Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Impression of American cities

The New York Times has taken recent data from the Census Bureau and created an interactive map that visually displays the distribution of people (and their race, education, income status, etc) throughout the US. My exercise here is to take the map, zoom into several major cities, and turn it into a more abstract version of maps (at the same scale). The result is a series of almost impressionist patterns.

Green: White; Blue: Black; Yellow: Hispanic; Red: Asian
(Color intensity = Density)
New York, NY
Chicago, IL
Los Angeles, CA
San Francisco, CA
Washington, DC
Philadelphia, PA
Boston, MA
Miami, FL
Houston, TX
Detroit, MI
Cleveland, OH

What do we see from these patterns? It's quite obvious that there are very distinct sectors for different ethnic groups in most cities. The amazing patchworks of NYC and Chicago, and the harsh line of 8 Mile Road in Detroit are vivid examples. Also, Cleveland looks like a butterfly with wings in different colors. I don't know if I should be surprised by this or not...

The metropolitan areas of Detroit and Boston has similar population, but they take on very different density patterns. Boston was built by the early settlers with the memories of European cities, while in Detroit, people say, "we make cars, and of course we'll use them." Houston and Philadelphia have a similar difference in terms of density. The graphic comparison below (one dot = 100 people) shows clearly the distinction between the dense urban cores in Northwestern cities and the spread-out versions in the Midwest and the South.
Detroit (L) and Boston (R), at the same scale
Houston (L) and Philadelphia (R), at the same scale

We can't simply put "=" signs between education, money, and success. But when I switched between the distribution of Master's degree graduates and neighborhood median income, I saw uncanny similarities between the maps. This happens in NYC, Chicago, as well as LA. The following maps show "people with Master's degree or higher" on the left (the more the darker), and median income on the right (the higher the darker). I think this at least proves the importance of education. Did you just say "duh"? Well, obviously not everybody can see it - especially not politicians.

New York City
Los Angeles

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