Monday, September 27, 2010

Your Hometown: a left-brained and a right-brained approach to perceiving the place.

Maybe you're like me, and you're far, far away physically (and spiritually) from where you started. But maybe, like me, you still have internal conversations with old friends or family who have departed. Maybe, like me, you never stop loving people you grew up with and you visit them in blurry dreams.
Or maybe not.
Maybe you're not like me at all and the past is the past is the past...
Nevertheless, you might still like to check out these sites.
Your hometown- a left-brained and a right-brained approach to perceiving the place:

1) Arcade Fire's The Wilderness Downtown interactive video site. You really really should have Google Chrome for this experience. Just download it and all is good. The Wilderness Downtown is pretty neat. You put in the zip code from your hometown (or anywhere) and the video captures parts of your hometown using Google Maps and some awesome music and art. The result is a custom-made music video!
It may not be the hometown of your childhood memories, but, really, you can never go back to that.
It's lost. Only accessible in  those aforementioned blurry, time-smeared dreams or glimpsed running by out of the corner of your eye.

If you are unfamiliar with Arcade Fire, they are responsible for the emotional, epic music in the Where the Wild Things Are film. It's pretty interesting hearing this epic music playing over images familiar to your life. Kind of like a soundtrack to a memory from the past.

2) Patchwork Nation. This is a totally different experience than The Wilderness Downtown! Patchwork Nation is a research and reporting project that maps information about America in a more compelling and complex way than using those tired old monikers like Democrat and Republican...which really don't get to the heart of what people are. Patchwork Nation looks at the factors that might make you a liberal or conservative; like race, income level, religion, education level...but it also challenges those assumptions by showing that we are more complicated than those labels.
So, like with The Wilderness Downtown, you punch in your zip, and it spits out information relevant to you. It shows you the demographics of your hometown, or current town, and puts your county into a category like "Monied 'Burbs" or "Boom Town" or "Tractor Country" or "Evangelical Epicenter." These categories can be problematic too due to the fact that they are based on the county, not the city or neighborhood. For example, my current zip was categorized as a "Monied 'Burb", even though there is a huge immigrant population here in pretty dire poverty. Yet, because the wealth of nearby Bethesda and Chevy Chase are in the same county, the entire area is classified by that wealth.
In spite of it's limitations, Patchwork Nation gives insights on how we are changing politically and otherwise. You can see where all foreclosures are taking place and how that effects how people vote. You can see where counties with Cracker Barrels are versus counties with Whole Foods. You can create some cool map/data mashups.
Maybe I'm just a nerd. But, it was fascinating for me to see the data on the different types of communities that I've lived diverse they are, or what they have in common.
My hometown, Lake Butler, FL, currently has a population of about 15,000...and about 86% of those people consider themselves to be Evangelical Christians.
The town I reside in now, Takoma Park, MD has a population of 950,000...with just about every religion represented...only 14% Evangelical.
Very interesting!

When the creator of Patchwork Nation spoke to a group of us last week at Greenpeace, I asked him if he knew of any similar sites that study this kind of human data, but on a more global level. He pointed me to Gapminder, which looks at world trends. Cool mappy stuff.

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