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Population density: your opinion wanted


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I'm genuinely curious about better ways to display population density on a map. I'd like to show different colors for urban, suburban, exurban and rural. There doesn't seem to be any official density range for these categories. So tell me what you think:

A rural area has fewer than _____ people per sq. mile.

An exurban area has between _____ and _____ people per sq. mile.

An suburban area has between _____ and _____ people per sq. mile.

An urban area has greater than _____ people per sq. mile.

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Used to do this myself - from memory...

rural < 250 sq mile

exurban < 1000 sq mile

suburban < 5000 sq mile

urban > 5000 sq mile

Views are going to differ - many in the southeast would consider 1000 sq mile the marker for urbanism due to the lack of a built urban environment & dominance of exurban development. Yet someone - perhaps yourself - in the northeast would only consider 10,000 sq mile truly 'urban'.

But it might depend on what census boundary you are using - block, block group or tract.

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  • 2 months later...

You can't really give it a treshold, as density isn't the only factor in urbanity. For example many suburban neighborhoods in California have densities of 10,000+ people per square mile. However the landscape is made up of large single-family McMansions on tiny lots on cul-de-sacs connected to larger arterial roads that lead to large big box retail far away. The neighborhoods are usually auto-dependant.

On the other hand you have neighborhoods in older established cities where the density is much lower, but the environment is more mixed-use, walkable, and transit-oriented.

The best way to do it is to look at satellite images and determine on your own where you think the transition occurs between each type of development. Generally, once you start getting below 1,000 people per square mile, you begin to transition into a more exurban and rural density.

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  • 3 weeks later...

There isn't any standard. It wouldn't make sense to have one You just have to show what makes sense for your area. I always play around with the numbers until I get a map that I feel accurately displays the density of the area that I'm mapping. The 1,000 people per square mile might be a useful breaking point because that is what the Census uses to define its "urban areas."

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  • 2 weeks later...

You could also even play with the proximity of census block points - with block points being the closest to each other would indicate a city block & those furthest would be rural areas. You even could identify areas based on demographic patterns.

Hudkina - I don't his intent is to measure the aesthetic 'urbanity', but simply a more generic urban to identify higher density in a ramp.

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