Data Visualization in Story Maps

Given my interest in the impact of new technologies on everyday life and culture, I have taken a class at the University of Oregon called  "Our Digital World." I have learned topics in data science, cartography, crowd-sourcing, story maps, and collaborative mapping platforms. As part of the class requirements, I created three small projects using story maps: 1) The Portuguese-Speaking World Through the Eyes of Colonization, 2) Evaluating Potential Food Deserts in Boston, MA; and 3) Transit Access and Ethnicity in Portland, OR.

The Portuguese-Speaking World Through the Eyes of Colonization

The Portuguese-Speaking World Through the Eyes of Colonization map addresses the global spread of the Portuguese language and culture in the present day. The goal for this map is centered at describing an idea of place through language construction in which encompasses people and their social dynamics, complexities, and development after independence. This story map covers the relationships between colonial history, language, cultural memory, spatial thinking, and digital humanities.  This means that this project enhances the understanding of cultural texts and dynamics that have resulted from the centuries-long networks of exchange among and beyond Portuguese-speaking regions in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. 

Food Deserts in Boston, Massachusetts

As the 24th most populated city in the United States according to the 2010 census, Boston is an interesting city to be considered when discussing the issue of food deserts in the U.S. For example, the number of young people living in the area—due to the large density of colleges distributed throughout the city—as well as the historical role that Boston has had in the foundation of the country, continuously shapes the city’s socioeconomic reality. Although the distribution of food retailers in Boston area is relatively well spread in the north, it is considerably dispersed in other parts of the city. The same point data are less prominent in the south and outskirts of the city (eastern part). These areas have a lower density of food retail access, causing a potential food desert—if considered the use of car or transportation. In fact, the USDA defines food deserts as an area where the access to obtain fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods is challenged due to a lack of grocery stores, farms, and other providers. Considering the Boston's expansion since the 17th century, the city's transportation systems are also key components to adequately understand the reasons causing or perpetuating potential food deserts.

In fact, the geographical distribution of grocery stores or supermarkets in Boston area is clustered, to a great extent, mostly in the northern part of the city, near highways (such as I-90) and its connection roads. For example, this distribution feature could allow visitors from nearby towns to purchase food in the city with no difficulty to commute either using a car or public transportation, considering that there are bus stops along those roads. In addition, there are a number of supermarkets located near the city border with surrounding towns, such as Brookline, MA. On the other hand, the distribution of grocery stores or supermarkets is remarkably less present in the southern parts of the city, as well as near the Boston Logan International Airport.

By median household income, Boston ranks as one of the top 10 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., according to the United States Bureau of the Census. However, the Brooking institute based in Washington D.C. has considered Boston as one of the cities with the highest level of inequality, in terms of median household income. This leads to a potential issue with food desert. On the map, most of the grocery stores are located in areas where the median household income ranges from $73,000 to $104,00—way higher than the U.S. median household income of $52,217. The farther one gets from the northern part of the city, more point data of grocery stores are found in the median household income of $43,000 to $73,000 and $12,000 to $43,000, respectively. Therefore, most of the food places remain more feasible to middle class. Furthermore, most of the grocery stores are located in areas where the unemployment rate is no higher than 11%—nearly two times the national unemployment rate of 6.4%. The relationship between relatively high unemployment rate (in comparison to the national rate) with the high median household income unveils an enormous probability for inequality in Boston and, therefore, the existence of food deserts.

Therefore, there are food deserts in Boston. However, their distribution varies depending on whether or not public transportation or car is considered. Not considering the use of car or public transportation, in this case, it is possible to inform that the overlap of low-income distribution data from 2015 U.S. Census with the geographical distribution of food retailers reveals a food desert around the eastern part of Boston, near the Logan International Airport.


City and Metropolitan Inequality on the Rise, Driven by Declining Incomes. Rep. Brookings Institute.Web. 7 Apr. 2016. <>.

Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts. Rep. United States Department of Agriculture.  <>.

"Interactive Population Map." U.S. Census 2010. Web. 4 Apr. 2016. <>.

Transit Access and Ethnicity in Portland, Oregon

Quickly booming into a viable tech hub, Portland, OR, has been featured on the Huffington Post in January 2015 as the “New Silicon Valley.” With new tech companies opening offices in the city along with growing population, Portland has attracted several families and college graduates from across the United States. Well-known for having one of the best transportation systems in the country, with its famous light rail and streetcar operations—indicated as strong black lines in the first, third, and fourth map— Portland is also one of the most homogeneous metropolitan cities in the country when it comes to race. Such demographic feature potentially leads to a problem of urban mobility, since the less represented communities tend to live where the housing price is lower and, most likely, not convenient for public transportation options. By using thematic maps for the demographic variables and reference map for the MAX and bus transit lines, the ultimate goal is to understand the access to public transportation in the city of Portland through the lens of ethnicity.

In fact, the population data used in all maps are both qualitative (as for the different ethnic groups) and quantitative (normalized by Pop10). Linear variables are used to show the transit lines and point variables to show stops in maps 1, 3, and 4—qualitative phenomena. For a demographic phenomenon, the areal variables are used in all maps, whereas size-point quantitative variables are applied in map 2 (classified data).

