Archive for the ‘Data Sources’ Category

NYC Geodatabase in Spatialite

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

I spent much of the fall semester and winter interim compiling and creating the NYC geodatabase (nyc_gdb), a desktop geodatabase resource for doing basic mapping and analysis at a neighborhood level – PUMAs, ZIP Codes / ZCTAs, and census tracts. There were several motivations for doing this. First and foremost, as someone who is constantly introducing new people to GIS it’s a pain sending people to a half dozen different websites to download shapefiles and process basic features and data before actually doing a project. By creating this resource I hoped to lower the hurdles a bit for newcomers; eventually they still need to learn about the original sources and data processing, but this gives them a chance to experiment and see the possibilities of GIS before getting into nitty gritty details.

Second, for people who are already familiar with GIS and who have various projects to work on (like me) this saves a lot of duplicated effort, as the db provides a foundation to build on and saves the trouble of starting from scratch each time.

Third, it gave me something new to learn and will allow me to build a second part to my open source GIS workshops. I finally sat down and hammered away with Spatialite (went through the Spatialite Cookbook from start to finish) and learned spatial SQL, so I could offer a resource that’s open source and will compliment my QGIS workshop. I was familiar with the Access personal geodatabases in ArcGIS, but for the most part these serve as simple containers. With the ability to run all the spatial SQL operations, Spatialite expands QGIS functionality, which was something I was really looking for.

My original hope was to create a server-based PostGIS database, but at this point I’m not set up to do that on my campus. I figured Spatialite was a good alternative – the basic operations and spatial SQL commands are relatively the same, and I figured I could eventually scale up to PostGIS when the time comes.

I also created an identical, MS Access version of the database for ArcGIS users. Once I got my features in Spatialite I exported them all out as shapefiles and imported them all via ArcCatalog – not too arduous as I don’t have a ton of features. I used the SQLite ODBC driver to import all of my data tables from SQLite into Access – that went flawlessly and was a real time saver; it just took a little bit of time to figure out how to set up (but this blog post helped).

The databases are focused on NYC features and resources, since that’s what my user base is primarily interested in. I purposefully used the Census TIGER files as the base, so that if people wanted to expand the features to the broader region they easily could. I spent a good deal of time creating generalized layers, so that users would have the primary water / coastline and large parks and wildlife areas as reference features for thematic maps, without having every single pond and patch of grass to clutter things up. I took several features (schools, subway stations, etc) from the City and the MTA that were stored in tables and converted them to point features so they’re readily useable.

Given that focus, it’s primarily of interest to NYC folks, but I figured it may be useful for others who wish to experiment with Spatialite. I assumed that most people who would be interested in the database would not be familiar with this format, so I wrote a tutorial that covers the database and it’s features, how to add and map data in QGIS, how to work with the data and do SQL / spatial SQL in the Spatialite GUI, and how to map data in ArcGIS using the Access Geodb. It’s Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike, so feel free to give it a try.

I spent a good amount of time building a process rather than just a product, so I’ll be able to update the db twice a year, as city features (schools, libraries, hospitals, transit) change and new census data (American Community Survey, ZIP Business Patterns) is released. Many of the Census features, as well as the 2010 Census data, will be static until 2020.

ACS Trend Reports and Census Geography Guide

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

I recently received my first question from someone who wanted to compare 2005-2007 ACS data with 2008-2010. With the release of the latter, we can make historical comparisons with the three year data for the first time since we have estimates that don’t overlap. We should be able to make some interesting comparisons, since the first set covers the real estate boom years (remember those?) and the second covers the Great Recession. One resource that makes such comparisons relatively painless is over at the Missouri Census Data Center. They’ve put together a really clean and simple interface called the ACS Trends Menu, which allows you to select either two one period estimates or two three period estimates and compare them for several different census geographies – states, counties, MCDs, places, metros, Congressional Districts, PUMAs, and a few others – for the entire US (not just Missouri). The end result is a profile that groups data into the Economic, Demographic, Social, and Housing categories that the Census uses for its Demographic Profile tables. The calculations for change and percent change for the estimates and margins of error are done for you.

