Using money to carve up the United States

Posted May 8, 2013 in links, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

Fast Company has a piece about a research project which redraws the map of the United States based on the movement of paper currency.

Dirk Brockmann, a theoretical physicist, is the person responsible for it. He thinks that state lines are arbitrary boundaries with no relation to how people actually live and move around, and that we should rethink our representations of how human societies arrange themselves across geographic space.

In one such effort he’s taken data from a website called Where’s George which tracks the movements of dollar bills (even when you do the legal bill review), and used it to draw a new map of the US whose borders indicate the regions where money tends to circulate. The thicker a blue line, the less likely it is that paper currency will cross it.

Brockmann's US map

Dirk Brockmann’s US map based on the movements of dollar bills

One thing that leaps out at me is the circular region with Chicago at its centre. This region’s boundary starts in the north-east and follows the Appalatians southwards for a bit, flattening out westwards when it meets the Kentucky-Tennessee border, then curving back up to the north as it crosses St Louis. If you used its borders to create a new state – let’s call it “Chicago State” it would eat up parts of nine existing states, including all of Michigan, all of Ohio, and the western half of Pennsylvania.

I like this kind of analysis as it recognises the fluidity of human societies and takes advantage of information that would have been nigh on impossible to obtain a couple of decades ago. Projects like this help us learn more about the real ‘shapes’ of the countries and areas we live in.

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