How to Lie with Maps

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The following maps are generated from the same data but were altered in style (purposely) to portray Connecticut school district-level racial data in two very different ways. I sought out to create one map depicting sharp racial divisions between districts in contrast to another map illustrating widespread racial diversity among Hartford school districts. Google Fusion Tables were used to create each map pictured below by merging racial composition of Hartford-area school districts data with Connecticut town boundaries information. After formulating identical maps with Google’s assistance, I was then able to alter the viewing settings (or “map styles”) for each map to achieve my desired outcome as previously stated above.

Sharp racial division

To communicate sharp racial division, I selected the “buckets” option in the map styles menu to limit the appearance of widespread racial diversity. Specifically, I limited this map to represent only two “buckets,” or categories, of racial diversity. This narrow focus gives off the illusion that not only is there a stark contrast in racial composition between districts, but more specifically that racial minorities are highly concentrated in a cluster of districts central to Hartford.

Altering "buckets"







To represent widespread racial diversity, I followed a similar selection process as detailed above. I chose a multi-faceted gradient map that would give off the effect that racial composition in Hartford school districts is more evenly spread throughout. A total of six gradients allows for the reader to see a softer blend of colors among the school districts thereby representing widespread racial diversity.

Widespread racial diversity





Altering gradients







It is no surprise then that each map above contains the same information represented in an entirely different format, however, would this still be the case if I did not detail my “creative” process?

How to Lie with Statistics

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To create the following two graphs, I first extracted data from the “Actual and Legal Progress toward Sheff I Goal, 2003-2007″ chart featured as Figure 5.1 in Dougherty’s Sheff v. O’Neill: Weak Desegration Remedies and Strong Disincentives in Connecticut, 1996-2008. In an excel spreadsheet, I entered years into Row A and the corresponding progress percentages into Row B. I then highlighted the data, accessed sub menus at the top of the excel menu bar, and selected a line graph. To skew perspectives of progression, I altered the scale of each graph by adjusting the axis limits to portray extremes.

The first graph, pictured to the right, denotes a drastic positive change in over just a few short years. To achieve this look I set the axis limit to 0.32, just under the 0.35 percent mark, to represent a skewed data plot illustrating sweeping positive progression.
In the second graph, I strategically selected axis information that would cause the reader to speculate a less dramatic change occurred over the same short time period. To produce this graph, I increased the range of the axis significantly and even put the range into negative figures causing the reader to infer that growth was steady but slow.
These two different depictions of data represent the same information in the same format with the goal of eliciting a certain response from its audience. Altering just a few seemingly insignificant settings yields significantly different outcomes. The power of this post is revealed in the simple truth that anyone, anywhere can alter any set of data to support virtually any argument by portraying a certain set of facts (that unfortunately an overwhelming majority of readers assume to be concrete, fixed, and true) in a mischievous light. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that statistics don’t always tell a true story.

Possible Sources to Investigate for Paper #1

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When searching for sources to assist in furthering my understanding of housing barriers, both past and present in the U.S., I came upon multiple inquiries of interest. Most, but not all, of my findings involve the government’s influence on housing barriers. The first source I selected for closer review is a book entitled “Not In My Back Yard:” Removing Barriers to Affordable Housing (Advisory Commision on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing). This piece of literature is of particular interest to me because it was published on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by an Advisory Committee of Fair Housing under President George W. Bush. I’m excited to explore the government’s perspective and proposed initiatives to the ongoing affordable housing crisis and compare the proposed suggestions with the actual outcomes at work today.

The second source I selected is a journal article by Social Forces detailing the current diversity in particular neighborhoods and how this came to be (Defina and Hannon). This article will be useful due to its scientific evidentiary findings that will hopefully ground theories and analyses in concrete fact.

An additional publication I want to review in depth is an article published by the Hartford Courant that expands on a recent Supreme Court decision to aid citizens in defense of discriminatory insurance policies (MacDonald). More information regarding government involvement in affordable housing outcomes will supply me with stronger evidence to support my thesis.

Finally, I selected a NFHA press release detailing housing discrimination in regards to bank owned properties (National Fair Housing Alliance). I’m interested to read this publication to gain a better understanding of what role banks play in housing discrimination. Ultimately, all of these sources mentioned reflect some type of government influence on today’s housing barriers, whether they denote positive or negative actions and subsequent repercussions.

Works Cited

Advisory Commision on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing. “Not In My Back Yard” Removing Barriers to Affordable Housing. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1991.

DeFina, Robert, and Hannon, Lance. “Diversity, Racial Threat and Metropolitan Housing Segregation.” Social Forces (2009): n. pag.

MacDonald, John A. “Insurers Lose Bid To Have States Handle Some Bias Matters.” Hartford Courant. Web. 21 Sept. 2012.

National Fair Housing Alliance. “The Banks Are Back- Our Neighborhoods Are Not: Discrimination in the Maintenance and Marketing of REO Properties.” 2012

Exclusionary Zoning: What Is it and How Did it Come to Be?

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Zoning is a common legal practice, exercised in America and other developed countries, implemented to control and appropriate land use on the grounds of certain regulations. Some guidelines specify government approved functions and utilizations of properties while others detail physical logistics pertaining to the building and maintenance of structures occupying particular land plots, such as dimensions and similar quantitative measures (Wikipedia). While zoning laws may appear relatively straightforward and even neutral on their face, a history of racial manipulation and long lasting segregation in America serves as a cautionary precursor to the uninformed or contextually removed citizen.

