Maps of the Week – 9/6/13

I’m starting a new feature here today called Maps of the Week.  I’ve always loved maps.  Many members of my family are able to tell stories of how I’d pore into road maps, atlases, you name it.  That’s why every Friday, I will endeavor to call attention to maps that I find interesting, insightful, provocative — or just plain cool.  

I found the map below at the Atlantic Cities website a couple weeks ago:

The map is a Racial Dot Map of the nation, with each person represented by a single dot and color.  Emily Badger from Atlantic Cities explains it:

Demographic researcher Dustin Cable’s Racial Dot Map is staggering both visually and statistically. From afar, the most racially diverse pockets of the United States appear like blended watercolors in shades of purple and teal. Zoom all the way in, though, and each dot represents a single person, all 308,745,538 of us.

The data behind the map comes from the 2010 census, available publicly through the National Historical Geographic Information System. Cable, a researcher with the the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, has modeled the project on a previous MIT map plotting population density by individual dots. Cable’s version color-codes the results by race and ethnicity, producing an eerily beautiful picture of American segregation (and, less frequently, integration) that tricks the eye at different scales.

What makes the map incredible to me, however, is not found at the national scale.  At this site, you can zoom into any part of the nation.  When you do, what looks at the national scale like cool blends of colors easily transitioning from one shade to another is more clearly understood to be sharply divided lines that highlight our nation’s segregated legacy.  Closer examination of many metro areas, particularly those of the Rust Belt, reveal patterns that we’re all aware of but rarely see depicted.

The map at the top of this post, however, takes the cake.  This is Jerry’s Map, the creation of Jerry Gretzinger from my home state of Michigan.  His map, which he started 50 years ago and still adds to daily, was featured as an exhibit at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art last fall, and was described this way:

In 1963 Jerry Gretzinger doodled a map of a small imaginary town. His sketch took on a life of its own and today comprises over 2,600 hand-crafted panels spanning a jawdropping 2,000 square feet. The world depicted evolves and shape-shifts as he works and re-works a panel every day. To guide the evolution, Jerry has devised an elaborate game of chance that features a card deck with instructions—the map’s “future predictor.” Each morning he chooses a card at random that determines his course of action for that day—one day he might add new features to a panel, while on the next he might completely void one out. This is hand-wrought Minecraft on a truly massive scale. 

Incredibly, he keeps data on the giant map on a spreadsheet, knowing the size of his cities and the type of produce grown on his farms.  The Huffington Post called Jerry’s Map “an analog version of SimCity,” but its artistic merit makes it far more than simply that.

I’m a little envious because I’ve always wanted to create something similar to this, but balked because of concerns about scale and space limitations.  But hey, it’s never too late.

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