1. Waffle House by Latitude

    After the seriousness of the Nobody Lives Here map, we’re back to the silliness of Waffle House. I promised more visualizations of WaHo geography, and here I deliver.

    This graphic shows a mash-up of two visualization types: a map and a bar chart. The concept is similar to Bill Rankin’s population histograms, which tabulate population counts by latitude or longitude. Here, Waffle House restaurant locations are counted by their latitude, grouped into segments of 0.25 degrees.

    WaHo’s status as primarily a southern institution is well-established. And the results here match that expectation, with only a handful of restaurants to be found north of the Mason-Dixon line. But these results also emphasize how Waffle House distribution is more a phenomenon of the Deep South. Of the 1606 locations in my (2012) data set, 66% of them are located south of the Georgia-Tennessee border (35° 59’ N).

    Looking at the longest bars, we see the Atlanta metro area dominating again, just as it did on the 3d Density Map. The first, third and fourth-longest bars pass straight through the ATL and its environs (Athens helps a bit too). There’s another, smaller concentration near 33° N that we can attribute to locations in Dallas-Fort Worth. Nashville is also responsible for a relatively long bar.

    The takeaway from this graphic for me though, is the bar that passes along the Gulf Coast (as well as the two smaller bars on either side). It’s the second-longest bar on the page, yet no single city can account for it. Instead, it’s mostly a string of locations tied together by one common element: Interstate 10.

    The Gulf Coast between Jacksonville and Houston has 78 Waffle House locations within one mile of I-10 (and an additional 9 along the I-12 bypass of New Orleans). Plus, many of the towns along that route have restaurants near the coast. US 90 between Mobile and LaFayette adds an additional 19 locations.

    Given the linear spread of Waffle House locations along the Gulf Coast, I’m tempted to coin the term “Waffle Belt” to describe that region. Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad.

    I hereby christen the Gulf Coast from Houston to Jacksonville as The Waffle Belt. May its syrup always be heated and its batter forever fluffy.


    Map Notes

    • I chose the Miller Cylindrical projection for this map because I needed the parallels to be, well, parallel. Can’t have curved latitudes with straight bars. I also wanted to minimize the area distortion in the northern states, so that ruled Mercator right out.
    • As with the 3D map, the Waffle House location data is my own creation made by geocoding addresses with Google and MapQuest.
    • Made with QGIS, Photoshop, Apple Numbers and my own Python script
    • Highway data from National Highway Planning Network, U.S. Dept. of Transportation

    Annotated version with call-outs


  2. France Edition: Nobody Lives Here

    This is not a “map by nik”, but one by twitter user @matamix. And it is a fine companion piece to my United States version that I thought I’d share.

    Based on population data from INSEE, it shows the parts of Metropolitan France where people don’t live. Like the U.S. map, terrain plays a big role in determining where people settle. For instance, the roughness of Alps (southeast) and the Pyrenees (southwest) Mountains, prevents habitation. On the southern Atlantic coast, forestation acts as an impediment to human living in Aquitaine.

    The vast expanse of “uninhabited” land in the northeast (Burgundy, Champagne-Ardenne) is a bit of a mystery. Much of it is arable land and likely covered in agriculture, especially on the side near Paris. But Brittany and Pays-de-la-Loire are also prime agricultural land. So why do we see such different settlement patterns between the regions?

    Perhaps someone more familiar with the geography of France can clue me in. I’d appreciate it.

    Update: jedo52 explained to me that the regions did not share agricultural practices historically. Brittany and the northwest are traditionally covered in a bocage landscape where housing is dispersed in many hamlets. In the east however, farm fields are more open with housing more concentrated into villages.

    Finally, the numbers. France checks in at about 32% unoccupied compared to 47% in the U.S. Considering the higher population density in France, it’s not surprising that the country is “less empty” of humanity.

    In any event, @matamix’s map is a great contribution to the discussion of where people aren’t.