Downloading the data is not as straightforward – the links to extract it just brought me some error messages, so it’s still a work in progress. Until then, a simple copy and paste into your spreadsheet of choice will work fine.

ACS Trends Menu

If you like the interface, they’ve created separate ones for downloading profiles from any of the ACS periods or from the 2010 Census. The difference here is that you’re looking at one time frame; not across time periods. The interface and the output are the same, but in these menus you can compare four different geographies at once in one profile. Unlike the Trends reports, both the ACS and 2010 Census profiles have easy, clear cut ways to download the profiles as a PDF or a spreadsheet. If you’re happy with data in a profile format and want an interface that’s a little less confusing to navigate than the American Factfinder, these are all great alternatives (and if you’re building web applications these profiles are MUCH easier to work with – you can easily build permanent links or generate them on the fly).

The US Census Bureau also recently put together a great resource called the Guide to State and Local Census Geography. They provide a census geography overview of each state: 2010 population, land area, bordering states, year of entry into the union, population centroids, and a description of how local government is organized in the state – (i.e. do they have municipal civil divisions or only incorporated cities and unincorporated land, etc). You get counts for every type of geography – how many counties, tracts, ZCTAs, and so on, AND best of all you can download all of this data directly in tab delimited files. Need a list of every county subdivision in a state, with codes, land area, and coordinates? No problem – it’s all there.

2010 Census Generalized Cartographic Boundary Files

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

I’ve had a few interesting projects that have kept me busy at the end of this year. I’ll do a post or two after New Years, once I’m back in the office and can take some screen shots to illustrate.

In the meantime I have one tidbit I can mention – the Census Bureau has released the 2010 version of the Generalized Cartographic Boundary Files. These files are generalized versions of the TIGER files, with smoothed and simplified boundaries and areas of coastal water removed. They haven’t posted them on the same page as the 2000 and 1990 boundaries; they’ve mentioned they’re creating a new interface to host all of them, which is currently a work in process at

However, you can get access to all the 2010 boundaries via the FTP site – you just need to know what you’re looking at. All the files are named with codes to identify the geographic coverage, summary level, and resolution / scale. There’s a README file on the FTP page that tells you how to identify each.

But in brief – The file names look like this:, where:

  • ss is the state INCITS / FIPS code which you can look up here – ‘us’ is a national level file.
  • lll is the summary level or unit of geography – the README file has a table with each code. The most common ones: 040 for state, 050 for county, 060 for county subdivisions, 140 for census tracts, 160 for places, 310 for metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, 860 for ZCTAs. (No PUMAs- 2010 PUMA boundaries haven’t been drawn yet, and 2000 PUMA boundaries are still being used in the latest ACS).
  • vv is a version number for the file.
  • rr is resolution – most of the files are 500k = 1:500,000, which is the least generalized and best for mapping state-level to regional areas. For national level files you also have the option of 5m = 1:5,000,000 and 20m = 1:20,000,000, which are more generalized and better for national mapping.

The Census Bureau has been doing a lot of tweaking to their website lately. The legacy version of the American Factfinder is set to disappear for good on Jan 20, 2012.

Mapping Domestic Migration with IRS Data

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Forbes magazine just published a neat interactive map on American migration using data NOT from the Census, but from – the IRS. Whether you fill it out virtually or the old fashioned way, everyone fills in their address at the top of the 1040, and the IRS stores this in a database. If you file from a different address from one year to the next you must have moved, and the IRS publishes a summary file of where people went (with all personal information and practically all filing data stripped away) .

The Forbes map taps into five years of this data and lets you see all domestic in-migration and out-migration from a particular county. The map is a flow or line map with lines going from the county you choose to each target – net in-migration to your county is colored in blue and net out-migration is red. You can also hover over the sending and receiving counties to see how many people moved. Click on the map to choose your county or search by name; you also have the option of searching for cities or towns, as the largest place within each county is helpfully identified and tied to the data.

