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What Maps Can Hide

What Maps Can Hide The Atlantic


Infographics showing the 50 states can be informative, but social change comes from using the right tools and looking at smaller communities.

Some of the most effective uses of mapping tools are not these viral maps. Instead, recognizing how much place matters, they home in on communities and neighborhoods, seeking to better understand the many factors contributing to entrenched social problems.

Recent research out of the Kirwan Institute at the Ohio State University has sparked several such local mapping initiatives. In Richmond, Virginia, for example, the Office of Community Wealth Building has been working to map which neighborhoods in the city best position their residents for future success. As the Washington Post’s Tina Griego described the initiative, “The basic idea is to look at how where one lives—one’s ecosystem—impacts access to transportation, education, health, credit, and wealth, all indicators of mainstream economic success and physical well-being.”

This visual analysis did not uncover previously unknown truths about Richmond. (Though it is jarring to see how the outlines of poverty in that city today echo the boundaries created by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation’s redlining in the 1950’s.) But by bringing together important local data at an unprecedented level of specificity, the project was able to spotlight where efforts must be directed, and begin to illuminate potential solutions.

Stashed in: Infographics!, Your argument is invalid., Maps!, Charts!, Virginia, Maps

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Using biased maps for persuasion is just a variation on using statistics to sway an argument. 

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