Much Improved Mapping of American Migration

Forbes released Jon Bruner’s latest map of migration in the United States. It uses IRS figures to show inbound and outbound movement from counties across the United States. The work itself is an improvement from his map from last year, which was a bit more difficult to read. Beneath is the new version, and at the end, for comparison, the old.

This year's migration map
This year's migration map

Firstly, the colour palette is far more sophisticated. Secondly, and most crucially, the user can hide the lines on the map, which obscures a key part of the story of migration in urban areas—higher income people moving out of the city and into the suburbs. Thirdly, the map data now includes additional years, which are available by clicking the small chart in the upper right—a welcome addition that allows the data from last year’s map to become accessible this year. Fourthly, and to be fair this may have existed previously but not that I can recall, the new map is accompanied by essays.

These essays use the map and its data to tell stories and explain what one sees going on with the data. It is (relatively) easy for one to put together a piece of data visualisation from a data set. But, without knowing where to look, users may not actually find anything valuable in the visualisation. By pointing to these essays, the map—already much improved from a design perspective—takes on a much more rounded and mature character and becomes more about generating information and knowledge than simply figures and statistics.

Last year's migration map
Last year's migration map

Income Segregation in the Philadelphia Metro Area

In an area very close to me…quite literally…the New York Times published an article about increasing segregation between the rich and the poor via the areas where they live. The study by Stanford University found that the Philadelphia metropolitan area saw the “sharpest rise” in segregation since the 1970s—the study used census data available through 2007. The accompanying graphic highlights the growth of the segregation from 1970, using small multiples of choropleths to compare 1970 to 1990 to 2007.

In 1970, much of the metro area was middle-income neighbourhoods. Certainly, the central core of Philadelphia was depressed. So too was Chester and rural southwestern Chester County. The upper-income neighbourhoods were in the close suburbs, note the townships stretching due west of the city and you see the Main Line, one of the most affluent areas of the United States, while other veins of wealth extend along other old rail lines leaving the city.

Neighbourhoods by Income in 1970
Neighbourhoods by Income in 1970

Those such as myself who are familiar with both the area and recent history should note that places like Coatesville and Downingtown are shown as middle-income. In the 1970s, areas like this and in similar places like Falls Township in Bucks County had robust steel and manufacturing sectors that employed a substantial portion of the local population.

But, compare this to 2007 and you will begin to see how many old factory towns of middle-income areas became dense pockets of depression while the city of Philadelphia itself saw a flight of wealth to the rest of the suburbs. The rural parts of Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks have seen high growth by means of new developments of upper-middle- and upper-income homes.

363 Days

We are now just under 365 days away from Election Day 2012. Without a doubt, I shall have many politically-themed graphics coming. People just have to start making them. But for now, the Economist kicked it off Monday—when it was 365 days—with a motion graphic piece that outlines some of the polling numbers and challenges to the Republicans vying for power and President Obama determined to keep it.

365 days until Election Day 2012
365 days until Election Day 2012

Certain types of the chart are very much not helpful in determining the actual numerical comparisons. But, with the voiceover keeping our attention and explaining what is going on with the charts, it is as always interesting to experience a story told in charts and graphs for nearly three minutes. And about a story with real significance.

To Compare the Fares of Cabs

If you live in a big city, you’ve probably been running late, missed the bus or the train, needed to get home safely at least once. So you’ve probably taken a cab.

This interactive graphic from the Washington Post compares cab fares across a number of major cities in the United States. The cheapest cab rides are to be found in Washington D.C. The priciest are in Honolulu.

Comparison of Cab Fares Across Major US Cities
Comparison of Cab Fares Across Major US Cities

Credit for the piece goes to Todd Lindeman and Sisi Wei.

Random is the New Orderly

Ever been on a flight where there is not enough overhead luggage capacity for everyone? Then they make you stow your bag anyway? Well, apparently that’s what’s happening in these days of baggage fees—which make airlines quite profitable.

This diagram in the New York Times shows how American Airlines is changing from the more common front-to-back seating of passengers to a random assignment of seats in an attempt to reduce the time spent boarding the plane. After all, not only are baggage fees money, but so is time.

Boarding Diagram
Boarding Diagram

That’s a Whole Lotta People

On Halloween, we will welcome the 7 billionth person into this world. That’s a lot of people. And that means a lot of food, water, shelter, comforts, &c. Stress on limited resources could become a defining characteristic of the future.

The Washington Post has an interactive piece with a few graphics out there about the growth of population. This screenshot is from the first tab about consumption. When you press play and watch the highlighted countries move through time and space, you see that the United States has not seen drastic population growth (x-axis) but has, on a per capita level, witnessed a strong growth in consumption (y-axis). Conversely, India and China have seen little growth in personal consumption but have dwarfed all others in population growth. There are very few who countries that have moved greatly in both consumption and population. And that’s probably a good thing.

Population Growth v Consumption Growth
Population Growth v Consumption Growth

If you check out the Future tab, you will also see that in less than twenty years we will all be having another slice of cake for the 8 billionth person in the world…

Credit for the work goes to Patterson Clark, Dan Keating, Grace Koerber and Bill Webster of the Washington Post.

