A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.

Welcome to the second edition of MapLab. Sign up to receive this newsletter in your inbox here.

Compass points: Gratitude for data, dude

Last week, Google Maps released its annual travel forecasts for the long Thanksgiving weekend, featuring an interactive tool that spits out optimal travel times, and a display of the most hellacious times to travel to dinner and back for 25 U.S. cities, compared to their normal congestion levels. That chart (shown below) looks like a series of sound waves: Behold the steady drumroll throughout Wednesday as families hit the road, crescendoing late that evening, with a subtle reprise on Thursday night.

Google also mapped the most unique location searches during Thanksgiving week, for all 50 states. Apparently, Mainers stand out in their yearning for a “bar” during the holiday. Don’t we all?

They’re fun and handy, but these tools are also a reminder of my uneasy dependence on Google for all kinds of information—and vice versa, since the company’s traffic stats are largely generated by me and millions of other Maps users. Google sometimes behaves like a public utility, but where do you draw the line between useful and intrusive? The company sells location data to advertisers, and it “follows” some Android users even when they’re led to think otherwise. Thanksgiving is like a firehose for data-lovers, but much like the food on your plate, it’s good to ponder where it comes from.

What do you think about Google’s holiday maps? Drop me a note.

Orient yourself: Tax plan

April 15 will be even further from a holiday than it already is for many Americans, if the Republican tax package up for a vote in the Senate this week comes to pass. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows how, with its interactive maps of the state-level effects of both the House and Senate plans. Corporations and high earners would write smaller checks to Uncle Sam under both versions of the bill, but most low- and many middle-income residents of the priciest and most populous states would suffer.

In fact, thanks largely to Republicans’ efforts to dramatically cut back deductions for state and local tax payments, residents of California, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland would see such large increases that overall personal income tax payments in those places would rise by about $17 billion, according to one estimate. What’s more, those jacked-up returns would effectively subsidize hefty tax cuts on their way to other states. The same calculation shows that the House bill, which passed earlier this month, would cut federal personal income tax collections by roughly $85 billion in 2027. More than one third of those savings would flow to just two states: Florida and Texas.

But middle-class families in Texas and Florida aren’t in for nearly as significant a savings as the president might like them to believe, partly because those states have some of the highest rates of medically uninsured residents. The House bill would eliminate the deduction for high, out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. President Trump has promised a tax cut for “everyone,” but as with so much in life, geography is destiny.

Mappy links

A Soviet map of London. (Courtesy of John Davies/The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World)

Let your mind wander: the Medieval Fantasy City Generator spits out an infinite array of lofty turrets, walled streets, and winding waterways. ♦ Keep digging: Scientists have been mapping the earth’s geologic strata for a long time, and there’s still a lot they don’t know. ♦ The Soviet military secretly mapped the entire world in chilling detail. Even Scranton! ♦ The Cold War is over, but we’re still being spied on: Read this Quartz investigation of how Google uses cell towers to gather the locations of Android owners, even when location services are off. ♦ Speaking of the Googz, the most-used map in the world is getting a subtle redesign. ♦ GIS is the new code? Demand for geospatial expertise is “projected to grow nearly 30 percent by 2024,” reports Wired.

Startographer of the week


We received many pieces of kind feedback to the first edition of MapLab. (Thanks, guys. We’re excited, too!) One of our favorites came from a reader named Keely Galgano. “If you have a soft spot for this episode of [The] West Wing,” she tweeted, “You might also want to subscribe to this newsletter.”

It’s a tertiary plot line, but in that episode, a special interest group called “Cartographers for Social Equality” visits the White House to explain why the Mercator projection desperately needs reform. One of the most common global map projections, the Mercator has “fostered European imperialist attitudes for centuries” by over-representing the size of Western nations, explains one of the cartographers. As a replacement for geography textbooks, the group pitches a projection with more accurate proportions—and which flips the hemispheres upside down.

“What the hell is that?” says a totally disoriented C.J. Cregg, the White House chief of staff, when the new map is unveiled. Replies the other cartographer, in a delightfully koanic mode: “It’s where you’ve been living this whole time.”

Tips, questions, long-lost treasure maps? Cast your bottles to lbliss@citylab.com. Want MapLab in your inbox? Sign up here.

Cadastraly yours—


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