Mapping Social Patterns

Regional equity advocates are using GIS mapping tools to increase their impact. A GIS map explains a region's complex social patterns in a way that is easy to grasp. While columns of numbers are mind-numbing, a map illustrating impacts across a whole region speaks volumes. It helps people to understand key regional social and economic trends that affect their lives—such as economic inequalities among communities, or how new growth at the region's edge undermines the inner city.

The forces of segregation and inequality are too large to confront in isolation. Activists tackling inner-city poverty often focus on one neighborhood at a time. Yet the power of racial discrimination and fiscal inequality across a region undermines their efforts. It is as if they are trying to bail water in a boat with a teaspoon, while huge waves pour across the boat. It is vital to deal with the waves—the larger patterns. Maps make these patterns visible, both to citizens and to decision–makers.

Assisted by such maps, communities have achieved important gains in such areas as fair housing, more equitable school financing, reform of transportation spending, and brownfield remediation.

Visit to view demographic maps of the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan regions, or to download An Activist's Guide to Metropolitics. See also the maps of racial change and stable integration, available at the Institute on Race & Poverty's website,

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