Score one more for map geeks: an MIT graduate student has built an interactive map that shows where every single person in the United States and Canada lives.
The concept isn’t as Big Brother like as it sounds. There are no names, no phone numbers, no streets, no geographical features. It has simply used Census Bureau data to assign a dot to each person — all 314 million of them. Maps like this have been done before: Foursquare unveiled that maps check-ins, and the Census Bureau has one too.
Census data is organized in blocks – the Bureau of the Census takes each block and counts the number of people in it, and that’s put into a block group and then a census tract, and so on. The Canadian equivalent organizes data in a similar fashion.
Map maker Brandon Martin-Anderson, an MIT graduate student, used the data to generate tiles on a map with dots equal to the number of people in a given area. He spread the dots evenly spread on each tile, so they wouldn’t pinpoint people living in specific areas. A zoom in on the west side of Manhattan, for instance, seems to show people living in the Hudson River, but that’s because the statistical area used by the census happens to include it.
Even so, the map does give a very good picture of where most people live, showing patterns of settlement.
On his website, Martin-Anderson says he wants to see where people are without seeing geographical boundaries and roads. He told CNN that the map clearly shows rain and agriculture are two major factors in where people live.
Even without knowing anything about where cities are, the map makes it easy to see the “BosWash” – the urban agglomeration that stretches from Boston to Washington, D.C. Some railways and roadways can be picked out by the towns that grow up alongside them: clusters of dots line up along the routes between Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis.
Credit: Courtesy Brandon Martin-Anderson