Interesting Visualizations

Visualizations are fascinating things. Taking data and then adjusting a map based on that data can often provide insight that would not be readily apparent otherwise. Here are some examples I’ve seen over the last few weeks that have, at least for me, made me realize something I hadn’t realized before:

  • Segregation in America. We like to think of America as a diverse society, a melting pot of peoples and cultures. But in our day to day reality, is it? Is the mixed neighborhood we see in the media the reality? The answer is, unsurprisingly, no. Here’s a fascinating article from the WaPo that uses maps to highlight segregation in America (if you run into their paywall, use Incognito or Private mode). As the article notes, “…some cities remain deeply segregated — even as the country itself becomes more diverse. To explore these national changes, The Post analyzed census data from 1990, 2000, 2010 and the latest estimates from the 2016 five-year American Community Survey. Using that data, we generated detailed maps of the United States using six race categories: black, white, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American and multi-race/other for the available years.”  The maps show significant segregation within each city, and for most cities, allow you to enter an address to see how segregated or diverse your local community is.
  • Jews. Here’s a map that purports to show American Jews by county as of 2011. There’s a bit of controversy over it, but for me the main takeaway is how concentrated the pockets of Judaism are, and how empty other areas are. If you were to correlate this to areas where antisemitism is the strongest, my contention is that antisemitism flourishes where Jews are scarce. If people don’t see Jews regularly, they fear the unknown. Now connect this to the first map, and explore the theory of whether the areas of the strongest hatred of the immigrant and the Muslim are precisely those areas that have the fewest immigrants and Muslims. If we don’t see diversity — if we see people only as categories and not people — hatred flourishes. Stereotypes are believed, and fears magnify. These two maps, taken together, show why we have so much work to do in this country.
  • Density. This map (and alas I don’t have anything better than the FB image) shows areas with equal population: first the coasts, and then the major cities of NYC and LA. Again, this visualization explains quite a bit, especially when you think in terms of politics. The politics of population dense areas — and the needs and concerns — tends to be very different than the less dense areas. The nature of crime is different, the diversity is different, the pressing needs of homelessness and economic distribution are different. Is it any wonder there is such a tension between the dominance of heavily populated areas in the popular vote vs. the power of less dense areas in the electoral college? [ETA: Here’s a better source for this mapping, which points to an even better source.]
  • Property Value. A similar interesting visualization comes by looking at property values. A handful of counties in the US account for the bulk of the value of the property in the US (and guess where those counties are — especially in light of the previous three maps). This demonstrates one reason behind some political trends we are seeing (combined with the adage from the musical 1776 about conservatives: most people would like to protect the possibility of being rich than face the reality of being poor). Here’s an example: “New York City’s 305 square miles make up 8/1000ths of 1 percent of the land area of the United States. Yet New York City accounts for 5 percent of the nation’s housing value—more than every single state but four (one of which is, of course, New York state).” The article’s conclusion is also interesting: “Folks who can’t afford to live in those places don’t get to take advantage of those labor markets. The demand to live in these places is soaring, but the desire among incumbents to accommodate newcomers is low. Hence NIMBYism, high housing costs, severe inequality—the whole shebang.”

In terms of non-map visualizations, here are two: