Laura Kurgan ’88GSAPP


My commitment: Using data and image-data to track urban conflict as it happens and allow for meaningful and informed responses

With my team, we’ve created an interactive, open-source map of the city of Aleppo—which has been at the center of fighting in Syria—that combines layers of high-resolution satellite images with data gathered by human rights organizations and the United Nations.

The project attempts to follow a war as it occurs, allowing an evolving, multidimensional study of the shifting lines of urban conflict and the patterns of destruction—and adaptation—that war produces. We want to give people—those in the city, those who have escaped, and those watching from afar—the ability to see and share information and view what is happening on the ground.

What our project brings to this field of monitoring conflict is a broad and independent perspective, with a focus not just on military operations or legal issues but rather on the urban fabric, the movements of people, the effects on the everyday lives of civilians. And it allows ordinary people everywhere access to the same sort of rich portrait of a conflict zone that has previously been monopolized by governments and fighters. Our users can navigate the city, with the aid of high-resolution satellite imagery, and explore geolocated data about cultural sites, neighborhoods, and urban damage.  

We see a map like this as a platform for storytelling with data. Think of data as a navigation device. We cooperate with a range of actors on the ground, inside and outside Syria, and together we are producing a complex description of a still evolving situation. Every time you put a layer of data on, it’s like adding another perspective, another narrative. It’s multidimensional. It might look flat, and it might look like an overhead view, but there are actually a lot of different standpoints embedded in it.

We wanted to learn how to do something different with all these images and how to put them to new uses. This is the kind of thing that data visualization enables us to do.


Keep up with Laura Kurgan: Twitter   @laurakurgan