s the most pop­u­lar map from your Cen­sus Map­per se­ries? A.

My trick-or-treat map. (It uses cen­sus data to map the num­ber of chil­dren of prime trick-or-treat­ing age in aneigh­bour­hood.) The prime users are par­ents around Hal­loween, try­ing to ­gure out how much candy to buy. I get 150,000 peo­ple in acou­ple of days. Some cities push tra†c through the roof, like Cal­gary. Q. It’s a chal­lenge these days to have ra­tio­nal con­ver­sa­tions about top­ics peo­ple are emo­tional about, like the causes of Van­cou­ver’s hous­ing cri­sis. You’ve tended to con­tra­dict some claims about empty con­dos or for­eign in­vestors. How do you deal with the con ict? A. It’s a weird space to be in, es­pe­cially be­cause I’m in this space with­out be­ing a pro­fes­sor. I get hate mail. Par­tially, my an­swer to this has been to write a blog post on what­ever the is­sue is, one that con­tains the en­tire anal­y­sis, data and code, so peo­ple can down­load it. Some of the conversation I see does worry me. One thing that re­ally both­ers me is the idea that peo­ple ap­ply the term money laun­der­ing to any­one who cir­cum­vents Chi­nese cap­i­tal con­trols. Q. Has your un­paid cen­sus work led to any­thing else? A.Peo­ple come to me for­anal­y­sis—com­pa­nies, in­sti­tu­tions, non-pro­ts. When com­pa­nies that mar­ket real es­tate to China come to me, I just say no. I have this role in me­dia; Idon’t want to com­pro­mise that. I’m now work­ing on a new project for Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada, look­ing at earth­quake risk and ex­po­sure.

I re­al­ized what a pain it was to do cen­sus data lookups.”

Dig­i­tal Car­tog­ra­pher Von Bergmann’s Cen­sus Map­per visu­ally dis­plays stats, like this one show­ing pop­u­la­tion den­sity.

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