We tend to think of the “cities of the future” as those that are the most forward-thinking in terms of sustainability, technology, and pioneering policies for protecting citizens. But what about the cities that most mirror the future in terms of demographics? Some of those may surprise you: Hardin, Montana (pop. 3,800), for example, and the surrounding Big Horn County resemble what the nation will look like in the year 2060, in terms of race, Hispanic ethnicity, and age. Like Hardin now, future America will be more racially diverse, older and will have a larger Hispanic population.
That’s according to a new infographic in the New York Times that maps out the counties that represent America’s past, present, and future by demographics. The interactive map uses Census Bureau data of both current population estimates and projections for the future. It uses that data to compare 3,000 American county with the U.S. as a whole at different points in time. Scrolling over the counties—shaded from light (past) to dark blue (future)—reveals how closely their demographic make-up corresponds to the America that was, is or will be.
Take, for example, Montgomery County, Virginia, home of Virginia Tech, where I lived in college. That mountainous patch of Southwest Virginia is white on the map, meaning its demographic most closely corresponds with that of America in 1977, when the nation was more than 75% white. Meanwhile, Palm Beach County, Florida, of all places, is a vision of the future: at 57% white, 18% black and 21% Hispanic, the area most resembles America’s ethnic makeup in 2030. Venture over to Richmond County, New York, home of Staten Island, to find the population that mirror’s the America of today. There, it’s 62% white, 10% black and 18% Hispanic.
Scroll over a bit west of Staten Island and you’ll find that Manhattan, (a.k.a New York County), is indeed a city of the future—2047 to be exact— as far as demographics go. Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, resembles the year 2060. Other cities come as more of a surprise: Multnomah County, where Portland is located, most resembles the U.S. in 2011, while Orleans Parish, Louisiana (New Orleans), closely resembles present day.
It’s worth noting that the comparisons do not account for variables like education, income or population density, so some findings can be misleading—particularly in smaller counties with unusual demographics. In other words, for some counties, the demographics are quite a bit different from America in the year with which they are matched. But as the Times points out, the map works best as an overall glimpse at America’s demographic past, present, and future. At a time when the nation has a complex relationship with race and ethnicity—as seen through immigration crackdowns, and tensions around racial injustice—the map offers a new lens through which to view the nation’s changing demographics.