New York City - Upper East Side [from envisioning development]
New York City - Upper East Side {from the Center for Urban Pedagogy, envisioning development project}
New York City - East Harlem [from envisioning development]
New York City - East Harlem {from the Center for Urban Pedagogy, envisioning development project}

What works

Please click through to see the full affordable housing map of the New York City metropolitan area. The images above were generated using their pdf generator, but the full flash version is simply better.

Maps are hot. They’re everywhere. I was at a final presentation last night and one of the students said, “I’m kind of a map geek”. I didn’t realize it was possible to be a map geek, but I’m starting to understand. It’s quite easy to present a map – maps have been in use for centuries and some of the oldies are still goodies. It’s not so easy to combine a map with social science data in a smart, legible way. Folks try all the time. These folks at the Center for Urban Pedagogy got it right. Their affordable housing map tool is a solid example of the capability and execution of interactive data.


The map itself has been stylized. All they want to show you is neighborhood boundaries and neighborhood names. Gone are street markings, terrain, unnecessary color, landmarks, subway stops, and so on. They’re going to add some layers and your eyes are going to be better off without excess detail at the level of the map. Plus, they’re helping you to understand that it isn’t possible to get more granular than neighborhood masses. You can’t use this map to look at property values by block or by proximity to a subway stop so there’s no reason to include the subway map or street markings.

This grey massing approach helps focus my attention (and hopefully yours) on the layer of information about income by neighborhood. This information IS in color. It is added as a layer on top of the map without obscuring the map. They’ve used a modified bar graph layout in which information is embedded in the x-axis itself. The y-axis is implied – that’s just fine here.

And it’s interactive. In a good way.

From a technical perspective, this site makes good use of Flash. It loads quickly and is responsive. Once a neighborhood is selected the bar graphs realign themselves with colored blocks flying in from cyberspace to construct the balance of income for that neighborhood. Note that this is enough movement to make the whole experience a little exciting, a little sparkly but it doesn’t take so long to load or run that you’ve lost interest before you’ve gotten through it.


It is my pedagogical opinion that the best graphics encourage the viewer to formulate a question which is then answered. In this case, what we see first is a neighborhood map. The viewer has to pick a neighborhood before any of the juicy data is revealed. This is great. Now, say, we’ve picked the Upper East Side and we see a towering skyscraper-like bar graph way over in the “High Income” department. Our next step can either be to compare to nearby neighborhoods, by clicking on East Harlem to the north, or to add the information about housing prices. The title is “What is affordable housing?” so clearly this is what the designers hope you’ll do. But they aren’t so impatient about it that they try to incorporate it into the first splash page.


Center for Urban Pedagogy. (fall 2009) Envisioning Development project. New York.

CEO Compensation 1970-2000 (Conley, D.)
CEO Compensation 1970-2000 (Conley, D.)

What Works

This is a great concept because CEO compensation has ballooned relative to compensation for the rest of us.

What Needs Work

I would like to see some of the comparative data on compensation for the rest of the work force somehow, not just CEOs.

It would be nice for the graphic to say that the figures are all in year 2000 dollars.

Collapsing the bars instead of stringing them out diminishes the visual impact dramatically. If the highest compensation was displayed end-to-end instead of broken up and stacked it would look far more disparate compared to the 1970 compensation data. Now, realizing that this would skew the page layout, the graphic designer could have pursued a volumetric portrayal instead of just a two dimensional version.

Relevant Resources

Conley, D. (2008) You may ask yourself: An introduction to thinking like a sociologist New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 563.

Champagne Glass Distribution from Conley (2008) You May Ask Yourself
Champagne Glass Distribution from Conley (2008) You May Ask Yourself

What Works

This graphic works as well as it does in part because it evokes the too-delicate feel of a champagne glass in hand. All that wealth resting on so little. The shape does what a data table alone cannot – it subtly suggests that the wealthy are resting on the poor and that the balance is quite precarious.

Relevant Sources

Conley, D. (2008) You may ask yourself: An introduction to thinking like a sociologist. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. p.392.

Chandler, David. L curve [another graphic depicting wealth distribution by a mathematician/educator – it’s interactive.]


Champagne glass distribution of wealth from UNDP 1992, reprinted in "When Corporations Rule the World"
I found a much earlier 1992 version of the champagne glass distribution of wealth graphic and wanted to give credit where credit is due. It came from the UNDP 1992 “Human Development Report” and was republished in chapter 7 of When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten.