A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.

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


Shades of the past

The voting blocs that propelled Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency in the 2016 election are often described in regional terms: urban versus rural, north versus south, Rust Belts, Sun Belt, Corn Belt. But the geographic fissures spewing up the political present may go much deeper.

In an op-ed for the New York Times this week, and in his 2011 book American Nations, the journalist and author Colin Woodard identifies and maps 11 “rival” regions of the United States. These regions trace back to the European colonial projects that originally settled the land, Woodard argues, and their distinct, founding cultural values continue to inform our political reality today.

(Colin Woodard/Tufts University)

Take the Dutch-founded “New Netherland,” with its emphasis on tolerance and materialism—that’s where modern-day New York City lies. Or take the slave lords of English Barbados who settled the “Deep South” as a West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes in the Times, in which “democracy was for a privileged few.” Politicians there continue to push back on taxes for the wealthy and federal protections on the environment and labor.

In Woodard’s terms, Donald Trump’s upset victory in 2016 was helped by flipping many rural counties in the “Yankeedom” and “Left Coast” regions. He may have done this in part by playing on centuries-old communitarian impulses in both regions, with his campaign promises of replacing the Affordable Care Act, reviving manufacturing, and passing a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

“Those were the most communitarian promises of any Republican candidate since Nixon or Eisenhower,” Woodard told me in a phone interview this week. Whether the same counties will vote red again in 2018 is a toss-up; Trump has broken many of those community-minded pledges as he throttles through his term.

To create the map, Woodard adopted the cultural geographer Wilbur Zelinksy’s conceit that whoever sets up a successful society will have an outsize cultural influence on its future. To outline the regions precisely at the county level, he looked back into town genealogies, church logs, slave ownership rates, endemic architectural and design styles, and numerous other archival resources to decide how communities knitted together in the past.

Clearly, geography is just one demographic factor that plays into a person’s politics—race, gender, and class are three more critical vectors. But there does appear to be a strong fidelity between old settlement patterns and contemporary regional politics. Looking at this map, Woodard said, “it continues to amaze me how long the hangover of cultural assumptions is.”

More political mapping by the New York Times: Results for the 2016 presidential election, mapped at the precinct level. And here’s an excellent Twitter thread by an L.A. Times mapmaker criticizing that project: “They lied by not factoring in density.”


Beautiful logic

Do the streets in your city run on a grid, loyal to the cardinal directions? Or do they spiral and curve in all directions? Geoff Boeing, a postdoc in urban planning at the University of California, Berkeley, has developed a tool that visualizes in circular charts the percentage of streets that run along each section of a compass in any given city. That ratio is what Boeing considers to be a city’s underlying “logic.”

(Geoff Boeing)

“One of my main goals is to empower other people without a Ph.D in city planning or a strong background in computer science to explore their own cities and discover their own patterns and relationships,” Boeing told CityLab’s David Montgomery.

Crack your local code here.


Mappy links

The brighter the shade, the more recently the West Virginia mountaintop was removed. (Skytruth)

More on “New Amsterdam”: A spite-filled history of how Manhattan got its grid. ♦ Is the U.S. leaning left or right? Depends on which map you prefer. ♦ Gerrymandering risks suppressing U.S. voters, but you know what really does? Threats to the 2020 census. ♦ Thanks to climate change: maps of the wildfires burning California from end to end. ♦ Layer by layer: 30 years of mountaintop removal, mapped. ♦ Talk about fraught cultural geography: People are discussing renaming Austin, Texas. ♦  Match me with onion rings: A new Google Maps restaurant feature is a bit like Tinder.


What do you find fascinating about political geography? Let me know. Then forward MapLab to a friend. They can sign up here.

August, ahoy!

Laura

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    A History of the American Public Library

    A visual exploration of how a critical piece of social infrastructure came to be.

  2. Equity

    Berlin Builds an Arsenal of Ideas to Stage a Housing Revolution

    The proposals might seem radical—from banning huge corporate landlords to freezing rents for five years—but polls show the public is ready for something dramatic.

  3. Multicolored maps of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Tampa, denoting neighborhood fragmentation
    Equity

    Urban Neighborhoods, Once Distinct by Race and Class, Are Blurring

    Yet in cities, affluent white neighborhoods and high-poverty black ones are outliers, resisting the fragmentation shown with other types of neighborhoods.

  4. a photo of a used needle in a park in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
    Equity

    Why the Rural Opioid Crisis Is Different From the Urban One

    As deaths from heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids soar in the U.S., a new study looks at the geographic factors driving the drug overdose epidemic.

  5. A photo of a design maquette for the Obama Presidential Center planned for Jackson Park and designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
    Design

    Why the Case Against the Obama Presidential Center Is So Important

    A judge has ruled that a lawsuit brought by Chicago preservationists can proceed, dealing a blow to Barack Obama's plans to build his library in Jackson Park.