Who: Adam Cohen, 39
Extreme job: Interactive mapmaker
Where: Urban Data Solutions Inc., New York
Web site: www.u-data.com
Sometimes when Adam Cohen walks down the street in Manhattan, he catches himself slipping into an enhanced state of awareness, visualizing minute details on the tops of the skyscrapers towering over him.
This is not a delusion; it's just the unique perspective that's etched in his mind's eye. Cohen, cofounder of Urban Data Solutions, makes maps. But that's like saying that Pedro Martinez throws fastballs. Cohen's maps are highly accurate depictions of big American cities. Displayed on a computer screen, the interactive map of New York, for example, can be twisted and turned to afford a view of just about any building in town, from any direction. Click on the northwest corner of the 40th floor of the Chrylser Building, and a wealth of data is revealed, including floor plans, cable hookups, and window placements.
An architect by training, Cohen has to be able to master details from dozens of sources without losing sight of the big picture. The New York map alone contains 26,941 buildings and 58,703 discrete addresses. "You have to prioritize," says Cohen, whose team has mapped 12 cities so far. "If you didn't, you'd wind up spending 10 years on one city." In fact, UDS labored for a year and a half in order to build the interactive topography of Manhattan below 72nd Street. Adding detail to the rooftops, one of the most painstaking tasks, included filling in setbacks and parapets so that telecommunications customers could determine where to locate wireless antennas. "It's always an interpretation," Cohen says. "What's enough detail? What's too much?"
A version of this article appeared in the September 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.