Troubling inequities are revealed when you look at the country by total property values.

Cartograms are fun tools for swapping out land area for some other variable. For certain figures, especially data that swing wildly at one of the end of the spectrum or another, cartograms are ideal. They’re great at showing systems that are out of balance—and nothing’s more out of whack than New York housing values.

Max Galka, founder of Metrocosm, has posted a series of cartograms over the past few weeks to illustrate just how messed up the city is. As Galka notes, New York City’s 305 square miles make up 8/1000ths of 1 percent of the land area of the United States. Yet New York City accounts for 5 percent of the nation’s housing value—more than every single state but four (one of which is, of course, New York state).

Metrocosm’s June cartograms include one that compares the property value of NYC neighborhoods with various U.S. states. The total value of all the residential property in Kentucky ($300 billion) falls just short of the value of all the housing property in Queens ($317 billion). The housing value of the Upper East Side all by itself is greater than that of six states.

Where it gets really interesting is at the county level.

(Max Galka/Metrocosm)

This cartogram, which compares property values between counties across the continental United States, looks like bad news from a gastroenterologist. What this in fact shows is that just a handful of counties account for the vast majority of property values in the U.S. The distortion is so severe that it doesn’t look like a map of the U.S. at all.

To make this function even clearer, Galka created an animated GIF, which toggles between the map of land area that we know and love and the map of residential property values that looks like irritable bowel syndrome:

(Max Galka/Metrocosm)

The value of housing for most counties in the U.S. is marginal compared to elite counties on the East and West Coasts, Texas, Florida, plus some scattered counties coextensive with major cities or metro areas.

Maybe that’s no surprise, exactly. But the severity of the gap between counties where housing costs so little and those where housing costs everything is worrying. This gap has implications for the whole country. The stubborn unwillingness of incumbent homeowners in highly productive places—namely San Francisco and New York City, which are barely visible on the land-area map, but dominate the housing value map—is a huge drain on the nation’s economy.

Folks who can’t afford to live in those places don’t get to take advantage of those labor markets. The demand to live in these places is soaring, but the desire among incumbents to accommodate newcomers is low. Hence NIMBYism, high housing costs, severe inequality—the whole shebang.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  2. Equity

    The Problem With Research on Racial Bias and Police Shootings

    Despite new research on police brutality, we still have no idea whether violence toward African Americans is fueled by racial prejudice. That has consequences.

  3. Four New York City police officers arresting a man.
    Equity

    The Price of Defunding the Police

    A new report fleshes out the controversial demand to cut police department budgets and reallocate those funds into healthcare, housing, jobs, and schools. Will that make communities of color safer?

  4. A photo of a new car dealership
    Transportation

    If the Economy Is So Great, Why Are Car Loan Defaults at a Record High?

    For low-income buyers, new predatory lending techniques may make it easier to get behind the wheel, and harder to escape a debt trap.

  5. photo: an open-plan office
    Life

    Even the Pandemic Can’t Kill the Open-Plan Office

    Even before coronavirus, many workers hated the open-plan office. Now that shared work spaces are a public health risk, employers are rethinking office design.

×