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Maps show racial divides in Greater Washington

Eric Fischer created amazing maps showing the racial and ethnic distribution of people in various American cities using data from the 2000 Census.

I've added jurisdiction boundaries, freeways, and Metrorail lines to put the DC region's map in context:

Each dot represents 25 people. Red = white, blue = black, green = Asian, orange = Hispanic. Metrorail lines are in brown, roads in gray.

In DC, the division between white and black neighborhoods seems to be fairly stark. Rock Creek Park appears to be the major feature separating the groups.

One can see an interesting feature near Columbia Heights, where largely-Hispanic Mount Pleasant appears as a bright orange splotch between the groups. Adams Morgan and the Dupont and Logan Circle areas are white areas that are east of Rock Creek Park. And Capitol Hill stands out in an otherwise black part of the city.

It would be very interesting to see these data over time. How have the racial settlement patterns changed over the last decade (since this snapshot was taken)? Did that shift play a role in some of the racial tensions noted in this year's DC mayoral election?

Dan Reed notes how Montgomery County is more integrated than DC or Prince George's, or even Fairfax:

For almost forty years, Montgomery County has expressed a commitment to racial and economic diversity through its government policies, notably its Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program, which provides subsidized housing for low-income households. This map provides some insight into how successful those efforts have been.

While the District has a fairly strong distinction between white and black neighborhoods, and most of Prince George's County appears to be solidly black, Montgomery County looks like a bowl of rainbow sprinkles. Even areas that have a reputation for housing one ethnic group—Hispanics in Wheaton, for instance—show a far finer-grained mix of people. Save for the Takoma-Langley Crossroads, where you can see a big blob of orange dots (for Hispanics), there are few obvious ethnic enclaves on the map.

Montgomery County neighborhoods, like downtown Silver Spring, appear to be far more integrated than those in the District or Prince George's County. Except for white enclaves, of course. The west half of the map—Bethesda, Rockville and Potomac—doesn't look at all integrated from first glance. Nonetheless, there's still some clustering of green dots (for Asians) along Darnestown Road in North Potomac.

Base map by Eric Fisher, overlays by Dan Reed.
Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Heís a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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Sweet maps pr0n!

by Fritz on Sep 21, 2010 1:21 pm • linkreport

IDK. Except for the area of PG between the P. river and the Orange line inside the beltway PG looks very "colorful". Frome the P. river to the orange outside the beltway PG is purple. I'd say PG is more colorful then MoCo, which has more mostly red areas then PG has mostly blue.

I guess Dan Reed is from MoCo so he wants his home county to look the best in comparison in terms of colorfulness, and that can skew perception/interpretation. Really we'd have to see numbers to know for certain.

by Tina Jones on Sep 21, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

but its a really cool map

by Tina Jones on Sep 21, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

Come on y'all. It's ye "Olde Towne" Gaithersburg.

by DCCT on Sep 21, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

This is 10 years old. I'd love to see how things have changed since then, given that the Green Line didn't exist as you depict it then.

I have to imagine that some things have changed dramatically -- white people in Columbia Heights and on Capitol Hill north of Mass Ave; the purported near-complete disappearance of Chinatown's Asian population and outward migration of hispanic DC residents.

(I also see you've painted over DC's mermaid population depicted on the original map. Still not sure how the dude hanging out on Hains Point got his census forms...)

by andrew on Sep 21, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

The Metro lines were only added for reference. They do not show the lines that existed at the time this snapshot was taken. The Largo extension was also not open at that time, nor was the Green Line south of Anacostia station.

by Matt Johnson on Sep 21, 2010 2:02 pm • linkreport

I have to echo andrew's point that the data are 10 years old. Much of the changes D.C. has experienced have happened since then. If anything, this is a map of what D.C. used to look like.

by Cactus Jack on Sep 21, 2010 2:05 pm • linkreport

The dots are probably assigned to the centroid of each census tract. Since DC's border is on the far side of the Potomac River, and since nobody actually lives on Hains Point, I'll bet several of the census tracts for SW DC include not only Hains Point but also a great deal of the water of the Potomac, hence the centroid for those areas appears in the middle of East Potomac Park.

by Alex B. on Sep 21, 2010 2:08 pm • linkreport


These are statistics from the 2008 American Community Survey, which you can find on the Census website:

Prince George's
23.4% White
63.8% Black
3.9% Asian
12.2% Hispanic or Latino (of any race)

61.3% White
16.1% Black
13.1% Asian
14.4% Hispanic or Latino (of any race)

67% White
9.4% Black
15.8% Asian
13.5% Hispanic or Latino (of any race)

While Montgomery and Fairfax cannot claim to have substantial black populations relative to Prince George's, it appears that they have a larger share of Asians and Hispanics.

