Conquest of Pestilence | Courtesty of New York City Dept. of Health via Glaeser
Conquest of Pestilence | Courtesty of New York City Dept. of Health via Glaeser

What works

Ah, old-timey graphics. What works here is that this graphic reveals how far we’ve come, I think. The purpose is to show what percentage of New York City’s population died, annually. We can see the trend jumps around a bit – infectious diseases cycle through, sanitation improvements are made, the demographics of the population change – but mostly trends downwards. I like the inclusion of information about deadly diseases though I wouldn’t have just stuck labels on the peaks. The labels here clutter up the graphic territory and do not leave any room for adding other kinds of helpful trendlines and so on like that.

What needs work

Of course, there is not nearly enough context to make proper sense of this information. The implication is that the general downward trend is due to public health improvements, so of course the spikes are all labeled with diseases. I do not dispute that people were dying from cholera or typhus, I just want to hear more about what might have been causing people to LIVE (rather than just seeing what was causing them to DIE). What about demographic changes that shifted the population towards and then away from a preponderance of new immigrants? From young babies to slightly older people (who used to be at risk of death more than children and adults)? What of other changes (like, say, improvement in building codes that made the Triangle Shirt Waist Fire an anomaly rather than one of many similar situations)? What about income levels? The assumption is that as income rises, death rates drop, but I’d like to see that represented because it’s unclear just how rising income is linked to public health measures. Are we healthier because our increased contributions to the general fund (through taxes) go to support public health? Or is there simply something about being richer – either as individuals or as a collective – that leads to better health independent of the direct funding of public health?

More to come on Time Lines

I’m working on timelines this week but I want to create something new rather than just talking about existing ones which is going to take me some time. It will be a group effort, I strongly encourage you to send in your favorite time lines, your least favorite time lines, and comments about the time line I put together once I’ve got it posted.

Thanks much.


Glaeser, Edward. (22 June 2010) The Health of the Cities in The New York Times, Economix blog.

New York City Department of Public Health. [the image]