It’s relatively straightforward and fun to explore. Some of the trends are pretty striking – the difference between declining cities (Wayne County – Detroit MI) and growing ones (Travis County – Austin TX) is pretty vivid, as is the change in migration during the height of the housing boom period in 2005 compared to the depth of the bust in 2009 (see Maricopa County – Phoenix AZ). More subtle is the difference in the scope of migration between urban and rural counties, with the former having more numerous and broader connections and the latter having smaller, more localized exchanges. Case in point is my home state of Delaware – urban New Castle County (Wilmington) compared to rural Sussex County (Seaford). There are many other stories to see here – the exodus from New Orleans after Katrina and the subsequent return of residents, the escape from Los Angeles to the surrounding mountain states, and the pervasiveness of Florida as a destination for everybody (click on the thumbnails below for full images of each map).

Detroit 2009

Wayne Co MI (Detroit) 2009

Austin 2009

Travis Co TX (Austin) 2009

Phoenix 2005

Mariciopa Co AZ (Phoenix) 2005

Phoenix 2009

Mariciopa Co AZ (Phoenix) 2009

Wilmington 2009

New Castle Co DE (Wilmington) 2009

Seaford 2009

Sussex Co DE (Seaford) 2009

While the map is great, the even better news is that the data is free and can be downloaded by anyone from the IRS Statistics page. They provide a lot of summary data – information for individuals is never reported. The individual tax data page with data gleaned from the 1040 has the most data that is geographic in nature. If you wanted to see how much and what kind of tax is collected by state, county, and ZIP code you could get it there. The US Population Migration data used to create the Forbes map is also there and the years from 2005 to 2009 are free (migration data from 1991 to 2004 is available for purchase).

You can download separate files for county inflow and county outflow on a state by state basis in Excel (.xls) format, or you can download the entire enormous dataset in .dat or .csv format. The data that’s reported is the number of filings and exemptions that represent a change in address by county from one year to the next, and includes the aggregated adjusted gross income of the total filers. There are some limitations – in order to protect confidentiality, if the flow from one county to another has less than 10 moves that data is lumped into an “other” category. International migration is also lumped into one interntaional category (on the Forbes map, both the other category where two counties have a flow less than 10 and the foreign migration category are not depicted).

The IRS migration data is often used when creating population estimates; when combined with vital stats on births and deaths it can serve as the migration piece of the demographic equation.

2010 American Community Survey Releases

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

The US Census Bureau released the new annual data for the 2010 American Community Survey; this dataset includes an extensive number of demographic, socio-economic, and housing estimates (with margins of error) for all geographic areas in the US that have a population of at least 65,000 people. This is the first ACS survey that is weighted based on the 2010 Census, and that is tabulated entirely on the new 2010 Census geography; exceptions include PUMAs and urban areas, which typically aren’t redrawn until a couple of years after a decennial census is taken. Data for these areas will be reported based on the 2000 Census geography. This will also be the first ACS that is distributed via the new American Factfinder. Previous ACS datasets should be moved to the new Factfinder by the end of this year.

According to the release schedule data for the three year ACS (2008-2010) for areas with at least 20,000 residents will be published in October and the five year ACS (2006-2010) for geography down to census tracts will be released in December. The three year dataset hits a milestone this year, as for the first time we’ll have datasets with mutually exclusive years that can be feasibly compared for historical change (the 2005-2007 dataset versus 2008-2010). It should prove interesting as the earlier dataset represents the end of the brief boom years while the current one depicts the depth of the great recession. There will be some challenges in making comparisons, as the base for weighting the estimates and the geography used to tabulate them is different for each dataset (2000 Census in the earlier dataset versus 2010 Census in the latest one).

ZIP Code KML Map for NYC Census Data

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

With the release of both the 2010 Census profiles for ZCTAs (ZIP Code Tabulation Areas) and the TIGER line files for 2010 Census geographies, I created another Google Map finding aid for NYC neighborhood data by ZIP code (I previously created one for PUMAs with American Community Survey data). Once again I used the Export to KML plugin that was created for ArcGIS. This allowed me to use the TIGER shapefile in ArcGIS to create the map I wanted and then export it as a KML, while using fields in the attribute table of each feature to insert the ZCTA number into stable links for the census profiles, automatically generating unique urls for each feature. Click on the ZCTA in the map, and then click on a link to open a profile directly from the new American Factfinder.

