Mapping Center Adds Accuracy to Census


It's hard enough for the U.S. Census Bureau to count every resident in America and Puerto Rico every 10 years, but that task gets even more challenging when it comes to historically hard-to-count neighborhoods. CUNY is trying to help.

The University's Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center launched The Census 2010 Hard-To-Count Interactive Map ( The interactive website helps community groups and local governments to better target difficult to count areas. "Everyone should have a vested interest in making sure everyone is counted, because there's so much at stake," says Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service. "There are billions of federal dollars that are spent based on the census data, local resources allotted based on census data, businesses making decisions based on the data, so if the census is inaccurate, you won't get the resources that you deserve."

The mapping center isn't the only help CUNY is providing. "Be Counted" assistance centers, where students and city residents could get census forms in multiple languages were opened at several of the colleges in the spring.

"CUNY has been working closely with federal census officials for the past year and a half by hosting training sessions on many campuses and helping students apply for census employment," says Chancellor Matthew Goldstein.

At the mapping service, the map displays detailed demographic and housing characteristics, which allow census advocates to target their activities to address language barriers, educational attainment, high poverty rates, large numbers of renters and others issues. Site users can view hard-to-count census tracts within states, counties, metro areas, cities, tribal lands, congressional districts and ZIP Codes.

Romalewski says it took six months to develop the interactive application, analyze data provided by the Census Bureau's tract-level panning database and work with local groups around the country to understand their needs. Google provided technical advice (the site contains Google Maps) and access to server resources.

"The website makes it possible to do door-to-door outreach," says Howard Shih of the Asian American Federation of New York, a coalition of over 40 organizations, 30 of which are active in the census. "The key advantage of this site is that it's user-friendly and it can be used by the general public."

The site was funded with a grant from the Long Island-based Hagedorn Foundation and is supported by the Funders Census Initiative, a coalition of foundations and philanthropic groups interested in a fair and accurate census.

Groups like the Leadership Conference Education Fund, a national civil-rights organization that is leading a national campaign in support of the 2010 census, the National Congress of American Indians, The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and various immigrant community organizations have used the site, says Romalewski.