A Weird New Map of California

by Jeff Camp | April 25, 2016 | 0 Comments
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Election coverage has me thinking about maps and how they are used to report data. There are some real problems with them. Maps can get in the way of understanding, because they are fundamentally about showing places, not about people.

Below is a case in point. It's a fairly traditional map of California's 58 counties, color-coded by population density. Densely populated counties like Los Angeles and San Francisco are shown in red. Sparsely populated ones like Inyo county are shown in green. (All maps in this post are courtesy of maps4office.com.)


This map identifies counties with high population density, which is helpful if your main interest is in land use. But if your true focus is on people, and you are trying to get a sense of where the people in California live, this map leaves a lot unanswered.

A New View of California

What if we "stretch" the map to show the "human" geography of the 58 counties? This approach, known as an "anamorphic" map or cartogram, varies the size of parts of the image to communicate information about them. In the map below, the size of each county has been adjusted to represent the number of people living in it.


This is an unfamiliar view, and at first it can be hard even to recognize it as California. Most of the people in California - including its students and teachers - live clustered in the high-density counties along the coast and the San Francisco Bay. In this map, the relatively tiny, densely-populated counties swell like big, red balloons, overshadowing the sparse rural counties that dominate a traditional map.

Stretch Your Mind

To help connect the two views, the animation below "morphs" from one view of the map to the other. The animated view really helps bring the data to life. Viewed this way, the big counties are small. The small counties are big.

California Counties Animorphic Map

Do you have a different way of thinking about education? Drop me a note at jeff@ed100.org

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