geography lesson

By Rita Lee and Lola Stronach

As part of 4Culture’s Public Art Education & Outreach Program, the route maps for the first three lines of RapidRide service – King County Metro’s new bus rapid transit service set to launch in the Fall of 2010 with service unrolling through 2013 – are being studied by a group of honors geography students at the University of Washington.  In this guest blog post, students Rita Lee and Lola Stronach describe their process for exploring the B Line.

Over the past months, we have been focusing on Metro’s upcoming RapidRide Line B route, which goes through the main arterial roads of NE 8th St. and 156th Ave. SE facilitating commute for Bellevue-Redmond travelers. Our goals are to compare and contrast the dynamics of the eastside demographics since the 1990 Census, to illustrate the changes, and provide projections on future growth (or decline). To map these demographic dynamics, we used Census tracts.  A census tract is a relatively small geographic region, a subdivision of a densely populated county (in this case, it would be King County) subdivided for the purpose of taking a census.  Using the Census tract data, we retrieved data on population, race, median household income, owner/renter dynamics, education level, and average commute time. We decided that these particular attributes would best illustrate the social and economic changes in the region, and work together to create a “profile” of what the typical bus rider might be like.  We hope that this information and the maps produced will provide the artists creating route-responsive work for RapidRide, constituents of 4Culture, and community members in general a better understanding of the Eastside.

We decided to use the US Census as our source of information because of its availability, detail and the overall consistency in how information is gathered. However, this does not mean it is easy to navigate and extract information from!  To produce one map of the Eastside displaying  an attribute like population, several steps had to be taken:

1. Find the data;
2. Locate our desired parts of the data, such as population;
3. Organize the data for mapping compatibility and ease of use;
4. Import the data, transforming a bunch of numbers and letters into legible, mapped data;
5. Make the map understandable and easy to read.

Since we have decided to look at change over time, we are analyzing and using data from the 1990 and 2000 Census. These two datasets are similar in many ways, but there are some important changes. For example, the shifted boundary of the tracts, and changes to the questions asked by the Census questionnaire.  These changes have prompted some critical thinking on our part – consideration of why such changes were made and how they affect the data. Furthermore, it has prompted reflection about how fascinating  it would be to update these maps once the 2010 Census data is released!

We hope this post has given you a glimpse into not only into our project, but into the process and methods we use to make maps. We are excited to be working with 4Culture to create this treasure box of information for artists and a range of community members to use and become inspired by. To see our maps, you’ll have to check out our website in late May/early June!

Currently in process, the B Line team of students are researching the line through lenses that include demographics, interview-based personal conceptions of the area, and explorations of what is present and absent in historical photographs of the area. The students will be presenting their work at a public event at the University on June 1, 2010.