In map 1, for example, it is possible to note that the majority of people are clustered in the city’s outskirts. As a matter of fact, this tendency has the potential to increase in the next decades, considering the fast-increasing rent price around downtown Portland in the last couple of years.

When it comes to analyzing the distribution of black people around the city, it is clear that they are clustered mostly in Gresham, immediately east of Portland, as well as the north part of the city. On the other hand, whites are closer to the Multnomah river that splits Portland in two, where there are plenty bus lines running all day and where housing options are way more expensive.

According to the “Where We Need to Go: A Civil Rights Roadmap for Transportation Equity” report, racial minorities are four times more likely than Whites to rely on public transportation for their work commute. Although this number has been estimated based in the U.S. as a whole picture, it is clearly reflected in map 3. Though Portland may be a model for the nation when it comes to sustainable transportation features, there are elements that need to be revamped in order to provide better options for minorities in such a homogeneous city.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, Portland is still nearly 80 percent white. In terms of minorities in the city of Portland, map 2 and 3 show a peculiar geographical distribution of black people in the city that is intrinsically related to the history of the State of Oregon itself. With exclusion laws in the 19th century, Portland has banned blacks from moving there and in 1844 the Provisional Government mandated that blacks attempting to settle in Oregon would be publicly whipped. Though the Oregon constitution adopted in 1857 banned slavery, it also excluded blacks from legal residence. Oregon had formalized the practice of racial discrimination early in the twentieth century, but by the 1920s, Oregon had also a well-established and a well-earned reputation as a hostile and dangerous place for blacks. That reputation was solidified by the presence in the state of the largest Ku Klux Klan chapter west of the Mississippi River. With the Great Depression in 1929 and the World War II, the demographics started to change. After World War II, however, racial and civic reform movements began to gain energy and support from a growing number of whites.

According to the Oregon Historical Society’s video Oregon History 101 - "Looks Like a Good Beginning: Immigration, Ethnicity, and Exclusion in Oregon,” one-third of Portland residents were foreign-born in 1890, implying that there was diversity that included other cultural practices and languages. In the same time, German was the largest European ethnic group with the Irish in the second place. Also, early 20th century, the Chinese community was prominent, and Portland had the second largest Chinatown in the United States. In the 20th century, the population has doubled. There were several driving forces behind the growth of the population, such as the port of Portland and the investment from the congress as well as the Completion of the Railroad Line and the Portland Hotel.

For example, according to the "The History of Portland's American Community (1805 to the Present) published in 1933 by the Portland Bureau of Planning, job opportunities available at the railroads and Portland Hotel stimulated a small population growth within Oregon's black community, particularly in the parts of Portland located within Multnomah county. Oregon's black population had increased from 487 people in 1880 to 1,186 people by 1890; a 41 percent increase. Between 1990 and 1900 the number of black people in Oregon decreased slightly, but in the same decade, the proportion of the black population living in Multnomah County rose from 44 percent to 70 percent.

Portland's public transit provides riders with a variety of travel options, including buses, light rail, commuter rail, streetcars, and an aerial tram, but these options are most likely to be present where high upper-middle class lives—not where small communities such as Hispanic clustered around Beaverton and Gresham, or where blacks are up in the north.

In addition to that, the ability to permute within a city is a key dynamic of urbanization process worldwide,  according to the UN-Habitat.  In fact, urban mobility embraces the associated infrastructure that invariably shapes the urban form – the spatial imprint defined by roads, transport systems, spaces, and buildings – of cities.

The continuous development of urban centers depends on how efficiently people can move from their houses to places of employment, markets, schools, health services, and other institutions. Therefore, transportation is a civil and human rights priority. Furthermore, access to affordable and reliable transportation directly widens opportunities within the city, facilitating the lives of people who are economically active. Public transportation and urban mobility also play an important role in tackling poverty, unemployment, and problems with education. In the case of Portland, the current transportation system does not equally benefit all communities and populations. And the negative effects of some transportation decisions— such as the disruption of low-income neighborhoods — are broadly felt and have long-lasting effects. Providing equal access to transportation means providing all individuals living in Portland with an equal opportunity to succeed.


"Population Estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015)." Portland, Oregon - Facts from the US Census Bureau. Web. 06 May 2016. <>.

United States. Portland Bureau of Planning. The History of Portland's African American Community: 1805 to the Present. Portland, 1993. Print.

 Miller, Clair C. "Where Young College Graduates Are Choosing to Live." Web log post. The New York Times. 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 5 May 2016. <>.

"Mobility." – UN-Habitat. Web. 06 May 2016. <>.

Strutner, Suzy. "Meet The New Silicon Valley." Weblog post. Suzy Strutner. Huffington Post, 25 Jan. 2015. Web. 5 May 2016. <>.

"Blacks in Oregon." Blacks in Oregon. Web. 06 May 2016. <>.

"Oregon History 101 - "Looks Like a Good Beginning: Immigration, Ethnicity, and Exclusion in Oregon"" YouTube. YouTube, 2015. Web. 06 May 2016.