Color Coded Census Maps: Where We Live Now

Eric Fischer's map of race and ethnicity in New York City

Eric Fischer's map of race and ethnicity in New York City

After being “astounded” by a map depicting Chicago’s sharp racial and ethnic divisions, computer programmer Eric Fischer was inspired to create similar maps of other major US cities to see what he’d find.

He used the 2000 U.S. Census demographic data to illustrate how racially and ethnically integrated—or segregated—the cities were as recently as 10 years ago.

On the maps, each dot represents 25 people, and each color represents the racial or ethnic origin of a person: red is white, blue is black, green is Asian, orange is Hispanic, and gray stands for other.

The maps have generated buzz and discussion since Fischer published them on his flickr feed in September. In New York, Daily News columnist Errol Louis referenced Fischer’s work in writing about the city’s segregation woes:

“As I’ve often noted over the years, the 2000 Census places New York as America’s third most racially segregated city, after Detroit and Milwaukee, judged by measures of the likelihood that two neighbors come from the same white, black or Latino group.”

Feet in Two Worlds recently spoke with Eric Fischer about his maps.

Feet in Two Worlds: How long have you been doing digital cartography?

Eric Fischer: I’ve been making digital maps for about 5 years but it has only been in the past 6 months or so that any of it has been out in public.

Fi2W: Did you have any hypotheses, guesses, or assumptions before creating these maps?

EF: I had expected the areas dominated by a single race to be fairly small in most cities. I was surprised to learn that so many cities have such large areas that are not racially integrated.

Fi2W: Do you live in San Francisco? Did its map surprise you?

EF: I currently live on the other side of the San Francisco Bay, in Oakland. Within San Francisco, I was a little surprised by how large and widely distributed its Asian population is, which I hadn’t fully realized before.

Fi2W: How long did it take to create the maps? And what did it entail?

EF: It took a couple of evenings, plus some additional time spent downloading the data from the Census.  The software was pretty simple: the census files are structured by county, so I wrote a small program to reorganize the data into squares of latitude and longitude instead for easier access, so that it would be straightforward to plot the points within any particular region of latitude and longitude.  Later I went back and spent another day re-plotting the data for better precision, since my original version just plotted the points within a radius of the center of each census block instead of taking the shape of the block into account.

Fi2W: What kind of feedback have you gotten about them?

EF: Most people seem to have been pleasantly surprised to have a new way of visualizing their cities that they had not seen before.  A few people unfortunately have seen the maps as confirmation of their prejudices.

Fi2W: Would you considered making maps specifically of immigrant communities based on the Census’s foreign-born and/or language spoken at home information?

EF: That would probably be an interesting thing to plot too. I think unfortunately it can’t be plotted at quite the same level of detail because I think the Census only releases that data at the census tract level, not the block level.

Fi2W: Do you intend to re-plot these maps with 2010 Census data?

EF: Yes, I am looking forward to seeing what has changed when the 2010 Census results are released.

The Feet in Two Worlds project on the Census is made possible thanks to the generous support of the 2010 Census Outreach Initiative Fund at The New York Community Trust and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

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