There were two new obstacles I had to contend with this time. The first was that my department has finally migrated to Windows 7 from Windows XP, and I upgraded from ArcGIS 9.3 to 10. I had to reinstall the Export to KML plugin (version 2.5.5) and ran into trouble; fortunately all the work-arounds were included in the plugin’s documentation. I don’t have administrator rights on my machine, so I had to have someone install the plugin as an administrator; this included running the initial setup file AND running Arc as an administrator as you add and turn the plugin on. That was straightforward, but when I ran it the first time I got an error message – there’s a particular Windows dll or ocx file that the plugin needs and it was missing (presumably something that was included in XP but not in 7). I downloaded the necessary file, and with administrator rights moved it into the system32 folder and registered the file via the command line. After that I was good to go.

The second issue was with the Census Bureau’s new American Factfinder. With the old Factfinder the urls that were generated as you built and accessed tables were static and you could simply save and bookmark them. Not the case in the new Factfinder; you can bookmark some basic tables but most of them are “too complex to bookmark”; you can save and download queries from the online ap but that’s it. After some digging I found a CB document that tells you how you can create deep links to any query you run and table you create. The url consists of a fixed series of codes that identify the dataset, year, table, and geography. So this link:

Tells us that were getting a table from version 1.0 of the American Factfinder in English. It’s from the Decennial Census, 2010 Demographic Profiles, Demographic Profile Table 1, for ZCTA 10010 (860 is the summary level code that indicates we’re looking at ZCTAs). So for the plugin to create the links, I just included this URL but for the last five digits I specified the attribute from the ZCTA shapefile that held the ZCTA code. So when the plugin creates the KML, each KML feature has a link generated that is specific to it:[ZCTA5CE10]

You can see this previous post for details on how the Export to KML plugin works.

For now, the 2010 and 2000 Census are in the new American Factfinder. The American Community Survey, the Economic Census, population estimates, and a few other datasets are still in the older, legacy Factfinder. According to the CB all of this data will be migrated to the new Factfinder by the end of 2011 and the legacy version will disappear. At that point I’ll have to update my PUMA map so that it points to the profiles in the new Factfinder.

You can take a look at the ZCTA map and profiles below (I’m hosting it on the NYC data resource guide I’ve created for my college). As I’ve written before, ZCTAs are odd Census geographies since they are approximations of residential USPS ZIP Codes created by aggregating census blocks based on addresses; you can see in many instances where boundaries have a blocky teeth-like appearance instead of straight lines. Since they’re created directly by aggregating blocks, ZCTAs don’t correspond or mesh with other census boundaries like tracts or PUMAs, or even legal boundaries like counties. In some cases my assignment of county-based colors doesn’t ring true. For example, ZCTA 11370 includes part of the East Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens and Rikers Island, which is in the Bronx. ZCTA 10463 includes the Bronx neighborhoods of Kingsbridge and Spuyten Duyvil and the Manhattan neighborhood of Marble Hill (a geographic anomaly; it’s not on the Island of Manhattan but it’s part of Manhattan borough).

The most salient issue with ZCTAs is that they are only tabulated for the decennial census and not the American Community Survey; the currency of data and spectrum of census variables will be limited compared to other types of geography. ***NOTE*** This is no longer the case – ZCTA-level data is now available as part of the 5-year ACS, beginning with the 2007-2011 series.

View Larger Map

2010 Census Data Being Released

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

The US Census Bureau has begin releasing data for Summary File 1, which is the primary summary data set that the Bureau tabulates. They will release data for groups of states on a weekly basis from June through September. Alabama and Hawaii were the first states released today. California, Delaware, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming are out next week.

This data is based on the 100% count of the population and is being released for geographies that nest within states: states, counties, county subdivisions, places, census tracts, ZCTAs, and congressional districts, and in some cases block groups and blocks. You can download the data table by table by building queries via the new American Factfinder, or power users can download entire datasets via the FTP site.

