Geography 2050: Envisioning a Sustainable Planet Wrap-Up

anthony quartararo
Dec 5, 2016 · 5 min read

This past 17–18 November, the American Geographical Society hosted it’s 3rd annual Geography 2050 event at Columbia University in NYC. As an AGS Councilor, I’ve been there each year in a supportive role, both as an individual AGS Fellow, but also providing corporate sponsorship.

I’m very proud to see the evolution and development of this event, and it certainly would not be so successful without the steady guidance and vision of Dr. Christopher Tucker, John Konarski, Dr. Marie Price and many others at the AGS, along with all the other Corporate Sponsors.

I was blown away by the caliber of the presentations and the speakers, and was both encouraged at the depth and variety of applied research being done by Geographers, as well as somewhat overwhelmed by the “boiling the ocean” problem we face as a global community; there’s much more to be done yet there does not seem to be an effective critical mass moving forward, together, on any single issue.

One of the most stunning presentations focused on the world’s poor, especially the poorest of the poor. It was beyond my ability to really comprehend the reality of how many hundreds of millions if not billions or people live in conditions that seem so very hopeless, and needlessly so. As someone fortunate to have been born in the United States, I have no real context for understanding much of the issues presented, but as a geographer, this post to Twitter from Chris Tucker fairly sums up where I think the beginning of a real solution starts: mapping.

Dr. Chris Tucker calling for the global poor to be mapped so Governments can render better assistance

Prior to the formal 2-day event, our friends at Boundless Geo sponsored a large group of AP Human Geography teachers from around the country (several from Florida!) to attend the event, starting with some intensive mapping in OpenStreetMap for #mapathon. Many of these teachers were so enamored by the experience, that I spied several of them throughout the more formal event, continuing to map in OSM. This was really an uplifting thing to see, and I am very confident those teachers took what they learned back to their classrooms and will begin incorporating mapping and OSM in to their coursework, and that is, just spectacular to think of young students being turned on to geography, mapping and technology. STEM in action!

AP Human Geography Teachers loved editing OpenStreetMap at the Mapathon so much, they kept doing it during the event! Bravo!

One of the most poignant moments of the entire event for me was the keynote talk by Dr. Walter Scott, the founder of Digital Globe. His description of their (DG) work with various international organizations to help counter human-trafficking was mesmerizing. Even Dr. Scott was caught up in the moment as he shared one success story. He illustrated how, with the help of contemporaneous, high-resolution satellite imagery, DG was able to help other organizations rescue several thousands maritime fishing slaves from ship in Asia. Upon being reunited with family, one former slave, when told how his freedom was made possible, remarked (paraphrasing);

“I can’t believe that someone, somewhere, with a camera in the sky cared so much about me as to devote the time and effort to rescue us”.

That is truly profound. We all can and should do more with all that we have to see the stain of modern slavery abolished.

I had the privilege of speaking to the Geography Department at Hunter College, along with fellow AGS Councilors Dr. Deborah Popper and Jared Novick. We all spoke about our respective career paths in the field of geography and geospatial sciences, and of particular interest to students, career opportunities they should be preparing for as they graduate. Special thanks to Allan Frei in the Geography Department at Hunter College, CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities for inviting us to speak.

Jared Novick, CEO of BitVoyant and fellow AGS Councilor speaking at Hunter College

Last, but certainly not least, was a rather humorous experience with good friend, colleague and business partner, Al di Leonardo. In just a few short years, Al (and partner in crime, Abe Usher) formed a company called The HumanGeo Group, which was acquired by The Radiant Group in the summer of 2015, and more recently, just before Geography2050, Digital Globe acquired The Radiant Group. I’ve known Al since he started HGG, and it’s been amazing to see the growth and success he and Abe have worked so very hard for over the years. Its not an insignificant accomplishment to start, grow and sell, essentially twice, a company in a very competitive DC-market, all within the span of roughly 5 years, so I am very proud of Al and Abe and it’s my honor to know them both. What makes this part of the story humorous, at least to those that know “Al D” and his penchant for memorable one-liners, is that, well, Al had a wardrobe malfunction prior to introducing his new boss and the founder of his new corporate owner, Dr. Walter Scott of Digital Globe. Al told a more colorful story on stage, so I’m not betraying anything here but I do have a different perspective.

After Al split the seat of his pants (if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing), he wanted an wingman to go find a replacement. How could I not be that wingman, right? Well, we took an Uber to the store and promptly found a replacement pair. That’s when the story gets good — as you can see from the following picture, Al picked up more than a pair of pants. The black velvet jacket was the talk of the executive dinner we had later that night with an intimate group of business leaders and AGS Councilors, and I’ll leave it there. Next time you run into “Al D”, be sure to ask him about the story behind the jacket, he’ll appreciate telling it.

Al D’s jacket, ask him about it when you see him!

If you’re not a member of the AGS, I’d urge you to consider becoming one in any capacity and tell at least one professional colleague or family member to do the same. I would also strongly urge you to bookmark the 2017 Geography2050 event, put it on your calendar, follow on Twitter, and plan ton coming to New York City in November 2017 to discuss, present and participate in the ongoing dialogue about the geography of Mobility in 2050.

anthony quartararo

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