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The Chicago Transit Authority Map of Economic Hardship

The Chicago Transit Authority Map of Economic Hardship
Flickr/swanksalot

If you get on the Red Line "El" train in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, the economy is booming. Per capita income is about $71,000 – nearly three times the city average. Only about 12 percent of households in the area are below the poverty line. Things are going well.

But just a handful of stops later, the neighborhood economy has drastically changed. If you got off that same Red Line train in the Fuller Park neighborhood just a few miles south of downtown Chicago, per capita income drops to just about $9,000, and more than 55 percent of households are under the poverty line.

These dramatic differences are plentiful in a city like Chicago. They're made even more clear by the CTA Hardship map, a mash-up of neighborhood economic data and a map of the city's train system. Built by Christopher Whitaker and Josh Kalov using data made available by the city, the map overlays data on per capita income, poverty, employment and household crowding to track economic disparities. They call this the "hardship index."

The city is divided into 77 different districts, with the most economically hard-hit areas showing up in darker gray. Train stations in neighborhoods with the median income below the poverty line show up on the map as red dots. The Red Line stations in Lincoln Park, with its above average income levels, shine a bright green.


Christopher Whitaker and Josh Kalov

The neighborhoods with the most economic hardship are those to the west of downtown, as well as most of south Chicago. The south branches of the Red and Orange lines are particularly hard-hit, as are stations along the line heading south of downtown.

The 91st Street (South Chicago) station has a per capita income of $15,393 and 28 percent of the neighborhood's households are below the poverty line. Its Hardship Index is 79. The Pulaski-Lake Green Line station a few miles west of the downtown Loop has a per capita income of $10,951, and more than 40 percent of the neighborhood's households are below the poverty line. Its Hardship Index is 92, one of the highest on the map.

This map is similar to another map posted over at The Atlantic last week that overlays life expectancy on the London Underground system map. Both are clear visualizations of how money is spread out in these cities, and where poverty and its related problems are located. The CTA Hardship map probably offers few surprises to those familiar with the city, but it's still a striking reinterpretation of the otherwise benign map of its transit network.

Top image credit: Flickr/swanksalot

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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