Mapping Race | GIS Resources

A map, like a picture, is worth a thousand words. Mapping is a powerful tool for race-based advocacy and helps ground race and equity discussions in actual, often community specific, demographic patterns. The REP has compiled the best, most versatile, and user-friendly mapping resources for your use. Currently, our resources are slightly California-centric; that’s our service area after all. If you have region-specific resources please share them with us as we would love to broaden our scope. Any suggestions, additions, or comments? Have a great site or article that you want to share? We would love to hear from you! Please use the “Contact the REP” button on the right.

General Mapping Resources U.S. Maps and Data

  • Site Description: A “one stop for finding and using geographic data.”
  • Suggested Uses: Use this site to locate national, state and local geo-related data and maps.

Legal Services of Northern California

  • Site Summary: LSNC has compiled a great repository of mapping information and data sources. Although there is some overlap between the REP mapping and the GIS Mapping Resources page, the LSNC site has plenty of treats that we didn’t include here.
  • Suggested Uses: Do you want to learn more about how mapping can be used by legal services providers? Would you like a complete listing of California and national mapping resources? This is the place to go.


  • Site Summary: “PolicyLink is a national research and action institute that works … to implement strategies to ensure that everyone, including those from low-income communities of color, can contribute to and benefit from economic growth and prosperity.” We love PolicyLink’s Community Mapping Toolkit. Its a “must read” on the potential of mapping in advocacy. More importantly, it manages to expertly walk the line between providing broad concepts and real-world applications and practical tips.
  • Suggested Uses: Whether you’re a first-time mapper or a seasoned veteran we recommend exploring PolicyLink’s Community Mapping Toolkit.

Stanford University, Websites for Digital GIS Data

  • Site Summary: A comprehensive listing of GIS resources available on the web.
  • Suggested Uses: Not sure where to find GIS data and other related resources? Need a listing of all resources available for your geographic region? Look no further. This site is appropriate for experienced GIS users, i.e. those who are familiar with ArcGIS desktop or programs such as IDRISI Kilamanjaro.

National Mapping Resources

Batch Geocode

  • Site description: This site allows users to geocode addresses (i.e. obtain X/Y (latitude/longitude) coordinates) in North America and Europe.
  • Suggested Uses: Use this site to geocode addresses if you do not have access to up-to-date street data such as StreetMap.

CERCLIS Superfund database

  • Site Summary: This database contains information on all NPL and non-NPL superfund sites in the country. Don’t bother trying to geocode the non-NPL sites as the street data is horrible.
  • Suggested Uses: Need to map superfund sites in your region? This is the resource you need. Don’t bother trying to geocode the non-NPL sites as the street data is horrible. We suggest using the latitude and longitude data to locate the sites in the CERCLIS database. If the Superfund data leaves you a little confused, take advantage of the marvelous Superfund Info.Line – (703-284-8214).

ESRI Census 2000 TigerLine Data

  • Site Summary: Complete TigerLine data in shape file format. Various attributes are separated into easy-to-use layers. Limited SF1 data that can be joined or related to the shape files is also available.
  • Suggested Uses: If you need base elements for a desktop GIS project this is the place to come!

GISTools Freeware – Census 2000

  • Site Summary: This site provides several programs that allow you to work with Census Data and TigerLine files. In particular, the REP is a huge fan of the four programs that allow users to easily extract Census 2000 data from the SF1-SF4 files for any summary level (i.e. block, tract, city, county, state, etc.).
  • Suggested Uses: The REP suggests using these tools if you need Census 2000 data for presentations, research, or mapping. They are particularly helpful if you need data at the block group or block summary level. Using these programs is far more efficient than extracting data using American FactFinder or working with the ASCII files directly.
  • “How to”: These tools are super user-friendly. Step 1: Download the zip files containing the Census 2000 data from the Bureau’s ftp site. Step 2: Download the appropriate “geo” file for your data. There is one geo file for the SF1, SF2, SF3 and SF4 files for each state. The “geo” file is normally at the bottom of the folder that contains the zip files for the summary file. For instance, at the bottom of the folder for California SF1 data there is a file named Step 3: Download the tool. There is a different program for each summary file (i.e. 1-4). Step 4: Follow the instructions in the user manual that is available for download from the same site that you got the program from.

