Where the wealth is in Madison

This interesting cartogram of the total residential property value for every county in the United States, created by Max Galka, has been making its way around the web lately:

Property values GIF

It offers a visually striking striking demonstration of what should be common, and worrisome, knowledge: that residential property values are overwhelmingly concentrated in cities, and, as a consequence, that a few coastal areas dramatically outweigh the rest of the continent from a tax assessor’s perspective. Some have interpreted this as a proof that Pikettyesque critics of rentier capitalism should be interpreted narrowly, since a great deal of wealth inequality can be attributed to wildly different patterns of real estate ownership. But why that particular fact should make us less concerned about inequality seems to me are from obvious. The fact that a few metropolitan areas, which host the particular set of industries that have benefitted most from the new Gilded Age, have seen their housing values explode, seems to me a confirmation that not only our society but our landscape itself as well are being torqued into grotesque shapes by the unfettered hand of financial power.

It is not only at a national level that we can see these distortions. I was able to do the same thing for the City of Madison. Here’s Madison’s tax parcels colored by their total assessed value:

Madison tax parcels

And here is Madison again distorted as a cartogram, with the parcel size corresponding to the assessed value:

Madison tax parcels, cartogram

The cartogram shows just how dominant the isthmus (notably Mansion Hill) as well as the affluent suburbs of the city’s west side are in Madison’s total tax base. Though the overall shape is distorted by the number of large parcels which are tax-exempt (mostly university and city properties), you can still make out how certain neighborhoods, like those around the airport, capture far less investment.

The technical details: Data is from the Robinson Map Library GeoData portal. I used gdal to clean up the data, QGIS to map it, and ScapeToad to process the cartogram.