Oh Great Gatsby

Income inequality basically means that the wealth of a country, in this case, is unevenly distributed with most of it falling in the hands of a very few people or families. Think the era of, as the title alludes to, Gatsby and the 1920s before the Crash.

Broadly speaking, a middle class requires a more dilute concentration of wealth, and as this graphic from the New York Times shows, we are seeing—Great Recession aside—the growing wealth of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the country. Look at, for example, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s when the highest income bracket had its marginal tax rate in the 70% range. The top 1% owned only about 10% of the wealth. Just before the subprime crisis hit, that number was just under 25%.

Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%
Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%

Riding the Rail to London?

Long time readers know by now that I advocate high-speed rail and similar transport infrastructure investment. The following screenshot was taken from a BBC News video about the Russian proposal to build an underground passenger/freight tunnel beneath the Bering Strait to connect eastern Siberia to Alaska.

Screenshot from the video explaining the plan
Screenshot from the video explaining the plan

The video is not an infographic, strictly speaking, but as a motion graphic it depicts the routes needed and compares the length of the proposed tunnel to that of the Chunnel, the tunnel beneath the English Channel. Back in August the Daily Mail also reported on the story and provided the following map showing how exactly the system would then link the Eastern Hemisphere to the Western Hemisphere.

Map of the Proposed Route
Map of the Proposed Route

Of course the big questions that remain are can Russia afford to build the tunnel, will the United States build the rails necessary to link it to the main US–Canadian rail network, and would anyone really use it?

European Debt Crisis Explained

The European debt crisis affects all of us. Shares fall on the exchanges in Frankfurt, Paris and London and then ripple westward to New York before finally reaching Hong Kong and Tokyo. But does anyone understand actually understand who owes whom what?

This interactive piece is yet another from the New York Times and is an online version of a print graphic that appeared in Sunday’s paper. Online, interactivity is used to focus attention on particular elements of the story, highlighting key components of the tangled debt web that anchors the whole piece. The width of the lines relate the difference between borrowers and lenders.

An Overview of the European Debt Crisis
An Overview of the European Debt Crisis

Hidden in the width of the arrows, however, is the gross lending. The lending may appear to cancel itself out, but the banks and other sources of the loans may not all be lending to each other, i.e., some big players could still take a hit if the crisis worsens.

The colours reflect the level of ‘worry’ in the country—though how worry is defined is left unstated.

Different parts of the story and potential scenarios are revealed by clicking buttons on the left-hand side of the piece. Elements of the large graphic that are not needed to tell that part of the story, though remaining pieces remain in place. This is an effective means of reminding the audience where they are situated in the overall web, but I wonder if not a slight shadow or faint trace of the web in the background could have been used instead of losing all the information entirely.

Overall, the interactive piece is quite effective in telling the story. But, because this was in the Sunday paper, the lazy afternoon paper, we also have a large-scale printed infographic that the interactive piece accompanied.

The Printed Explanation
The Printed Explanation

This has a lot more text—dreaded words—to further explain just what is happening. In my mind this adds to the story. For example, what I noted above about the net loans between two parties obscures the gross loans of both sides. This point is explicitly made about Britain and Ireland, which have enjoyed a very strong bilateral trade arrangement for a number of years. This context is added by a little text blurb crafted into the overall design of the piece.

Different scenarios are highlighted at the bottom with a reduction of the main piece creating small multiples of the diagram instead of how the interactive piece removed unnecessary elements. I think this is an equally effective means of solving that problem.

The New York Times created two separate but very much related pieces to explain a story that affects us all. The first media, the interactive piece, takes advantage of the ability to replace on the screen what is not necessary with what is necessary. Further, it allows some data that is not so relevant at first glance to be hidden. Mouse over the various lines and countries to reveal the data behind the problem for each. Do we need this information at first? No. Our first order is to try and work out the web we weaved. Well, that the bankers weaved.

That is very different than the print edition, which cannot be changed. All the content must be available at once. But, the data is made smaller because the print resolution is finer than that of a screen. Small text that might not be legible on a screen can be printed and read just fine. The printed edition also allows more space and thus more text for context. And this is okay knowing that the Sunday paper is likely to be read while relaxing with a fine cup of tea or coffee.

Credit for the piece goes to Bill Marsh.

The Northeast Passage

The Northeast Passage was supposed to be a shortcut to Asia from Europe through an open waterway in North America. Many tried to find the route. They failed. Because we have a mountain range running from the northernmost part of North America to the Isthmus of Darien where, perhaps desperate for the route, we dug the Panama Canal.

Climate change, however, is shrinking the Arctic ice cap and making the northern shores of Canada, Russia, the US and a few others navigable. True, the best times for travel are in summer. True, there are still icebergs the further from the coast you go. But you can now travel the Northeast Passage, sailing north from Japan, skirting the Russian coast and then down the North Sea into the commercial ports of northern Europe.

The New York Times has a piece about the improving business opportunities for those daring enough to ply the route. Accompanying the article is this map, a cropping of which appears below.

The Northeast Passage
The Northeast Passage