Maps and Income: More on Why Provo Feels Less Vibrant

I recently discovered an incredible website that shows you the income levels of different neighborhoods. Called “Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks,” the website uses a heat map overlaid on a Google map and in this case visually represents the income disparity issues I mentioned in this post — i.e. Provo is poorer than the cities to which it is most often compared.

Here’s what Provo looks like:

The city is red because it's on the lowest end of the spectrum.

The city is red because it’s on the lowest end of the spectrum.

Hopefully this image helps disabuse people of the idea that Provo’s low income stats are the result of students or other unique factors. As the map shows, lower-than-average incomes are common throughout the city.

By way of comparison, here’s Boulder, Colorado:

Boulder, Colorado.

Boulder, Colorado.

Boulder clearly has it’s own area with a high concentration of lower income earners, but its map also includes bigger swaths of more colors. Tellingly, the peripheries are darker, indicating higher incomes. As I argued throughout the series on income and poverty, this is one the biggest differences between Provo and Boulder and is a major reason why the Colorado city may seem more vibrant.

And just for fun, here’s Orem:

Orem, Utah.

Orem, Utah.

Obviously the physical makeup of these cities influences income distribution; Orem is more uniformly filled with single family homes so there are fewer places for low income people to live there. And long term Provo’s more diverse housing and demographics will surely be an asset.

But based on this map Orem has a lot going for it; there’s simply more money there.

No one map or statistic (or blog post) paints a full picture of how income shapes a city’s physical and economic environment. But as I’ve argued before, it will be difficult or nearly impossible for Provo to feel more like Boulder or Ann Arbor when it’s poorer.


Filed under Development, economics

4 responses to “Maps and Income: More on Why Provo Feels Less Vibrant

  1. Gary

    For sure Provo has a large areas of lower income population, but the way you cropped the image of Provo also leaves out some large chunks of Provo with higher income populations and instead places them in the Orem image.

    • That’s fair. I tried to zoom in equal amounts on all three images and the point was really to show concentration, not distribution, but inevitably there will be sections of overlap.

  2. Nathan

    Both areas of Provo and Boulder in red are older homes on smaller lots, ideal for younger (lower income) households.

    Im leery of any map that identifies poor as a product of income. The amount of money you have is not as important as how you control it. Who cares about the specific amount of income on a block. Resources matter, not the amount of money.

    Also, as long as the census identifies “poor” as the bottom quintile of wage earners you will always have “poor” no matter how high income levels raise.

  3. Jen

    This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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