Atlantic Cities

A New Census App Tells You Where You Should Be Living

If you find yourself in geographic limbo this holiday season – perhaps stranded in an airport or marooned with family far from your own familiar home – new Census Bureau app dwellr offers to help you get your socioeconomic bearings.

The tool, available for Apple or Android devices, will give you a demographic profile of your current location – population, median housing value, racial diversity, education level, and the like – based on data from the American Community Survey.

More usefully, if you’re in the market for a new place to live, the way 30 million Americans are each year, the app will let you plug in key information about yourself and start looking for a city (or suburb) to live in. Indicate your preferred employment, whether you like the mountains or the coast, your favorite commuting mode, your marital status, and so on. Dwellr will generate a list of up to 25 communities that are a good match for you.

I’ll give it high marks for matching me accurately. Dwellr pulled up my hometown of New York – the city I can't seem to tear myself away from – as my top choice, with Philadelphia and Boston rounding out the very short list (no wonder I feel like I don’t have many options).

What was more fun, though, was feeding the app false information. When I answered every question as close to the opposite of the truth, I came up with a long list of places in the Midwest, many of which I had never heard of. What would my life be like if I spent it in Hubbard, Ohio? It was kind of great to imagine.

Best of all, though, the Census Bureau has made the American Community Survey and 2010 Census figures available to any programmer by providing API access to the same data sets it used to build this app. So if you’re a developer out there who thinks dwellr is lame, have at it. Maybe you can do better.

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn. All posts »

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