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Mapping “hard to count” areas for 2010 Census

UPDATED 8/21/09: Newsday (Long Island’s daily newspaper) reproduced an island-wide version of one of our maps in their article today (though the map only appeared in the print version of the paper).

People are gearing up across the US for the 2010 Census — not just the Census Bureau, of course, but organizations large and small who are planning myriad outreach efforts to boost participation, especially in typically “undercounted” communities.

It’s important in so many ways for everyone to be counted, but historically not everyone is (and not just because of statistical anomalies or poor street address data).  For various reasons, key constituencies are not fully counted — people of color, renters, recent immigrants, people predominantly speaking languages other than English, etc.  There’s a special effort underway – supported by major foundations, local governments, and spearheaded by advocacy and civil rights groups – to make sure the Census Bureau doesn’t miss these “hard to count” groups.

Our teamat the Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center is doing its part by mapping the “hard to count” (HTC) population in more than two dozen metropolitan areas nationwide, with the support of the Hagedorn Foundation.  We’ll also be developing an online, interactive mapping application for funders, outreach groups, local officials, the media, and others to easily zoom in on their metro region and create custom maps to help focus their efforts.

Where are the hard-to-count communities?  The Census Bureau analyzed 2000 Census data to:

measure census coverage and to identify reasons people are missed in the census (de la Puente, 1993). The variables include housing indicators (percent renters, multi-units, crowded housing, lack of telephones, vacancy) and person indicators (poverty, not high school graduate, unemployed, complex households, mobility, language isolation).

From this, the Bureau calculated an HTC score for each tract in the nation (on a scale of 0 to 125).  They estimate that any tract with a score of 60 or higher will be at the greatest risk of undercount in 2010.  Our metro maps for the 2010 outreach campaign highlight the concentrations of HTC tracts, as well as the 2000 Census response rate by tract.  Here are two examples, for Chicago and New York City:



Foundations are using these maps to help guide their grantmaking, and local groups are using the maps to target their outreach.  As an example, this month several Long Island-based foundations issued an RFPfor grants to local groups doing Census outreach.  The Hagedorn Foundation asked us to create a special set of Long Island maps to supplement the RFP – you can view the PDFs here and here(see below for a sample – these mapped the HTC scores relative to all tracts in Nassau, so some tracts with scores less than 60 — but still harder to count than others in the county — are shaded as hard to count).


Next step for us is to transform these printed maps into a nationwide online mapping website.  The site will enable people to: 

  1. Zoom to their neighborhood, county, city, or state to see the mapped patterns of hard-to-count Census tracts;
  2. Click on individual Census tracts to display detailed information about each one;
  3. Add other layers of Census demographics, 2000 Census response rates, related data from the 2005-07 American Community Survey, and recent foreclosure risks circa 2007-08 so people can see the interrelationships among multiple variables; and
  4. Display state- and local-level resources such as funding opportunities, regional Census contacts, contact info for groups participating in Census outreach, etc.  

We’ve been reviewing other projects that are similar so we don’t duplicate efforts.  These include:

A key question for us is which basemap do we use?  We’ll be serving the tract-level geography and attributes (probably as cached tiles) from our servers using ArcGIS Server on the backend, OpenLayers and ExtJS on the front end — a combination that has served us well (see here and here).  Likely we’ll use Google Maps (and/or their Hybrid or Terrain views) for the underlying street/reference geography.  But perhaps OpenStreetMap would be a better choice?  Or Bing Maps?  Advice from the GeoWeb community would be appreciated.

Timing? We’re shooting for a beta site in late September, seeking feedback from partner groups in the fall, and a production-level site by the end of the year.

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