SAVI was founded informally in 2012 by Jessie Braden and Juan Camilo Osorio with mentorship from John Shapiro, then Coordinator of Pratt’s Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development (PSPD) and Chair of the Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment (GCPE). At that time, Jessie was a GIS Analyst/Environmental Planner at Pratt Center for Community Development (Pratt Center) and Juan Camilo, a GCPE Adjunct Assistant Professor co-teaching the first-year required planning studio along with various GIS courses, was transitioning to Director of Research at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Both had a mutual interest in addressing the dearth of GIS and data resources on campus.

John, based on an idea of GCPE alum Vlada Kenniff, brought them together and secured a small grant from the Fund for the City of New York to co-author a needs assessment and business plan for a geospatial analysis lab at Pratt. The research tested the concept of a GIS lab that would also draw on the Institute’s depth in graphic and information design; would play a vital role for both education and research by departments across the campus; and would be outward looking for research and technical assistance, emphasizing groups (such as those in the arts and in communities) that did not have access to the technology.

The needs assessment report made a strong case for an institute-wide and public facing lab, and SAVI received support from three critical parties: then Provost Peter Barna, Pratt’s Institutional Advancement office (IA) and Pratt Center for Community Development. Pratt Center’s team of Adam Friedman, Vicki Weiner and Elena Conte worked, with support from IA’s Lance Redford, to secure a large grant from New York City Council that provided capital funding to renovate a lab space on campus.

Once the City Council funding was secured, Pratt made a commitment to formally launch and back SAVI by creating a full-time director position and creating a founding partner group in 2013. This group included Pratt PSPD, Pratt Center for Community Development and the graduate Communications Design department. Jessie and Juan Camilo developed the lab concept with guidance from the above team and convened a working group consisting of faculty and administrators from across campus.

In 2014, Jessie convened a second advisory group to inform the creation of a GIS and Design certificate program through the School of Continuing and Professional studies. Along with other Pratt faculty, Juan Camilo served as an advisor to SAVI in the curricular design. To this date, over 125 unique students have taken courses in the program, and it has proven to fill another important gap, consistent with the original SAVI mission to cultivate an inter-disciplinary culture of collaboration through mapping and data visualization, inside and outside of campus.

SAVI moved into the renovated lab space on Pratt’s campus in 2015 and now operates as an independent center at Pratt Institute, supported by Provost Kirk Pillow. Juan Camilo still teaches at PSPD and is pursuing a PhD in Urban Studies and Planning at MIT where he is a GIS lab instructor.