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New digital map details shifting demographics in United States

"People don't realize that the United States is a diverse country but at the same time is still very segregated," said geographer Tomasz Stepinski.

By Brooks Hays
New digital map details shifting demographics in United States
The maps show racial diversity in the Chicago area in 1990, 2000, and 2010. Photo by Dmowska/Stepinski/Netzel/PLOS ONE

April 21 (UPI) -- University of Cincinnati geographer Tomasz Stepinski has combined NASA maps and U.S. Census data to create a zoomable, interactive illustration of America's changing racial diversity.

Stepinski used 20 years of U.S. Census data to plot demographic changes neighborhood by neighborhood.

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The end product, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, is one of the most detailed racial-diversity maps created.

"People don't realize that the United States is a diverse country but at the same time is still very segregated," Stepinski said in a news release.

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The mapping process was cumbersome and took several years to complete, but Stepinksi and his postdoctoral researcher, Anna Dmowska, believe the work will make important data more accessible to both laypersons and other scientists.

"The maps can tell us much more about racial composition and can be used by everyone," Dmowska said. "They don't require expert knowledge to understand the results, so I think maps can be used by a broader community."

By plotting the census data onto a more precise grid system derived from NASA satellite maps, the researchers were able to improve upon the precision of previous demographic visualization attempts.

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The new maps could be overlaid with maps of grocery stores, bus routes or medical facilities to identify food deserts and neighborhoods under-served by government services.

The maps can help tell stories of transforming cities, said Jeffrey Timberlake, an associate professor of sociology at Cincinnati. Timberlake's research focuses on urban inequality and residential segregation.

"If you put the population geography together with an understanding of the social meaning of that road," Timberlake said, "you can tell a pretty powerful story about what segregation means."

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