About the Project
About the Method
About the Sports Project

Story of CommonCensus
About the Creator

For more information, check the FAQ.


About the Project

The CommonCensus Map Project is a new, unique initiative to create the first map of the US that shows where people actually believe themselves to live. Up until now, maps have always been drawn with state, county and city borders determined by select politicians. What if you could see the borders that the people living within them would draw? Such a map is possible.

By combining the votes from people all over the country, the CommonCensus Map Project is showing how the country is really organized. People vote about which city they belong to, what they consider to be their local area, and which major city most influences their area, as well as what areas they most identify with personally. After the results are tallied, a series of maps are produced to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the exact shape of every town and city (or urban neighborhood)? How far do its borders extend? How does this differ from the shapes drawn by the state?
  2. What are the natural groupings of towns and cities? Do they coincide with counties, or do they differ greatly? Are they larger or smaller? How do they compare with congressional districts?
  3. On a national level, where do people place themselves? What are the true shapes of American metropolitan areas? Do the groupings coincide with the states, or bear little resemblance? (Initial versions of this map are already available.)
  4. What geographic areas to people most identify with personally? Are they countries, regions, states or cities? What are the shapes and strengths of those influences?

This project seeks to contribute to the debate over the degree of representation offered by our political structures, to be a vital source of information in the controversy over congressional redistricting, and to educate Americans as to the true shape of the makeup of their own country.


About the Method

The survey asks people to identify four things:

  1. What they consider to be their 'local community'. This could be a town, city, or even neighborhood of a large city.
  2. What they consider to be their 'local area', either through a name for the area, or the name of the area's central community.
  3. On a continental level, the major city that influences their area the most, and the strength of that influence.
  4. On a global level, the three ranked areas that they personally identify with most (only one answer is necessary).

Then, using the data from questions 1 through 3, maps are drawn that divide the country into colored regions according to each community, local area, and major city. The algorithm used to draw the maps is quite simple: for each pixel on the map, the closest x contributions are gathered, and the choice of each contribution counts as a vote. Whichever community / local area / major city wins the vote, determines what color the pixel is drawn in. The number x serves to smooth the borders and avoid splotchy areas of disagreement. A value of 1 would show everybody's individual vote, while a larger value calculates a consensus among nearby votes. The currently national map uses a value of 50. Note that a weighting algorithm is also used, which means that if several nearby votes disagree with many faraway votes, then the nearby votes take precedence. For some of the maps (specifically the sports maps and neighborhood maps), areas are left uncolored if the overall weight of the winning vote doesn't reach a predetermined threshold. Maps from question 4 will be produced in the future.


About the Sports Project

The CommonCensus Sports Map Project is an offshoot project that tracks sports fans across the US. It uses a similar method to the main project, but only asks people to state the teams they support in the NFL, in MLB, in the NBA, in the NHL, and in NCAAF I-A. A national map is produced for each organization, and colored using the same algorithm as the main project. It will be interesting to see to what extent the influence of sports teams coincides with the influence of their cities. Please note that CommonCensus is in no way affiliated with, connected to or endorsed by any of the sports leagues or teams. It is a completely independent project.


Story of CommonCensus

The CommonCensus Map Project has its beginnings in 2005 in an all-you-can-eat meat barbecue in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Its creator, Michael Baldwin, was at lunch, bemoaning the battle over Iraq's constitution, the territorial problems in India and China, and the mess over Congressional redistricting. In the 21st century, it remained impossible to even identify the exact extent of Upstate New York. However, rather than let the problems of the world ruin a perfectly good meal, Michael decided to tackle the problem himself. With a political science degree to his credit, he decided to use the common sense approach and simply ask everybody where they lived. He'd tally up the results and draw the first map with borders decided by the people within them, and not by a select group of politicians. Six months later he then actually sat down and did it. His mother came up with the name (all those hours of filling in crossword puzzles paid off) and the CommonCensus website was born two weeks later on September 22.


About the Creator

Michael Baldwin grew up in Clinton, NY, home of Hamilton College. He received a Bachelor's in Political Science from Yale University. He currently resides in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 
 

This website and all its contents copyright © 2005 Michael Baldwin

Map images are also covered by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License — please share!