Mapping the U.S. by Property Value and Land Area

Zachary Romano


Cartograms allow data visualizers to take a map of land area and replace this variable with another one. Often times, this specialized map reveals hidden facts that may not be easily understood otherwise.

Creating a Cartogram of Land Values for the United States

In a recent analysis conducted by Max Galka, the founder of Metrocosm, a New York City-based news outlet, he replaced the values of total land area for each county in the U.S. with the total value of residential real estate in that county.

Galka then created a GIF moving between the map of land area to the residential property values and highlights the disparity between major urban centers and the rest of the U.S. (Related: These Cities are the Most Unaffordable Places to Buy a House in the World).

New York City Property Values are Outsized Compared to Most of the United States

He previously generated cartograms comparing the total property values of New York City neighborhoods with U.S. states and the results are equally striking.

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Some of the key takeaways are that New York represents 0.008% of U.S. total land area, but 5% of the total U.S. housing value at $1.5 trillion. Boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan both have higher total property values than entire states like Alabama and Colorado, respectively.

The Upper East Side neighborhood alone, valued at $96 billion, has a higher housing value than six predominantly rural states including Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska.

Similarly, Los Angeles and San Francisco have exhibited a disproportionately high housing value as compared to several U.S. states. But what are the broader consequences of such a fact and does this show a darkside to the increased employment-based migration to major U.S. cities?

Total housing values by county in the United States.  Yellow indicate lower total values and red indicate the highest valued counties.  Cartogram by Max Galka, Metrocosm.
Animated GIF toggling between a choropleth and cartogram map showing total housing values by county in the United States. Yellow indicate lower total values and red indicate the highest valued counties. Cartogram by Max Galka, Metrocosm.

High Demand and Low Inventory Drives Unaffordable Housing

CityLab featured a previous article citing “NIMBYism” policies, NIMBY being an acronym for “not-in-my-backyard.” The prospect of building more affordable places to live has many locals up-in-arms, leading to the purposeful constraint of housing supply in cities like New York, San Francisco, and San Jose.

They do not want to decrease their own property values and thus wedge out a capable workforce who simply cannot afford to live there. Such a mentality has only made the issue of affordable housing worse in these urban areas.

How Urban Property Values are Adversely Affecting the U.S. Economy

As a result, the national economy has been less able to benefit from these expanding economies. Such policies are not only keeping new workers out but also exacerbating the wage dispersion gap across the country, dictating where high-paying, skilled jobs will locate.

National economic growth has been hampered by about 13.5%, as estimated by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Astronomical housing costs are only expected to get even worse and as this trend continues, these urban centers could exhibit a new level of economic autonomy separate from the U.S. economy.


The Housing Value of Every County in the U.S.  Max Galka, Metrocosm.  July 5, 2015.

A Striking Perspective on New York City Property Values.  Max Galka, Metrocosm.  June 24, 2015.

Mapping the U.S. by Property Value Instead of Land Area.  Kriston Capps, The Atlantic’s CityLab.  July 7, 2014.

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About the author
Zachary Romano
Zachary Romano is a recent graduate from Brandeis University and an aspiring researcher in urban economics and real estate with a focus on the use of quantitative methods and spatial analysis. He is a recent graduate from Brandeis University where he obtained a B.A. in Economics with a minor in Anthropology. At present, he has committed to a one-year term of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Community Prosperity Initiative in Syracuse. Zach Romano devotes his time to cycling, volunteering with civic organizations, and spending time on the water throughout Central New York. Some of Zach's work: Housing and Transportation Demand Analysis: Boston Metropolitan Area Assessing Transportation Capacity and Property Values In and Around the Boston Metropolitan Area