  3. Nobody lives here: The nearly 5 million Census Blocks with zero population

    A Block is the smallest area unit used by the U.S. Census Bureau for tabulating statistics. As of the 2010 census, the United States consists of 11,078,300 Census Blocks. Of them, 4,871,270 blocks totaling 4.61 million square kilometers were reported to have no population living inside them. Despite having a population of more than 310 million people, 47 percent of the USA remains unoccupied.

    Green shading indicates unoccupied Census Blocks. A single inhabitant is enough to omit a block from shading

    Quick update: If you’re the kind of map lover who cares about cartographic accuracy, check out the new version which fixes the Gulf of California. If you use this map in your own projects, please save this file instead.

    Update 2014.05.01: I’ve received a couple questions about Canada. Just to be clear, this map is of the United States only. It is based on 2010 data published by the U.S. Census Bureau, which for reasons I hope are apparent, does not include data on our friends in the Great White North. For a similar depiction of Canada, see this map whipped up by Michael Chung.

    Map observations

    The map tends to highlight two types of areas:

    • places where human habitation is physically restrictive or impossible, and
    • places where human habitation is prohibited by social or legal convention.

    Water features such lakes, rivers, swamps and floodplains are revealed as places where it is hard for people to live. In addition, the mountains and deserts of the West, with their hostility to human survival, remain largely void of permanent population.

    Of the places where settlement is prohibited, the most apparent are wilderness protection and recreational areas (such as national and state parks) and military bases. At the national and regional scales, these places appear as large green tracts surrounded by otherwise populated countryside.

    At the local level, city and county parks emerge in contrast to their developed urban and suburban surroundings. At this scale, even major roads such as highways and interstates stretch like ribbons across the landscape.

    Commercial and industrial areas are also likely to be green on this map. The local shopping mall, an office park, a warehouse district or a factory may have their own Census Blocks. But if people don’t live there, they will be considered “uninhabited”. So it should be noted that just because a block is unoccupied, that does not mean it is undeveloped.

    Perhaps the two most notable anomalies on the map occur in Maine and the Dakotas. Northern Maine is conspicuously uninhabited. Despite being one of the earliest regions in North America to be settled by Europeans, the population there remains so low that large portions of the state’s interior have yet to be politically organized.

    In the Dakotas, the border between North and South appears to be unexpectedly stark. Geographic phenomena typically do not respect artificial human boundaries. Throughout the rest of the map, state lines are often difficult to distinguish. But in the Dakotas, northern South Dakota is quite distinct from southern North Dakota. This is especially surprising considering that the county-level population density on both sides of the border is about the same at less than 10 people per square mile.

    Update: On a more detailed examination of those two states, I’m convinced the contrast here is due to differences in the sizes of the blocks. North Dakota’s blocks are more consistently small (StDev of 3.3) while South Dakota’s are more varied (StDev of 9.28). West of the Missouri River, South Dakota’s blocks are substantially larger than those in ND, so a single inhabitant can appear to take up more space. Between the states, this provides a good lesson in how changing the size and shape of a geographic unit can alter perceptions of the landscape.

    Finally, the differences between the eastern and western halves of the contiguous 48 states are particularly stark to me. In the east, with its larger population, unpopulated places are more likely to stand out on the map. In the west, the opposite is true. There, population centers stand out against the wilderness.


    Ultimately, I made this map to show a different side of the United States. Human geographers spend so much time thinking about where people are. I thought I might bring some new insight by showing where they are not, adding contrast and context to the typical displays of the country’s population geography.

    I’m sure I’ve all but scratched the surface of insight available from examining this map. There’s a lot of data here. What trends and patterns do you see?


    • The Gulf of California is missing from this version. I guess it got filled in while doing touch ups. Oops. There’s a link to a corrected map at the top of the post.
    • Some islands may be missing if they were not a part of the waterbody data sets I used.


    ©mapsbynik 2014
    Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
    Block geography and population data from U.S. Census Bureau
    Water body geography from National Hydrology Dataset and Natural Earth
    Made with Tilemill
    USGS National Atlas Equal Area Projection


  4. Waffle House Density by Quad

    The map shown here is a truly quick-and-dirty visualization of the distribution and density of Waffle House locations as of summer 2012. It started as a way for me to play with 3D in Google Earth, but that giant spike in Atlanta was interesting enough that I thought it worth sharing.

