Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Bird's Eye View of Population Density and Sparsity

It's hard to see the forest for the trees. It's even harder to see the forest for the trees when the forest has been deforested. Translation: it's hard to see how dense or sparse a neighborhood is or has become when you are living in it. Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Or, in this case, you need to take a hundred steps up and look at the picture from above. This is where satellite imagery can help.

Inspired by Charles Benton's "kite aerial photography" (but not actually owning a kite), I explored Bing's maps page and discovered a cool feature: "Bird's Eye View" satellite imagery. Using this tool, I "Binged" nine of my previous addresses to see what they look like from the air. To me, the results reveal much about differing assumptions of how and where we ought to live, and how we ought to go about planning cities and neighborhoods.

Check them out. Two of these are in Cincinnati, three are in Oklahoma City, and four are in Boston. Can you tell which ones are which? The first reader to put all the right answers in a comment will win a free Oklachusetts sticker.

But also, I'm wondering if you agree with me that the most aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods from the air often have the sparsest populations on the ground (and if you read my last post, you'll remember how important I think it is to have densely populated neighborhoods). Some of these 'hoods look like they were designed mostly for the approval of plane passengers cruising overhead. One more thing: which of these places looks the most "family friendly"? What does this mean, anyway? Is it friendly to have to put your kid in a car seat whenever you want to go anywhere?



SarahB said...

I'll try! This is Sarah from AFE.

1) OK
2) Boston
3) Cincy
4) Boston
5) OK
6) Cincy
7) Boston
8) OK
9) Boston

Ryecroft said...

I have to agree with Sarah. Without even looking at density though...take the images into photoshop and reduce the colors down to 16 or even 4. Which color pallets are urban, which are leafy suburban, and which three represent dried burnt red prairie?

Chad Reynolds said...


Good point about the color. You can give OKC East Coast density, but you can't give it East Coast foliage! But I thought a few of them might fool the crowd. Specifically, #8. But Sarah was right! She's the winner of an shiny new Oklachusetts sticker. Congrats, Sarah. By the way, regarding population densities, I heard that Las Vegas had the highest foreclosure rate in the country. What's the vibe there? Does the city seem to be emptying out?

SarahB said...

Yea!!! :^)

The hills of Cincy also helped give those away too--that Midwestern background comes in handy.

Anyway, Vegas is rather a mess right now. Something like 70% of homeowners are underwater on their mortgages (including us), 80% of homes on the market are foreclosures, not helping with the home value issues. Home values are down on average 40%. Unemployment, after tootling along around 4% for a long time, is now at 11.3%. The only people happy right now are those who still have their jobs and waited to buy a home. For the rest of us, it's a long waiting game, as well as a wrangle with mortgage companies (as most of us are too underwater to re-finance, but would love to get some reduction in interest or stabilize ARMs).

I wouldn't say the city is emptying, though there are certainly some areas of the outer suburbs that are, usually developments that were getting settled right as the recession set in. One of Devin's colleagues is the only person living in his subdivision. Our development feels about half empty.

The hopeful thing we've done in this situation is bring home a stray kitty, dubbed Rusty. There's a lot of bad things we can't do much about, but we can take in one abandoned pet. And wait. And hope. A purring cat on your lap makes it easier to hope.