The facilitation and organization of suburban communities and urban societies within greater America was historically influenced and passionately fueled by a discriminatory wave of systematically categorizing neighborhoods on the basis of race, ethnicity, and class. Taking advantage of the racial panic over minority infiltration and competition that manifested as a nationwide white epidemic, realtors and other government actors installed both formal and informal housing policies and tactics including restrictive covenants, redlining, and blockbusting, to combat the integration of racial and ethnic minorities into predominantly white communities (Massey 36).  Exclusionary zoning emerged as an additional method of legal combat and in its earliest stages, took the form of strict regulations on low-density and age-restricted zoning, multi-family development projects, and smallest designated plot size (Reece 20) When combined, these strategies openly, methodically, and successfully restricted racial minorities access to fair housing up until exclusionary zoning practices were challenged by a landmark Supreme Court case, Euclid v. Ambler Realty, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, a product of the Civil Rights Movement (Wikipedia).

Though zoning restrictions don’t appear to directly target citizens based on race, their ramifications continue to adversely affect minorities of low socioeconomic class today. Fiscal zoning regulations, arguably a form of disguised exclusionary zoning, complicate and monetarily amplify the process of purchasing a home or acquiring a permit to build on existing property. These inflated development costs ultimately dictate housing prices, and therefore affordable options, for citizens wishing to live in the suburbs (Reece 20). Zoning and associated land use policies also effect quality and access to public programs as cities and towns are forced to generate financial support byway of collecting property taxes. Of course, the most profitable taxes are derived from single-family homes located on large land plots thereby creating government incentive to uphold such defining policies (Reece 20).
It is no coincidence then that Americans of low socioeconomic status reside in most, if not all, of the United States’ economically poorest neighborhoods today. Such residential regions are commonly plagued by inadequate infrastructure, unsatisfactory housing options, and steady rates of unemployment. Additionally, these communities are characterized by several detrimental factors that rarely, if ever, affect citizens of higher socioeconomic status who continue to occupy neighborhoods unparalleled in quality to those of the lower socioeconomic class. These disparities reflect disproportionately high crime rates, inferior public health conditions, substandard schooling, and strained access to opportunities that serve to neutralize such conditional inequalities and ultimately, to improve the quality of life (Reece 2). Zoning and other such land use policies continue to affect citizens of low socioeconomic status and contribute to many of the social and political issues we struggle with as a nation today, namely segregated neighborhoods, heightened racial tensions, national economic decline, and unequal opportunities and outcomes for minority citizens.

“Exclusionary Zoning.” Wikipedia. 16 Sept. 2012.

Massey, Douglas. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Player, Lydia. Dealing with Government Red Tape. Digital image. North Dallas Homes. 17 Sept. 2012.

Reece, Jason. “People, Place and Opportunity: Mapping Communities of Opportunity in Connecticut.” Connecticut Fair Housing Center: 1-32.

Home Buying Simulation Reflection

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After having been assigned to research suitable and affordable homes to both purchase and rent for someone whose gross annual income amounts to $42,000, free from monthly debt payments but without a car to travel to and from work, I was frustrated with what I found. In my limited life experience with real estate, strictly confined to watching friends and relatives on the hunt for new homes and apartments as a spectator, searching for places to live can be challenging enough (finances and educational decisions aside). However, when browsing the web, I found that most every available property for sale or rent in areas with high quality education systems amounted to more than I could comfortably afford and were not located within walking distance to work. I came to the realization then that people aren’t simply or solely purchasing properties to inhabit but rather, in the process, they are singlehandedly selecting which schools their children will, and most often times will not, attend. It’s shocking to me that federally mandated institutions are so poorly structured and run in the sense that a child’s zip code often dictates the quality of education they receive, which then informs their career path.

From this straightforward simulation I took away a lot more than I had expected I would. I spent hours trolling the Internet looking for available properties and continually was matched with hopeless results. Places I could afford in towns with superior public schools appeared cramped and rundown with an expensive price tag attached. Homes that were well maintained and spacious for parents and two children were affordable though not cheap, and resided in towns with school systems that were not highly esteemed or awarded on either the state or federal level. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to choose between a safe neighborhood and structurally sound house in my budget or a shabby shack located in a town with a publicly praised school system. Sometimes people can’t make sacrifices like that though. Without a car, a parent would have to maintain their current place of employment which would then offset the freedom to decide which suburban town to relocate their family to.

Thoughts like these provoke questions and further realizations about how society responds to citizens in these types of crises. It is irresponsible and ignorant for others to point fingers at citizens in similar situations to this and to make comments such as, “They don’t work as hard as I do,” or “They’re not doing anything to get themselves out of that position.” It’s almost as if children of low-income families are born into this trap that continues to perpetuate until someone finally breaks the mold. It is not to say that this is a cookie cutter model for every low-income family in America, but on the whole I believe that we as a society choose to blind ourselves from our fellow citizens who suffer to acquire an adequate education for their children and grow up to mirror lives similar to their parents while we write them off as “lazy underachievers” when in fact they have never been given a proper chance to succeed. Essentially, I think it’s easier to place blame on a minority group of individuals than on the collective body of government when in reality we should be joining together as Americans to not only expect but rather demand change from the position of the government as opposed to attaching lofty and unrealistic expectations onto the struggling individuals themselves.