I grew up in Montgomery County, but I lived in College Park for four years and I'm well aware of how diverse that city and surrounding areas are. I can tell you not just from looking at a map, but from experience, that the rest of Prince George's County is not like that - much as large parts of Montgomery and Fairfax aren't as well. This isn't about which county is better than another, but about the challenges we all face in integrating our communities.

by dan reed! on Sep 21, 2010 2:19 pm • linkreport

I've never been a fan of these "dot density" maps, as they have a tendency to allow false conclusions, such as:
* People live in the water, the park, etc.
* People are evenly distributed across an analysis zone

Additionally, in really densely populated areas, the dots can cover over one-another, allowing for yet more misinterpretation.

I think this data would be better presented as four separate maps, each illustrating the density of people from each racial group.

by Michael on Sep 21, 2010 2:35 pm • linkreport

Alex B: he explains it in one of his comments.

by Froggie on Sep 21, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

I believe that the Census puts out files that give the tabulation block's geographic centroid, population centroid, and one that corrects for geographic features such as bodies of water. Nonetheless, excellent work on Eric and Matt's part. Thanks for the effort.

For the denser areas, it may be worthwhile to produce separate maps with a sliding greyscale to demonstate racial/ethnic integration. I think that the Washington Post did something similar for the District following the release of the Census 2000 results.


by Geof Gee on Sep 21, 2010 2:48 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I will be very interested in seeing these maps updated in a tear or so. Side question: what will be released first, the 2010 Census or an ACS that can see down to the census tract level? Getting that on an annual basis will be a huge boon to these sort of projects.

Also, if you want to see segregated, check out the map for Detroit. Holy shit is all I can say.

by Reid on Sep 21, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

@Dan Reed. Ok. But the text that was quoted from you doesn't ask the question "how do we face the challenge of intergrating". In tone and phrasing it makes favorable comparisons of "rainbow sprinkling" in MoCo in contrast to PG and FFX, but to PG in particular.

If you didn't intend to write about it as a comparison with Moco the place getting the favorable comparison and instead intended an exploration of "why?" then for this reader it didn't work.

by Tina Jones on Sep 21, 2010 2:57 pm • linkreport

You guys want a bastion of multiculturalism, check out Portland:

It has probably gotten even worse as the African-American neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland have become more gentrified since 2000.

by Reza on Sep 21, 2010 3:00 pm • linkreport

One advantage of the dot density maps is that you can them compare city to city and get a sense of both the relative diversity as well as the relative density:

Compare, say, New York: someplace like Buffalo:

by Alex B. on Sep 21, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

This is a good map but i echo the comments about it being 10 years old - No big surprises - would like to see the 2010 data, also would be interesting to see the same map in 10 year increments dating back to 1900...

by DCS on Sep 21, 2010 3:40 pm • linkreport

Race baiting...

by asf42 on Sep 21, 2010 3:47 pm • linkreport

This is a great map, but it repeats the same error (IMO) of considering diversity only in terms of white/black/hispanic/asian: at least they add Asian. For example, what about foreign born/US born: the region is home to huge foreign born populations. On a regular day on the metro you can hear French, Spanish, Amharic, Arabic all being spoken. This area also has a large middle eastern and north african population: are they white, black or asian? If you also looked at religious diversity, there is a large jewish population in down county MoCo, which adds extra flavor to the mix.

by SJE on Sep 21, 2010 3:59 pm • linkreport


Those are all good points - to counter, I'd note that you are limited in what you can display by the data that you have.

For example, even this data is problematic, as race is not mutually exclusive. Hispanic can be of any race. But if you were making a map like this that wanted to show those other factors you mention, how would you display that and still give the overall sense of population density in different areas?

