Go Off! Fireworks Over New York

Lab Reports, Maps, Visualization

The summer of 2020 is not one we’ll soon forget. For folks here in New York City and other major cities across the United States, it was the summer of Covid-19 lockdowns, the summer of protests and racial unrest, and the summer of… fireworks.

More so than anyone could remember in recent history, amateur firework shows plagued this city and others. New Yorkers reported hearing the sounds of fireworks around the clock, from well before dusk until the wee hours of the morning. Trapped in their homes under a deluge of pops, whistles, and booms, citizens took to social media to complain, bringing the issue to national news attention and even spawning a psy-op conspiracy theory.

This week, I’m creating a geospatial visualization of that summer with Carto. I’m using 311 data from NYC Open Data to map the explosion of fireworks complaints across the city from May through August 2020. I began by exporting a subset of NYC’s 311 Service Requests per my desired parameters and importing it into Carto. Over 48,000 service requests related to illegal fireworks were initiated during this 123-day period!

My initial point map was very dense, so I considered my options for aggregation. I had experience using hexbins or heatmaps to show cumulative data, but the animation option caught my eye. It seemed to me that using animation, I could create a visualization that could replay the summer, day by day. 

I configured the animation settings to my liking, sometimes with a goal in mind (referencing the “created date” column so that my data will be presented chronologically), and sometimes using trial and error (changing point size and resolution for clarity, tweaking the number of frames and clip duration).

By this point, I had created a striking animation that resembled fireworks. I decided to lean into this effect and switch to a basemap with a darker color scheme for emphasis. For the final step, I had to design my legend. The default options were not appropriate for my animation, so I improvised, keeping one legend entry and labeling it “Each dot represents a complaint to 311.”

Below is the final product.

This animation tells a story of New Yorkers’ growing impatience with the fireworks problem from the summer of 2020. Observe how intermittent sparks in May coalesce into a steady rain of citywide complaints by late June. The complaints reach a critical mass on July 4th, a day that anyone could have predicted would be the busiest day for fireworks. But bafflingly, they continue well into August.

Given the opportunity to continue working with this data, I would like to compare this data to the same period in 2019. I’m curious about whether fireworks complaints grew at the same scale across the city, or whether certain regions experienced a disproportionate increase in noise. To that end, I would make this map more interactive by overlaying neighborhood boundaries or zip codes.