Six Interesting Maps of 2013 (and One Graphic)

Caitlin Dempsey


Everyone loves a great map.  Maps engage readers and help them discover something they wouldn’t otherwise have learned about the world. Taking a look back at the maps that debuted this past year, here are my top picks for the most interesting and best maps of 2013.  While there are many fantastic maps (both static and interactive) that are produced every year, those listed here produced the most public reaction and seemed to resonate most strongly with people.

Living Cities

The Living Cities effort by HERE (formerly known as NAVTEQ and Nokia Location & Commerce) and CartoDB really helps bring to life the daily momentum of some of the world’s biggest cities.  Profiling London, Chicago, Rome, Helsinki, and Mumbai, Living Cities shows the dynamics of those cities over a 24 hour period.  By using data that HERE collects through connected devices such as smartphones and cars, the interactive map visualizes the flow of each city through transit data, popups with interesting trivia about points of interest, and audio.  The mapping showcase was built using HTML5 and CartoDB.

Visit: Living Cities

Living Cities screenshot for Chicago.

World Runways

Developing maps using a singular source of dense geographic data is popular.  James Davenport, who made last years most interesting maps list with his United States of Starbucks, has done it again with a map showing the location of the world’s runways.  A PhD candidate in Astronomy at the University of Washington, Davenport uses his If We Assume blog to explore his love of data visualizations.  His end result is a map of 45,132 runways pulled from the open-data site, OurAirports.  One thing is for sure, there are a lot of airport runways, from major hubs to dirt runways.  There is enough of a density that the continents on the map are legible.

Visit: Airports of the World

Airport runways of the world.  Map by James Davenport.
Airport runways of the world. Map by James Davenport.

Map of Twitter Users

Another popular endeavor is mapping out Tweets.   Efforts like the One Million Tweets and the Topography Tweets are just a couple of examples.  MapBox presented its own project that took the 280 million geolocated tweets that have occurred since Twitter launched and analyzed them geography by smartphone device.  Created by MapBox’s Tom MacWright and data artist Eric Fischer (who is know for his  geotagged Flickr photo visualizations), the end result is an interaction map that invites users to explore the global and local variations in smartphone users.

Visit: Mobile Devices + Twitter Users

Map of tweets based on smartphone device in Los Angeles from MapBox.
Map of tweets based on smartphone device in Los Angeles from MapBox.

Global Bike Share Map

Bike share inventory around the world can be viewed at one convenient location, thanks to  Oliver O’Brien, a researcher and software developer at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) with University College London (UCL).  O’Brien pulled data every 2-10 minutes from local government agencies as well as from a third party data source,  The data is then served on top of OpenStreetMap base layers. The result is a near real-time map view of bike share inventory for cities around the world, as well as a global view.

Visit: Bike Share Map

Bike share map for New York City.
Bike share map for New York City.

American Dialect Maps

How do Americans around the United States pronounce different worlds?  Joshua Katz, a graduate student in statistics at North Carolina State University created a series of 122 maps that used data from Bert Vaux’s dialect survey to map out pronunciation differences around the country.  Bert Vaux is a professor of linguistics at the University of Cambridge who surveys English language speech patterns; for example where do people say pop versus soda.  Katz took his data and smoothed it out to create raster maps of the United States showing regional differences in American speech.  The series of maps went widely viral after a posting on Reddit and a subsequent pickup by the Business Insider.

Visit: Dialect Survey Maps (and take the survey on your own speech patterns while you are there)

Where do Americans say what?  Map series of patterns of English speech in the United States.
Where do Americans say what? Map series of patterns of English speech in the United States.

Manifest Destiny

Starting with the Declaration of Independence and ending with August 1959, Michael Porath visualizes the story of the geographic growth of the United States in 144 maps.  Each map represents a change in the border of the United States until the very last states, Alaska and Hawaii become states.  Porath, a Swiss information scientist pulled data from Wikipedia’s Territorial evolution of the United States page in order to create each map.

Visit: Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny map series.
Manifest Destiny map series.

Flow of American Migration

While not technically a map, this effort by Chris Walker devices an honorable mention for its creative use of showing the geographic flow of American migrants.  Developed using D3, the interactive graphic shows migration patterns among states using taken from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.  Migration flow is show by bands that extend from one state to the other.  Statistics for overall migration in and out of a state are shown as a pop up when the mouse is hovered over a state’s arc.  Hover over a band to get the migration flow between two states (more: Visualizing American Migration Without a Map).

Visit: Restless America: state-to-state migration in 2012.

Alaska migration.  Data: US Census, 2012.  Graphic: Chris Walker.
Alaska migration. Data: US Census, 2012. Graphic: Chris Walker.

While this list comprises the maps that I found to be the most interesting in 2013, inevitably a map or two that should be on the best maps of 2013 list gets missed.  Email if there’s a map that should be recognized.

See also: Most Interesting Maps of 2012.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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