In short, I don't think this is an 'error' of the map at all, it is a limitation. All maps have limitations, and you can't ask a single map to tell you everything, either. Criticizing this map for presenting an incomplete picture of diversity is unfair, since the map does not claim to present that picture.

by Alex B. on Sep 21, 2010 4:12 pm • linkreport

Notice the diversity at Bolling Air Force Base.

by Eric Fidler on Sep 21, 2010 4:32 pm • linkreport

True story. I rode metro recently from College Park to Rosslyn. When I got in the car, I was the only white guy. When I got out, there was one black dude left. The big change happened between Gallery Place and Metro Center. I can't get used to this.

by Jasper on Sep 21, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

USC has done similar maps that are animated over time for California and Los Angeles in particular.

by Arturo on Sep 21, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

Can someone please tell me who lives on/at/by the Anacostia river, National Airport, Potomac Park, Metro Center and the Bureau of Engraving.

Where are Pacific Islanders or are they grouped with Black or Asian ?

What race is Hispanic ? Are we talking about Mestizo, Mulatto, Amerindians, Black in latin american country, Asian in latin american country or someone from Spain, Portugal, Romania, Morocco, or Andorra.

by kk on Sep 21, 2010 4:50 pm • linkreport

Romanians are Hispanic now?

by Marian Berry on Sep 21, 2010 5:15 pm • linkreport

Since this is based on census data, it would be interesting to see a complimentary map based on household income.

Also, how did he do this? If he's released his software, then we could do this ourselves with the new census data.

by Smoke_jaguar4 on Sep 21, 2010 5:24 pm • linkreport

Economic class. Would someone mention economic class.

by Boo on Sep 21, 2010 6:48 pm • linkreport

Interesting but who cares? Why is this important? Are we making assumptions based on race? I'd rather see a map based on income or education.

by adams morgan mama on Sep 21, 2010 7:34 pm • linkreport

Dramatic and ludicrous at the same time. This is based on old data and the effects are less dynamic when you enlarge the map. "Rock Creek Park appears to be..." Duh, that was taken as a given when I moved here (the 1st time) in 1990. Things have changed rapidly since then and it's not taken as a given. Even in those days, there were obvious exceptions--like most of the 16th St corridor (Mt P, Crestwood, Shepherd Park), Takoma DC, and Brookland; places that most white DCers knew nothing about.

by Rich on Sep 21, 2010 10:05 pm • linkreport

@ Marian Berry

It was a mistake I was thinking of Latin or Latino which be people from Spanish, Portuguese, French, Andorran, Italian, Romanian, Moroccan, or Algerian descent plus the Americas.

by kk on Sep 21, 2010 11:41 pm • linkreport

What's the point other than politics?

Whites at Shady Grove and Vienna are tending to vote with hispanics at Glenmont and blacks at Branch Avenue. Seems like we have consensus among races in the region politically speaking.

Govenment is the unifying factor on many levels.


by Kaleel on Sep 22, 2010 12:37 am • linkreport

This is phenomenal. Very informative.

by J on Sep 22, 2010 1:00 am • linkreport

The map looks pretty much interesting. But everyone would like to find out and see what it's been like after a decade.

by akasha73 on Sep 22, 2010 2:14 am • linkreport

@Jasper When I got in the car, I was the only white guy.

And I always thought you were a Dutch woman ...

by Lance on Sep 22, 2010 6:10 am • linkreport

Alex B: sorry to be "glass half empty." I was only trying to spur more maps and discussion. Too often we are satisfied with maps that fit preconcieved notions and narratives, and so policy discussions do not advance. For example, my immediate neighborhood is diverse in terms of the number of asians, mixed race households, national origins, languages spoken, etc. On the other hand, we have few African Americans and are overwhelmingly middle class. Are we diverse or not? What SORT of diversity works?

by SJE on Sep 22, 2010 12:45 pm • linkreport


I'd also note that exploring DC's racial geography isn't the direct reason for this map - the map maker has an entire series up for all sorts of American cities based on the same data set and same methodology. The comparisons between cities is particularly interesting.

by Alex B. on Sep 22, 2010 12:48 pm • linkreport

Maybe the divide isn't "Rock Creek Park", but rather 16th Street NW, which happens to be the eastern border of much of the park. That seems to be a pretty strong, if not quite universal, racial divider all the way down.

by Dave on Sep 22, 2010 5:26 pm • linkreport

I would love to see the delta with the 2010 census data.

by Gunbelt on Sep 22, 2010 8:56 pm • linkreport

Actually, the best thing about this map is that it actually counts people, and does not blindly fill certain areas with the majority value.

Matt, keep them coming.

by Jasper on Sep 23, 2010 10:07 am • linkreport

I know for a fact there are whites and Filipinos in Oxon Hill. :)

by Ed on Sep 25, 2010 9:04 pm • linkreport

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