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Visualizing Manhattan’s wealth gap with GIS and 3-D mapping

Although we know that our cities are often becoming more unequal, it is hard to visualize disparities of income and other measures without the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). An innovative type of GIS involves the use of 3-dimensional images to emphasize difference — in this case, median household net worth. Web researcher and artist Nickolay Lamm built a 3D map of Manhattan that visualizes the island’s income inequality with building height. Lamm used demographic data taken from the 2010 census and made available on the Esri website to show huge, cash-colored stacks superimposed on such tony neighborhoods as Tribeca, Soho, Gramercy Park and Battery Park City. Check out the contrasting views from Central Park looking south toward midtown and north toward Harlem:

  • East of Fifth Avenue, mammoth columns also tower over Central Park, representing sections of the Upper East Side where the median household net worth exceeds $500,000. 
  • But to the north, Harlem is shown as a virtual plain of poverty, with the low-lying landscape revealing households where the median net worth doesn’t top $15,000 — with many unable to scratch even $10,000.

"Everybody knows that some areas are more well-off than others, but this just puts it in a more clear way than anything else I’ve ever seen," Lamm said of his project. From The New York Post (8/22/13). For more on urban and regional issues, see Urban Geographies: Cities of People, Places, and Projects.

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