No matter where you live, you probably already have some sort of mental map of where the money resides in your city. It’s one of those data sets you subconsciously start collecting the moment you move somewhere. At first, it’s something you sense in only the broadest geographic terms—understanding that the north side of the city is generally poorer than the rest of it, say—but with time and experience, the map becomes more refined, filled in on the level of neighborhood and street. How well do these perceptions of income line up with reality? That’s what this website shows us.
Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks is an interactive map showing the average income for every neighborhood in America. Type in your address, press search, and there you have it: Your city, shaded by income, according to data from an annual survey conducted by the Census Bureau. The greenest blocks—Census blocks, that is, not city blocks—signify the richest areas, typically bringing in an average household income of $100,000 or more a year. The reddest blocks are the poorest, with annual income somewhere around $20,000. All the rest get some shade of red or green, depending where they fall.
The map was created by Christopher Persaud, a data reporter for a bank website, and on one level, it illustrates a wholly unsurprising trend: In general, inner cities are poorer than the suburbs that surround them. But zoom in a bit closer and things get more interesting. Each city, shaped and reshaped by countless forces over the decades, looks a bit different. This map won’t reveal those stories to you, but it will give you a sense of where they’ve left us today.
In Birmingham, where I currently live, a large Appalachian foothill has long served as a barrier between the poorer downtown areas and the rich suburbs found "over the mountain." That separation can be seen here, though the mountain cannot. In bigger, more dynamic cities, the very rich and the very poor live as neighbors even without the geological curtain. Persaud points out that median income drops roughly $80,000 in the 10 blocks separating East 86th Street to East 96th Street in New York City.
These sorts of dramatic juxtapositions in wealth jump out right away. The map becomes a bit more difficult to read when you’re looking at areas where the disparity isn’t quite as drastic (which is supposed to be wealthier, pea green or puke green?) Still, the data on display here is fascinating on a number of levels, and poring over it in this form can be an unexpectedly eye-opening experience. You’d think that reducing so many lives in so many places to a handful of shades of green and red would be the most impersonal way to get the point across, but the satellite-eye of Google Maps offers us a new perspective on the matter. In real life, the bad part of town could be a half-mile away. Seen here, it’s right next door.