click, color, and learn

countymaprb1024us-counties_finishlow

There are exactly 3,141 counties in the United States and I colored in every single one of them for “Beyond Red and Blue,” including the 11 that I have lived in so far: Hampshire, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and Montgomery, Maryland among them. I have only lived in very blue, liberal counties and, prior to this story, felt I couldn’t live in or identify with any red state. I now realize that was very narrow-minded.

The map on SPA’s American Communities Projects (ACP) site is nice. I thought I would just enhance it by highlighting characteristics of the 15 community types that ACP director Dante Chinni identified. Unfortunately, ACP’s map was created for the web and not suited for print so I was going to have to recreate it. Argh.

I had a key. I had the colors. And I had plenty of time set aside for my task. The West Coast was a breeze with fewer and larger counties but as I progressed towards the Atlantic Ocean it got more challenging. Kentucky and Indiana have lot of little, organically shaped counties, and Maryland and Virginia were hard to tell apart. What a headache.

Despite my eyes crossing, something started changing as the map was filling up. As I was clicking and coloring I started to feel differently about areas of the country I always thought were too red for me. Right there in Tennessee is an “orange” county (Hamilton), the same type (Urban Suburbs) as my current county of residence, Montgomery County, Maryland.  In Mississippi there are two “gold” counties (Oktibbeha and Lafayette), the same type (College Towns) as where I grew up, Hampshire, Massachusetts. My cut and dry notions were starting to crumble.

Once the map was finished I went to work identifying counties that illustrate each category’s characteristics. I searched quickfacts.census.gov for all sorts of interesting facts. For example, Borden County, Texas, has only 616 people, while Fergus County, Montana, is only .3% African American. I was getting to know my country for its diversity, not for its political points of view. Sometimes that’s hard to do when you live inside the Beltway. I do know this: election night will never be the same.