Director, Mapping Service of the Center for Urban Research, City University of New York Graduate Center
State and local governments across the U.S. spent much of 2019 preparing for the Census, working to ensure that hard-to-count populations would, in fact, be counted. Guiding this work for many was a key civic tech asset: the Census 2020 Hard to Count Map. This project was created within the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Graduate Center by the CUNY Mapping Service Team. Steven Romalewski is the director of that team, and while he credits his colleagues for the work, his own involvement was also crucial, dating back to 2010, when the seeds for the map were first planted.
To understand the map’s value, one must first understand the import of the Census. Beyond providing population data that the country relies upon, Census results determine the allocation of billions in federal funding, as well as political representation in Congress for the next decade. For these reasons, the map created by Romalewski and his team is perhaps the most vital civic tech tool of 2019. It was certainly one of the most widely used by government and communities.
The first digital Census has communities looking for resources to reach traditionally undercounted residents. @SR_spatial and his team at the CUNY Mapping Service made a multi-layered map that helps show cities where to focus their outreach #govtech @GC_CUNY
At its simplest level, the Hard to Count Map helps pinpoint areas of the country — be they rural or urban — where response rates to the Census are low. At the same time, the map also enables the overlaying of data about populations that have lower count totals, too, a list that includes students, immigrants, households with children younger than 5 and more. Basically, this map accomplishes the main goal of any effective data visualization: It makes a complex data set viewable in a way that is easy to understand, cross-referencing relevant related data. Financial support from the federal government for the 2020 Census decreased compared to 2010, but state and local stakeholders nationwide say the Hard to Count Map was invaluable to their Census efforts, providing critical information in an easy-to-read format that helped fill resource gaps.