Certain geographic regions of the U.S. are prone to racial divides, while some celebrate diversity - this shouldn't come as a surprise. But new maps created by University of Cincinnati researchers are rather interesting visuals that show just how stark the contrast is between diverse and non-diverse regions. The result? Images of the U.S. that are some parts art speckled with a skilled paint brush and some parts splotches of poorly blended color.

The maps use data collected from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses modeled into demographic maps by Columbia University's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). Applying a method called dasymetric modeling, which shows natural distributions of populations within areas, map developers heightened the resolution of the SEDAC grids to identify population diversity with even greater accuracy over the entire country.

Anyone can access these two maps to observe diversity and population density. One is DataEye, which shows not just diversity and density, but also geographical formations, ecosystems and changes in land cover composition. The other is SocScape, which only shows population density and racial diversity, but is positioned atop Google Maps, giving the viewer the ability to find familiar locations and see what amounts of diversity those locations offer.

This is a research first. Never before has such a large map been created with this technique and then offered to the public, free of charge, says Dr. Tomasz Stepinski, Thomas Jefferson Chair Professor of Space Exploration at UC, and one of two lead researchers and map developers on the project.

"To make a dasymetric map for the entire country requires skills and equipment for handling "big data". There are very few people interested in demography who possess such skills and proper computation resources," Stepinski said in an email. Previous maps were of smaller regions or were simply inaccessible to the public, primarily used for government purposes.

Stepinski believed such a map needed to be available to the public, not only because it would be an interesting visual tool, but also because of its practical use in real estate.

"When people buy houses they have available to them a lot of information about prices, school districts, etc. ...Information they don't have is racial diversity (or lack of it) in a neighborhood," Stepinski explained.

SocScape, with its Google map background, offers this knowledge to potential buyers and renters immediately. Moving across the country to a brand new neighborhood? Hoping to expose your kids to cultural diversity? Use this map to scope out the area even before you get there.

Map developer Anna Dmowska, a postdoctoral fellow for UC's Space Informatics Lab, collaborated with Stepinski to create this high-resolution map. The map is grid-based and represents 33 categories of racial diversity, such as "white-dominated, low racial diversity," "black dominated, medium diversity," or "high diversity."

Some areas of the map, after zooming in to make sense of the colorful array, look like puzzles with monochromatic pieces. One such region is the area around 8 Mile Road in Detroit. The image is a jarring slate of green, with boundaries between black-dominated, low-income areas and white-dominated, wealthier neighborhoods that are so delineated they seem drawn.

Other areas show a more mixed representation of ethnicities, but some of these places weren't always so colorful. One of the most interesting and useful aspects of the SocScape map is a "retrofit" option that shows how diversity shifted between 1990 and 2000. Check out San Francisco, Houston and Chicago, displayed on this poster as well, to understand why spatially mapped racial dynamics is so fascinating. Racial dynamics is a difficult thing to perceive in real-time, over large spans of area, but offers important information about the locale. Stepinski says that while demographers have mastered statistics, they have yet to fully apply the potential of spatial analysis to the study, making the SocScape and DataEye maps particularly unique and useful.

However, you can also get some insight from simply studying the single-year, 2000 SocScape and DataEye maps.

"For example," said Stepinski, "U.S. is still a very segregated society. High diversity places, indicated on the map by gray color, are very rare. [An] overwhelming number of people live in places which have low diversity or medium diversity." But this is changing, he adds. Some areas - the South, for example - show an increasing amount of diversity that goes hand-in-hand with population growth. Stepinski, once a planetary geomorphologist at NASA, says being able to observe these spatial changes in population diversity is one of the most fascinating outcomes of his project.

The application of the map as a tool for planning and management decisions as well as an academic study tool is outlined in Stepinski and Dmowska's paper published in Applied Geography. They are hoping to develop other maps in the future, maps that exhibit different population divides, such as income or age.

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