holiday map immersion

If you're hiding with your laptop in the laundry closet because an ancient family argument has broken out over holiday dinner, it's a great time to geek out on how fast mapping is changing.  Go over to Atlantic Cities and explore Emily Badger's great overview of 10 ways that mapping has evolved over the past year.

My favorite: I usually try to be race-blind in my thinking about transit and cities, but I have to admit I was absorbed by Duncan Cable's Dot Map of Everyone in the US, which is color coded by ethnicity.  Not really everyone: You can't zoom in to find your personal dot, but it's still a magnificent rendering of how dot-crowding conveys density on a map more naturally than shaded zones.  Chicago, for example, displays pie-slices of single-ethnicity neighborhoods (blue is white, red is Asian, green is African-American, orange is Latino/Hispanic), but you can also see where the borders are soft, where they're hard, and where highly mixed areas exist or are emerging:

Chicago racial dot map

Houston, where I'm working now, is also made of pie slices, but the colors are more muted, indicating more mixture almost everywhere.  Near the center of this image, the greater Montrose and Heights districts are rainbow pointillism.  The Asian node in the south is student areas near Texas Medical Center.  

Houston racial dot map

And my home town, Portland, with downtown on the far left (as it is), showing the new concentric-circle pattern, as lower income minorities (because of income, rather than race) are forced to settle on the fringes of the old city (top edge and far right) or what we'd now call "inner ring suburbs."   The bike-and-transit-friendly city you've seen pictures of is mostly white with small dashes of color. The exception is downtown, which still has a mix of housing types tending to both income extremes, and the continuing black presence in the neighborhoods straight north of downtown even as these gentrify.  (As a small child in 1970 I remember seeing a cover of the local free weekly that showed a hand drawn line around this district with the title "Red-lining the Ghetto," about the impossibility of getting loans to buy or improve homes in that area.  Now, it's on fire with higher-end redevelopment.)

Portland racial dot map

Of course these are also fascinating simply as density maps.  Did you know that Oregon cities have had Urban Growth Boundaries since 1972?  The hard edges show around many Oregon cities … Here's the north edge of Portland's western suburbs (the "Silicon Forest"):

Wash co racial dots

For contrast, here's a same-scale image of the north edge of Clark County suburbs, just over the river in Washington:

Clark co racial dots

Washington loses farmland to development much more rapidly than Oregon does.  It makes a difference.  

In the end, what I love most about these maps is that they're beautiful.  As in art, patches of a bright color are beautiful, but so are intense mixtures of color.  So I look at these maps and feel good about both single-ethnic communities and mixed-ethnic communities, and my eye enjoys the patterns of density, hard edges here, soft there, even more.  These maps take an emotive kind of diversity and render it as serene.  The perfect geek-out for serene holidays. 

2 Responses to holiday map immersion

  1. Moore Michael M December 25, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    I’m curious as to the reasoning behind your statement that low income minorities are being pushed to the city’s margins “because of income, rather than race.” All the evidence indicates to me that race plays a huge factor, and that Portland remains a bastion of white supremacy in which those white supremacist policies and practices are simply now more cloaked in order to avoid accountablity. It’s no longer legal (nor, of course, politically correct) to establish where, for example, African Americans can and can’t own property, as Portland did for over a century, but now it’s common practice for African Americans to not be shown more desirable available units, to be quoted higher prices or not offered move-in incentives that white people are, or to be offered sub-prime mortgages when they would easily qualify for better rates. These kinds of practices have, it seems to me, even more to do with race than with income, though to be sure other, perhaps even more pernicious and systemic problems with Portland’s housing policies are income-based. But given that these kinds of discriminatory practices (which extend beyond housing to employment, provision of health care, law enforcement and criminal justice policies, etc.) are the very factors that cause the income and wealth disparities of Portland’s people of color, it becomes very difficult to separate the two factors. When a system is as perfectly designed as Portland’s to maintain white hegemony by limiting opportunities for economic gain by people of color, implying that the issues of race and income can separated doesn’t make much sense to me.

  2. Nathanael January 20, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    You know what jumps out at me in all these maps?
    The whitespace, indicating areas with NO RESIDENTS. This shows:
    – The effects of “Euclid-style” zoning;
    – The scars from expressways;
    – Parking lots;
    – to a lesser extent, railroads and railyards
    – to an even lesser extent, major factories
    These white spaces are huge zones which are dead and dangerous at night. They are an urban design problem.
    (There’s a few false positives in the whitespace, like universities.)

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