As former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg famously said, “If you can’t measure, it you can’t manage it and fix it.”
The U.S. Census Bureau is a common way we measure population trends across the country, and the data from the census are gathered by the geographic measuring units of census tracts and census blockgroups. If you’re a map nerd like me, you become familiar with census tracts and their inexplicable shapes at times that seem like experimental Gerrymandering. In the Census Bureau’s own words:
“The primary purpose of census tracts is to provide a stable set of geographic units for the presentation of statistical data.“
The boundaries are established at the local level, and the Census Bureau is involved only when state, local or tribal governments decline. Every 10 years the census tracts and blocks can be redrawn. If the boundaries change too much, then the value of the data collected from the census loses usefulness because comparing the data to past census periods becomes impossible.
Census tracts are the most commonly used unit to present census data; the census blockgroup is a smaller subunit of a census tract. Because census blockgroups are smaller, they are valuable when showing population changes over very small areas. When you have a low-income apartment complex in the same large census tract as a sprawling wealthy residential neighborhood, for instance, then analyzing trends in poverty rates can miss important facts. Putting the low-income apartment complex and the wealthy residential neighborhood in their own census blockgroup can make the trends stand out.
We make a lot of policy decisions around what we can represent by census tracts and blockgroups. The recent tax policy around Opportunity Zones are a good example. My recent series of Hennepin Minus Minneapolis maps had two maps that displayed income and age data by census blockgroups.
Because I love data visualization and maps, I dug in to see the Met Council’s proposed changes on its interactive map. It is useful to be able to turn on and off the 2010 and 2020 layers and see what changes.
Staring at these you probably miss the changes, so I’ll break down the small changes to the Minneapolis and St. Paul census tracts:
- St. Paul is getting two new tracts. Downtown St. Paul gets one, and a new one will be carved out near West Seventh Street, Davern and St. Paul Avenue. East St. Paul also has a few tiny boundary tweaks.
- Minneapolis is getting five new tracts: two along the downtown river front, North Loop and the Gateway District plus a piece of the Mill District. Loring Park is having another census tract sliced into it. Stadium Village is being divided from the East Bank of the University of Minnesota. Some type of swap is occurring on the West Bank where Cedar Riverside is becoming its own new tract and the piece of the University of Minnesota on the West Bank is being merged into the rest of the surrounding tract that included Seven Corners, Augsburg University and Fairview Hospital. Finally, the proposal calls for merging two tracts in north Minneapolis into one new tract near Plymouth and I-94.
Some big changes are happening in the suburbs as well.
Hopkins went from three bizarre tracts to five more sensible tracts, simply by dividing the east side into two new tracts. The 2010 boundaries really bothered me, so I strongly support the 2020 update for Hopkins as it fixes some of the most bizarre tract boundaries in the Twin Cities.
Maple Grove is proposed to get seven new census tracts. Plymouth is getting three new census tracts. Chaska will double from three to six tracts. Shakopee will go from five to eight, Woodbury from 11 to 15, Blaine from 13 to 16, Brooklyn Park from 13 to 17 and Lakeville from nine to 13.
Like most inner-ring suburbs, St. Louis Park and Edina are unchanged, and Richfield loses one census tract with the proposed merger of two tracts in the northeast corner.
Some interesting and more significant changes are going on in the census blockgroup boundaries. For instance, the Wedge is going from four to three census blockgroups. East Isles will drop from three to two blockgroups. Whittier is getting majorly rearranged for its blockgroups, and downtown is getting a lot of new census blockgroups.
There’s a lot to compare. Check out the census tract changes, turn on and off the different layers, and see how your neighborhood will be represented in the census statistics. If you have an opinion on the proposals, click here to give the Met Council feedback!