On the Records: An Interactive Map of Houston

The Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York released a map of Houston today using data from the Census Bureau to visualize changes in race and ethnicity population patterns. “Maps like these (to our knowledge) have not been available before – where you can move a slider back and forth while also zooming in/out and clicking on individual Census blocks for detailed information,” wrote Steve Romalewski, the director of the program, on his blog

Toggling between the 2000 and 2010 versions of the map immediately produces visual differences that allow users to recognize population change. Regions that become lighter in the 2010 version reflect a lower concentration of the predominant population. The reasons for population change cannot be pinpointed from the map, but clicking on a specific Census block will give users more information on the exact shifts in population in that region.

Funding for the project came from a variety of private philanthropic foundations, including the Hagedorn Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. Romalewski said the website was developed to help make Census data more accessible and digestable for researchers, community activists and foundations investigating changing social demographics in urban regions.

The MacArthur Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the country that supports public policy research, is particularly interested in looking at the maps from a public policy perspective, Romalewski said. “One reason we’ve put this information out is so people can better understand how neighborhoods are changing in relation to redistricting.” The maps can also be used to understand “whether social service programs need to modified, if alternative language programs need to be developed” and to help researchers and community organizers get a “sense of gentrification,” he said.

The Center began the project by building static maps with color shading using a mapping program called ArcGIS. Using two open source software packages, OpenLayers and a JQuery slider technique from catchmyfame.com, they added interactive features that allow users to zoom, alter the transparency of the maps and toggle between the 2000 and 2010 versions.

The Center for Urban Research has completed maps of six of the largest urban regions in the United States, including New York and Houston, and will continue to add more. “As the Census Bureau comes out with more information, we hope to add that information, either to these maps or to new versions,” Romalewski said. That information will include details on age dispersion, and the national origin of Hispanic and Asian groups in specific regions.

Editor's Note: A correction has been made to this post. The maps were created by the Center for Urban Research at City University of New York. 

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