Radical Cartography and Urban Racial Maps

Images: Eric Fisher
Click to enlarge the San Francisco racial dot map. One dot represents 25 people. Red dots represent Whites, Blue is Black, Green is Asian and Orange is Latino. Images: Eric Fischer

When is a map worth a thousand words? Bill Rankin, who maintains a website called Radical Cartography, has generated buzz with his racial and income maps of Chicago, which can test stereotypes Chicagoans have about the boundaries of their neighborhoods.

Rankin notes, for instance, that the boundaries of neighborhoods are always drawn as stark lines on informational maps, yet people in cities traversing their communities don’t always delineate the end of their neighborhood by the same streets (some streets, like Houston Street in New York City or Cesar Chavez Street in San Francisco, however, tend to mark a consensus change in neighborhood for those living near them).

Rankin found when he used dot mapping (one dot represents 25 people, for instance), the demographics can both reinforce those boundaries and blur them.

“There are indeed areas where changes take place at very precise boundaries… and Chicago has more of these stark borders than most cities in the world,” writes Rankin on his website. “But transitions also take place through gradients and gaps as well, especially in the northwest and southeast. Using graphic conventions which allow these other possibilities to appear takes much more data, and requires more nuance in the way we talk about urban geography, but a cartography without boundaries can also make simplistic policy or urban design more difficult — in a good way.”

Click map to enlarge.
Click map of New York City to enlarge. One dot represents 25 people. Red dots represent Whites, Blue is Black, Green is Asian and Orange is Latino.

Those familiar with Chicago will enjoy studying his maps, but Eric Fischer has taken the project further and has expanded the maps to include the 40 most populous cities in the country. The results are engrossing.

New York City has highly integrated neighborhoods, like Flushing, Queens, but also tremendously stratified ones, like East New York or the Upper East Side. San Francisco seems overall less racially divided than New York City, but sections of Oakland show much greater integration than San Francisco. One of the more stunning maps is Detroit, where the the border of black and white neighborhoods is stark (I think Eminem made a movie capitalizing on that).

Were you surprised by any of these? Tell us about it in the comments. H/T fastcodesign.com

Click map of Chicago to enlarge. One dot represents 25 people. Red dots represent Whites, Blue is Black, Green is Asian and Orange is Latino.

Click map to enlarge.
Click map of Detroit to enlarge. One dot represents 25 people. Red dots represent Whites, Blue is Black, Green is Asian and Orange is Latino.
Click map of San Jose to enlarge
Click map of San Jose to enlarge. One dot represents 25 people. Red dots represent Whites, Blue is Black, Green is Asian and Orange is Latino.
  • Glad you liked the maps!

  • Matt

    These are really cool! Is it just me, or does the Bay Area seem generally more integrated than other cities? While certain races clearly dominate certain areas, there seems to be a lot more mixing than in New York or Chicago, where races are segregated to specific boundaries.

  • @Eric Fischer: Add me to the thank yous. These maps are powerful starting points for all sorts of discussions about our cities, our identities, our neighbors, and our futures. I’m curious if/how you accounted for biracial/multiracial people in these maps?

  • Just to clarify, I meant “Add me to the people saying thank you!” I had nothing to do with creating these maps. =]

  • In these maps, multiracial people are included in the “Other” (gray) category, although there is probably some better way to represent them.

  • @Eric,
    I have been obsessing over these maps since I saw that post last week. I’m a fan of your work in general.

  • twompsokill

    I wonder what LA looks like, although I have a pretty good idea in my head.

  • @Eric – These maps are great. They really drive home how racially segregated most cities in the United States remain. It would be interesting to overlay these maps with major transit stations and freeways. I wonder how racial demographics interface with transit infrastructure in different cities . . .

  • @twompsokill – Check out the flickr link – LA is in there. . .

  • ZA

    I’d love to see this in time-lapse, showing trends from ‘gentrification’ to new arising multi-ethnic identities. Go back far enough, and even the ‘White’ identity breaks down into its bloodily disagreeing European composites.

  • I am with ZA on the time lapse maps. I lived in the Outer Sunset (47th & Judah) from 1973 until 1984 and it was a whole lotta Caucasian. Violently so, at times. I remember when the first Asian families started moving into the neighborhood in the early 80’s and how big an impact that was- I had never been in a class with someone who did not speak English prior to that.

    When I moved to the Mission in 1984 I was amazed at all the different kinds of people around me, many of whom did not speak in English. It felt like coming out of a deep sleep and seeing the world for the first time. It was wonderful, even with the crack and the hookers and the gangs. Just seeing people around me from around the world was so liberating.

  • It would be great to have an animation. The tricky part is that the machine-readable Census records only go back to 1980. Earlier than that it would have to be reconstructed from paper reports, which is possible, but a lot of trouble.

  • maaaty

    Add me to the list of those who are really impressed by the design and concept.

  • Gillian Gillett

    Mr. Fischer and his amazing cabinet of wonders! You give us so many publicly accessible gifts. I wonder if you would consider adding where the kids are to your maps…maybe in purple? San Francisco is regularly called out as having few children; would be interesting to see what/where that looks like.

  • That would be interesting to have one with the age distribution! I’ll have to try to make one of those.

  • Gillian Gillett

    I was thinking of kids in particular because of the data from Marin, I think, that show that the roughly 14% of the population that kids represent produce over 20% of the peak period vehicle trips. Since SFUSD has yet to decide on its transportation policy, your work is very timely. The aging of our population is thought-provoking, too, but our kids commute. What does that look like, given where kids reside?

  • OK, here is the San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley map showing home location of adults and children: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkingsf/5038573334/

  • I grew up on the West End of Alameda. In 2004, my family along with over 400 others were forced out of the Harbor Island Apartments (formerly known as the Buena Vista Apartments) so the Florida based slumlord, Fifteen Group, could renovate.

    At the time of the tenancy terminations (although people have called it mass evictions), 70% of that apartment complex was Black. The census tract, south of College of Alameda, was home to 30 percent of Alameda’s Black population.

    So, when I look at Alameda, and see that sea of blue, I see my neighborhood, but fear the map is no longer true.

    The maps certainly show how integrated the Bay is in many areas, but many patterns from de facto segregation remain.


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