“Racial Dot Map” Visualization Discussion

My assignment in Geographic Information Librarianship is to find, read, and be ready to discuss a peer-reviewed GIS related article for class.

I had initially seen a GIS topic of interest come to my attention via my daily browsing for nuggets of information on social media – in this case – Facebook.

Someone had shared a “dot map” showing population data for the United States based on census data. Each dot on the map represents one person, and all of the dots are color coded to represent race. Keep in mind these are approximations of race – if you zoom in on my house, you won’t see me exactly, but you’ll see a “representative” of my census block.

This had been done previously (See the “Census Dotmap” at ), but by integrating additional datasets to “guesstimate” the population density by census block, an enhanced visualization was made possible.

The original article was linked on “Wired.com” which had the inset text proclaiming “This is the most comprehensive map of race in America ever created.”

Here’s the original article: http://www.wired.com/design/2013/08/how-segregated-is-your-city-this-eye-opening-map-shows-you/

What’s fascinating to me is that the representation visualizes 7 gigabytes of data.

Now the blogosphere and media is abuzz with this, but I need a peer reviewed article.

So, while the dotmap has it’s own Web page, I am turning to an earlier study that is cited as the “inspiration” for the more recent study.

The study was peer reviewed by the Advisory Board for the US2010 project. The report is entitled “The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis: New Findings from the 2010 Census” and can be downloaded online: .

In this, report, 2010 census data suggests that desegregation is a slow process, and growing hispanic and asian populations are “as segregated today as thirty years ago.”

Because I live in a “typical” black neighborhood with 40% whites, this item of analysis caught my attention:

“Yet another factor is the difference in the quality of collective resources in neighborhoods with
predominantly minority populations. It is especially true for African Americans and Hispanics
that their neighborhoods are often served by the worst performing schools, suffer the highest
crime rates, and have the least valuable housing stock in the metropolis.”

A spatial analysis with census data showing demographics, income, and community resource can be useful for city administrators when making decisions about how to allocate funds. Perhaps I am being naive in hoping for a political world governed by data-driven decisions, but the technology nonetheless exists to do so.

This kind of decision making is a way to ensure that resources are distributed equitably.

However, the value of the “dot map” is clear in reviewing this paper, as much of the data is presented in tabular form, without any spatial visualization. Spatial visualization can enhance the experience of absorbing the data and intuitively understanding what it means. The example of 8 mile road in Detroit with a clear dividing border between black and white communities is a very clear representation of the difference between the two data reporting options.

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About Tanner Jessel

I am a recent M.S. in Information Science graduate from the University of Tennessee School of Information Science. I was formerly a graduate research assistant funded by DataONE (Data Observation Network for Earth). Prior, I worked for four years as a content lead and biodiversity scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Biodiversity Informatics Program. Building on my work experience in biodiversity and environmental informatics, my work with DataONE focused on exploring the nature of scientific collaborations necessary for scientific inquiry. I also conducted research concerning user experience and usability, and assisted in development of member nodes with an emphasis on spatial data and infrastructure. I assisted with research designed to understand sociocultural issues within collaborative research communities. Through August 1, 2014, I was based at the Center for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Tennessee School of Information Science in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Posted on September 16, 2013, in Geographic Information Librarianship and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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