    The rectangles represent USGS 30x60 minute (1:100,000) map quad boundaries and the height extrusions are proportional to the number of Waffle House locations found within that quad.

    Map Observations

    Atlanta, Georgia is the clear standout on the map. Its quad contains 132 locations. Immediately north of Atlanta, the Cartersville, Georgia quad is next highest on the list with 45 locations. These are followed by Greenville, SC (34), Athens, GA (29) and Fort Worth, TX (25).

    The Atlanta metro area’s dominance on the map is not unexpected, though its scale is somewhat surprising. The first Waffle House restaurant opened in the Avondale Estates, an inner Atlanta suburb, in 1955 and the company is headquartered in Norcross, another nearby suburb.

    Waffle House has a reputation for omnipresence in the south and that seems especially true in the Atlanta area. The Atlanta quad has nearly three times the number of restaurants as the next highest. And that next highest quad, Cartersville, actually contains most of the north Atlanta metro area. Atlanta is home to a full eleven percent of WaHo locations.

    Beyond Atlanta, the map shows that Waffle House is indeed primarily a southern phenomenon with a few surprising and unusual patterns in a couple metro areas. Phoenix and Denver have a handful of locations, but there are none in California. Amarillo has five locations, but San Antonio has zero despite being a much larger city at the junction of two major interstates.

    Top 21 Quads

    Quad Name Number of Locations
    Atlanta (GA) 132
    Cartersville (GA) 45
    Greenville (SC) 34
    Athens (GA) 29
    Fort Worth (TX) 25
    Nashville (TN) 24
    Griffin (GA) 23
    Commerce (GA/SC) 20
    Mobile (AL/MS) 20
    Louisville (KY/IN) 18
    Dallas (TX) 18
    Macon (GA) 18
    Bay Minette (AL/FL) 18
    Charlotte (NC/SC) 17
    Aiken (SC/GA) 17
    Jackson (MS/LA) 17
    Raleigh (NC) 16
    Little Rock (AR) 16
    Gulfport (MS/LA) 16
    Biloxi (MS/AL) 16
    Pensacola (FL/AL) 16


    This visualization stems from my irrational, lifelong infatuation with Waffle House, the always-open dive joint that manages to provide a low-cost, consistently-satisfying breakfast meal at its 1600+ locations. It’s one product of a casual analysis I started a few years ago to find WaHo locations that were unexpectedly close to each other, and it snowballed into a bunch of different depictions of Waffle House geography. I recently stumbled on these old files and will (eventually) be sharing them as I get them cleaned up and presentable.

    Additional Notes

    Grouping by USGS 1:100,000 quads was an attractive option for this data for a couple of reasons:

    • The area of each quad is the same, so comparisons among them are equitable. Actually, this isn’t true. My software lied to me. In fact, due to converging meridians, quads cover smaller areas in the north. The difference, fortunately, does not affect the results of the analysis.
    • The quads are continuous across the entire USA. There are no gaps, so every Waffle House location falls within one quad.
    • Quad boundaries are static. They will not have changed if I update the data.
    • Quads are named for the area they cover, making it easy to discuss particular locations.
    • At approximately 2392 square miles each, quads are a nice “bucket” size for tabulating this kind of location data meaningfully.

    Restaurant addresses were taken from wafflehouse.com and geocoded with services from both Google and MapQuest. Discrepancies were rectified by hand. As a set, the locations are generally accurate but no given restaurant is guaranteed to be correct.


  5. There’s a saying–common in travel books–that Paris is so friendly to pedestrians, no point in the city is more than 500 meters (about six minutes on foot) from a metro station. Putting that notion to the test, this map highlights areas where the saying is indeed true. Within the départment of Paris proper, 96% of its area (excluding the large parks) is but a short walk from any RER or Métro stop.

    © mapsbynik 2013
    Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs
    Data from OpenStreetMap
    Made with QGIS and Tilemill
    Mercator projection


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A larger version of "Nobody Lives Here?"
Yes. Pan and zoom, see a detailed view of unpopulated census blocks.