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.

Every ten years, the U.S. government is supposed to count every living person in the country, then use that tally to establish fair representation in Congress and fairly disburse funding. This mandate to use empirical science to empower the people was set forth by the Constitution and first accomplished in 1790. It has been carried out every decade since.

But the 2020 Census marks several changes in the undertaking of this decadal democratic reset, sowing fears of an undercount. First, there is the distrust and confusion created by the Trump administration’s attempt to ask respondents about their immigration status. Although that move was ultimately blocked from the 2020 questionnaire by the Supreme Court, the threat of a probe could still keep immigrant communities from participating.

Then there is this sea change: For the first time in history, people will able to fill out the questionnaires online. While that could create a more convenient experience for many respondents and Census employees, it also presents a host of risks and challenges, from cyberattacks and scam artists to technical glitches and gaps in broadband access.

Share of households in New York City without broadband internet access. This map strictly shows households that lack at-home broadband, so it excludes households with cellular data plans for phones or tablets. (NYC Office of the Comptroller)

This week in CityLab, Kriston Capps reports on those many potential pitfalls and what communities are doing to avoid them (let’s hear it for libraries!):

[O]utreach is an enormous obstacle for the 2020 census, thanks to the deep divides in the ways that American reach and use the internet. In New York City, for example, more than 917,000 households lack access to broadband at home—29 percent of the city, per a July report on the census from the Office of the New York City Comptroller. This digital divide tracks neatly with existing borders that define marginalized populations, including race, class, and ethnicity.

[…] Public libraries are likely to be the front line in census outreach: That’s where many people who don’t have home access to the internet go to get online... In fact, librarians are already doing some heavy lifting for the 2020 count: They’re helping library users apply for and train for jobs with the Census Bureau, processes that have migrated online with this census.

The stakes of an undercount go far beyond a bureaucratic mess. It could result in underrepresentation in Congress for certain communities, or an under-delivery of critical funds. Read Capps’ full story here, and pair it with his earlier report about the communities that a shoddy Census could hurt (and help) the most.  

What vintage flight maps say about globalization

In so many ways, the 21st century experience of commercial air travel is a sad shadow of its glamorous past, from passenger attire, to in-flight food selection, to the airline route maps stuck in seat-back pockets. Once, air carriers treated those maps as alluring advertisements for the possibilities of world travel, as much as practical infographics. Last month, the authors of a new book about the history of these images, Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design, chatted with Benjamin Schneider for CityLab about what those maps reveal about the early days of our hyper-connected planet.

An abstract, watercolor-like 1960 Delta map boasts of the airline’s “big jets.” (Courtesy of Delta Flight Museum, Atlanta)

“There’s a wonderful American Airlines map with the signs of the zodiac going across the routes,” one author, Maxwell Roberts, told Schneider. “Air travel was completely new, so they were sort of looking for imagery showing how the world was being joined up, and they went for this old-fashioned cartographic imagery as a way to show that.”

Read the full story, and read this 2018 post by contemporary mapmaker Daniel P. Huffman about tackling the job of creating a new route map for an airline client. “Major airlines have a lot of connections, and drawing each possible route can lead to a tangled mass of impossible-to-follow lines,” he writes.

Mappy links

(Charles Booth Archive, courtesy of London School of Economics)

A new anthology takes a fresh look at Charles Booth’s 19th century maps of London poverty. (CityLab) ♦ Infrared mapping technology is helping California firefighters keep wildfires under control. (Wall Street Journal) ♦ And a flying hexagon is helping California researchers track underground water supplies. (San Luis Obispo Tribune) ♦ A “Beltway” map helped a newcomer navigate Pittsburgh’s formidable street grid. (CityLab) ♦ You knew this was coming: “The Creators Of Pokémon Go Mapped The World. Now They're Mapping You.” (Kotaku)

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up for this newsletter here. And share it with your friends.

Song to get lost to:

Maybe he's caught in the legend / Maybe he's caught in the mood
Maybe these maps and legends / Have been misunderstood

Over and out,

Laura Bliss

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Perspective

    In a Pandemic, We're All 'Transit Dependent'

    Now more than ever, public transportation is not just about ridership. Buses, trains, and subways make urban civilization possible.

  2. Coronavirus

    The Post-Pandemic Urban Future Is Already Here

    The coronavirus crisis stands to dramatically reshape cities around the world. But the biggest revolutions in urban space may have begun before the pandemic.

  3. photo: San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency employees turn an empty cable car in San Francisco on March 4.

    As Coronavirus Quiets Streets, Some Cities Speed Road and Transit Fixes

    With cities in lockdown and workplaces closed, the big drop in traffic and transit riders allows road repair and construction projects to rush forward.

  4. A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past a boarded up building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.

    The Geography of Coronavirus

    What do we know so far about the types of places that are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19? In the U.S., density is just the beginning of the story.

  5. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.