Civic Hacking and Infographic Maps

libraries map

June 1st-2nd was National Day of Civic Hacking. Hacking is one of those words that instantly makes some people think of teenagers programming in their parents basement, trying to break into personal information because they’re bored. Those people have seen too many movies.

Th earliest print mention of the word hack, given this usage, was from the MIT student newspaper, The Tech in 1963:

The hackers have accomplished such things as tying up all the tie-lines between Harvard and MIT, or making long-distance calls by charging them to a local radar installation.

But the person credited with the first usage of the word is mathematician John Nash who began teaching at MIT in the early 50s. Today the word has been expanded to also mean pranks at MIT, such as placing a police car on the great dome.

But I digress. There is a short essay  by Edelman, the sponsor of the event, on the Civic Hacking event site that aims to explain away this outdated notion of what hacking entails.

Civic hacking brings together people who have never met but share complementary skills. These people collaborate – they use creative thinking, publicly available data from places like the U.S. Census Bureau and their skills to seek and educate the public and build solutions to social issues.

Many projects came out of the two day event, and part of that was a series of maps, many interactive, using public demographics to illustrate the differences in wealth, gender, education, etc. throughout our country. On the more positive side, there are also a couple maps that showed the proliferation of libraries and museums throughout North America.

The opening map in this post represents the public libraries across the country derived from data collected by Institute of Museum and Library Services. The creator, Justin Grimes, used additional data from the IMLS to develop a map of museums in the U.S. While we bemoan the lack of culture in our society, it isn’t due to lack of opportunity. Libraries alone are available to 96.4% of the population.

There are more public libraries (about 17,000) in America than outposts of the burger mega-chain (McDonald’s – about 14,000). The same is true of Starbucks (about 11,000 coffee shops nationally).

As Grimes notes in the article, you could erase the borders of the country and still be able to easily discern the shape of the U.S.

Grimes wasn’t the only creator of maps during the event. Calvin Metcalf, Kyle Box and Laura Evans using the latest five-year American Community Survey estimates provided by the Census Bureau to create a series of maps . Their maps illustrate the regional differences within our vast country.

Median income is one reference point:

median income

 Complemented by a map of women’s income as compared to a $100 base of men’s salary. What with being a woman, this statistic did interest me, though not surprise:

women income per $100 men

 While the answers to the questions these maps pose are not easy to solve, the efforts of these people, who gave their time, intelligence and skills to creating societally beneficial work, teaches us about our country and that hackers are not the movie villains many consider them to be.

You can see see more of the above maps, with some interactive capabilities on the teams website.

- via The Atlantic

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