Posts Tagged ‘google maps’

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

Google Maps to Create a Census Finding Aid

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Yikes! It’s been quite awhile since my last post (the past couple months have been a little tough for me), but I just finished an interesting project that I can share.

I constantly get questions from students who are interested in getting recent demographic and socio-economic profiles for neighborhoods in New York City. The problem is that neighborhoods are not officially defined, so we have to look for a surrogate. The City has created neighborhood-like areas out of census tracts called community districts and they publish profiles for them, but this data is from the decennial census  and not current enough for their needs.  ZIP code data is also only available from the decennial census.

We can use PUMAs (Public Use Microdata Areas) to approximate neighborhoods in large cities, and they are published as part of the 3 year estimates of the American Community Survey. The problem is, in order to look up the data from the census you need to search by PUMA number – there are no qualitative place names. The city and the census have worked together to assign names to neighborhoods as part of the NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey, but this is the only place (I’ve found) that uses these names. You need to look in several places to figure out what the PUMA number and boundaries for an area are and then navigate through the census site to find it. Too much for the average student who visits me at the reference desk or emails me looking for data.

My solution was to create a finding aid in Google maps that tied everything together:

View Larger Map

I downloaded PUMA boundaries from the Census TIGER file site in a shapefile format. I opened them up in ArcGIS and used an excellent script that I downloaded called Export to KML. ArcGIS 9.3 does support KML exports via the toolbox, and there are a number of other scripts and stand-alone programs that can do this (I tried several) but Export to KML was best (assuming you have access to ArcGIS) in terms of the level of customization and the thoroughness of the user documentation. I symbolized the PUMAs in ArcGIS using the colors and line thickness that I wanted and fired up the tool. It allows you to automatically group and color features based on the layer’s symbology. I was able to add a “snippet” to each feature to help identify it (I used the PUMA number as the attribute name and the neighborhood name as my snippet, so both appear in the legend) and added a description that would appear in the pop up window when that feature is clicked. In that description, I added the URL from the ACS census profile page for a particular PUMA – the cool part here is that the URL is consistent and contains the PUMA number. So, I replaced the specific number and inserted the [field] name from the PUMAs attribute table that contained the number. When I did the export, the URLs for each individual feature were created with their PUMA number inserted into the link.

There were a few quirks – I discovered that you can’t automatically display labels on a Google Map without subterfuge, like creating the labels as images and not text. Google Earth (but not Maps) supports labels if you create multi-geometry where you have a point for a label and a polygon for the feature. If you select a labeling attribute on the initial options screen of the Export to KML tool, you create an icon in the middle of each polygon that has a different description pop-up (which I didn’t want so I left it to none and lived without labels). I made my features 75% transparent (a handy feature of Export to KML) so that you could see the underlying Google Map features through the PUMA, but this made the fill AND the lines transparent, making the features too difficult to see. After the export I opened the KML in a text editor and changed the color values for the lines / boundaries by hand, which was easy since the styles are saved by feature group (boroughs) and not by individual feature (pumas). I also manually changed the value of the folder open element (from 0 to 1) so that the feature and feature groups (pumas and boroughs) are expanded by default when someone opens the map.

After making the manual edits, I uploaded the KML to my webserver and pasted the url for it into the Google Maps search box, which overlayed my KML on the map. Then I was able to get a persistent link to the map and code for embedding it into websites via the Google Map Interface. No need to add it to Google My Maps, as I have my own space. One big quirk – it’s difficult to make changes to an existing KML once you’ve uploaded and displayed it. After I uploaded what I thought would be my final version I noticed a typo. So I fixed it locally, uploaded the KML and overwrote the old one. But – the changes I made didn’t appear. I tried reloading and clearing the cache in my browser, but no good – once the KML is uploaded and Google caches it, you won’t see any of your changes until Google re-caches. The conventional wisdom is to change the name of the file every single time – which is pretty dumb as you’ll never be able to have a persistent link to anything. There are ways to circumvent the problem, or you can just wait it out. I waited one day and by the next the file was updated; good enough for me, as I’ll only need to update it once a year.

I’m hosting the map, along with some static PDF maps and a spreadsheet of PUMA names and neighborhood numbers, from the NYC Data LibGuide I created (part of my college’s collection of research guides). If you’re looking for neighborhood names to associate with PUMA numbers for your city, you’ll have to hunt around and see if a local planning agency or non-profit has created them for a project or research study (as the Census Bureau does not create them). For example, the County of Los Angeles Department of Mental Health uses pumas in a large study they did where they associated local place names with each puma.

If you’re interested in dabbling in some KML, there’s Google’s KML tutorial. I’d also recommend The KML Handbook by Josie Wernecke. The catch for any guide to KML is that while all KML elements are supported by Google Earth, there’s only partial support for Google Maps.

Heading Cross Country with Google Maps

Monday, June 16th, 2008

I’m flying out to Seattle tonight, and will eventually be driving back to New York, after side trips to Vancouver BC, Olympia, and San Fran. When I moved to Seattle for grad school back in 2005, I used a Rand McNally road atlas to plot time and distances between stops. This time around I used Google Maps, which made it much easier to fiddle around with spacing the stops out. You can check out my plan (for Seattle to New York via San Fran) here. Place names and Long / Lat coordinates get passed through the url, making it easy to hack together your own map.

I’m still taking that road atlas with me though!

Hypercities – Hypermedia Berlin

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Last week, I met Prof John Maciuika , a Baruch CUNY professor who is one of the Academic Directors of the Hypercities project. Created by the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities, this site is essentially like a geographic content management system for cities. Built on the Google Map interface, users can explore city streets and features for a variety of time periods. Historical maps have been scanned in, and current features from Google can be layered on top. For each historical period, you can see photos, video, commentary, and Google KML files for several landmarks – buildings, parks, and districts.

If you register with the site, you can create your own account where you can upload your own content. For profs who want to use this as part of their teaching, you can grant access to portions of your account to groups (a class for instance), where they will be able to view and interact with your content. For example, students may need to explore various architectural projects by visiting them on the map, and then they could upload their assignments (and even photos of their own) to the map where the rest of the group can see them.

Hypermedia Berlin Screen ShotCurrently, Berlin is the featured city and the one that has the most complete content. There is some content for Los Angeles, and there are plans to add New York, Chicago, Paris, and Beijing. Check it out at It’s still a work in progress, so some of the features may not be active yet.

Copyright © 2017 Gothos. All Rights Reserved.
No computers were harmed in the 0.482 seconds it took to produce this page.

Designed/Developed by Lloyd Armbrust & hot, fresh, coffee.