You’ll see how small the 2010 Census is compared to the past: we’re only going to get basic demographic variables. The extensive number of socio-economic indicators – education, income, language, employment status, etc – are no longer collected as part of the decennial census; you have to turn to the American Community Survey for this data, which is released on an annual basis.

Here’s what’s in the 2010 Census:

  • Total Population
  • Urban and Rural Population
  • Gender and Age
  • Race
  • Hispanic or Latino Origin
  • Households (Including Type and Size)
  • Group Quarters
  • Families
  • Family Relationships
  • Housing Units
  • Occupancy Status (Occupied or Vacant)
  • Tenure (Owner or Renter Occupied)

Many of these variables are cross-tabulated by age, gender, race, Hispanic or Latino Origin, Household Type, and Household Size. Once we get to the fall of 2011 we’ll start to see national level data for divsions, regions, and metropolitan areas.

2010 Census Redistricting Data

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

The Redistricting Summary Data [P.L. 94-171] from the 2010 Census has all been published for the nation, states, counties, and places, and is available via the new American Factfinder. The redistricting data includes basic demographic data: total population, race, Hispanic or Latino origin, and number of housing units occupied and vacant. Data is available down to census blocks and is available for most (but not all – no ZCTAs or PUMAs) geographies.

If you don’t want all the data for a state, don’t want to slog through the Factfinder, and are comfortable working with large text files, you can FTP the summary data from the Redistricting Data homepage. If you want basic summary data for states, counties, and places and don’t want to fuss with the Factfinder or text files, you can download Excel spreadsheets from the Redistricting Data Press Kit. They also have some pdf / jpg maps showing county level population and population change, plus interactive map widgets like the one below for the country and for each state. 2010 Redistricting TIGER Shapefiles have also been released for geographies included in the redistricting dataset.

The full 2010 Census for all geographies will be released throughout this summer and into the fall in Summary File 1 [SF1]. Stay tuned.

Some 2010 Census Updates

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Some geography updates to pass along regarding new US Census data:

  • The Census has released a few 2010 map widgets that you can embed in web pages. One shows population change, density, and apportionment for the whole country at the state level, while the other shows population, race, and Hispanic change for states at the county level. As of this post only four states are ready (LA, MS, NJ, and VA) but they’ll be adding the rest once they’re available.
  • The 2010 TIGER Line Files are starting to be released; they’ve changed the download interface a little bit based on user feedback. Most summary levels / geographic areas are available; some (like ZIP Codes and PUMAs) will be released later this year.
  • They’re also rolling out the new interface for the American Factfinder; currently you can get 2000 Census data, some population estimates, and the 2010 Census data as it becomes available. Other datasets like the American Community Survey and Economic Census will be added over time. Some maps and gov docs librarians have expressed concerned about the change – apparently when you download the data from the new interface the FIPS codes are not “ready to go” for joining to shapefiles; there’s one long geo id that has to be parsed. The other concern is that the 1990 Census won’t be carried over into the new interface at all. The original American Factfinder is slated to come down towards the end of this year.

US Census Release Schedule

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

There are some big US Census data updates coming up. Thought I’d offer a summary:

  • 2009 Annual American Community Survey (ACS): released in Sept, data for geographies that have at least 65k people.
  • 2005-2009 5 Year ACS: to be released in Dec 2010, this will be the first release of five year estimate data, which goes down to the census tract level on the American Factfinder, and to block groups via downloadable summary files. From this point forward we’ll have annually updated data for small areas like tracts
  • First 2010 Decennial Census numbers: state population counts will be released before Dec 31st. The 2010 Census figures will be rolled out over a three year period. This is the first decennial census in many decades that will consist only of 100% count short-form questions that cover basic demographic variables. For anything else we’ll have to turn to the ACS.
  • 2007-2009 3 Year ACS: to be released in Jan 2011 for all geographies that have at least 20k people.

For more details you can check out the official release schedules for the 2010 Census and the ACS. This helpful comparison table guides you in deciding whether to use the 1 year, 3 year, or 5 year estimates for your particular needs.

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