Home & Communities: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • Site Summary: HUD provides this Beta version Internet mapping application in conjunction with ESRI. It provides mapping tools and data sources to support community and housing advocacy and includes HUD housing and community development data, EPA data, FEMA data, and U.S. Census Bureau (2000 and 1990) data.
  • Suggested Uses: Good tool for easy-to-create community thematic maps.

HUD User – A Picture Of Subsidized Households 2008

  • Site Summary: This dataset describes the 5 million households living in HUD-subsidized housing in the United States for the year 2008. The dataset provides characteristics of assisted housing units and residents, summarized at the national, state, public housing agency (PHA), project, and census tract levels. Picture 2008 also includes summary data for Metropolitan Statistical Areas and cities. Best of all, you can create custom queries of the Picture 2008 data by geography and by HUD program, and retrieve exactly the data you need.
  • Suggested Uses: This is the best source of data on HUD subsidized rental units that we know of. The REP is particularly intrigued by how this data can be used in ArcGIS. Take a look at our demonstration map using this data.

The National Map

  • Site Summary: The National Map is a consistent framework for geographic knowledge needed by the Nation. It provides public access to high-quality, geospatial data and information from multiple partners to help support decisionmaking by resource managers and the public.”
  • Suggested Uses: This application, at first glance, looks like a typical online map viewer with a slightly more-complicated-than-usual interface. Don’t be fooled…this application packs a real punch. We used the National Map to download 1-meter DOQ imagery. After a little tinkering, we selected a five block area we wanted the DOQ imagery for and began the download. Voila… twenty seconds later we had a GeoTIFF file with imagery of the selected area that is ready for use with ArcGIS. The National Map offers a lot more than DOQs. Interested in topographic layers? LANDSAT7 imagery? Geology layers? Public land records layers? Transportation layers? The National Map has you covered!

Social Explorer

  • Site Summary: Social Explorer provides accessible demographic data mapping tools for the United States. They provide hundreds of interactive maps including historical maps extending back to 1940.
  • Suggested Uses: Social Explorer is a wonderful resource if you need to work with decennial Census data. The REP was impressed with the sites ease-of-use and the ability to zoom in to the census tract level. Users should note that the mapping application only can map one variable at a time. Also, maps do not include several every-day geographic features such as roads. Despite these limitations, Social Explorer is well worth a visit.

Toxic Release Inventory (2006)

  • Site Summary: This database includes every facility in the country that stores or releases toxic chemicals. Be aware that the six different dbf. files that compose the database can be a bit tricky to link as a single facility can have multiple entries. However, almost all the information that you need is in the first dbf. file.
  • Suggested Uses: If you want to map the a communities exposure to toxic chemicals this is a very good resource. If you attempt to map the release sites, we recommend using a sites latitude and longitude as opposed to the street data element.

U.S. Census Bureau LED OnTheMap

  • Site Summary: OnTheMap is an online application to map Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data. In English, that means that you can create detailed maps showing where people work and where workers live with companion reports on worker ages, earnings, industry distribution, and local workforce indicators. A total of 47 states are currently “mapable” and data is available from 2002 through 2008.
  • Suggested Uses: Persons interested in community economic development, regionalism, and other related areas may find OnTheMap useful.

U.S. Census Bureau Maps and Cartographic Resources

  • Site Summary: This site contains Cartographic Boundary Files, ZIP Code Tabulation Areas, and TIGER/Line files.
  • Suggested Uses: Definitely for the experienced GIS user. Less experienced users will find the mapping function of AmericanFactfinder more helpful. With regards to the boundary files and TIGER/line data, if you figure out the how to find data files or how to import them into ArcGIS our hat goes off to you.

California Mapping Resources

California Spatial Information Library

  • Site Summary: The California Spatial Information library (CalSIL) is a portal maintained by the State of California providing access to State government GIS activities, access to statewide GIS data, and links to the larger California GIS community.
  • Suggested Uses: If you are looking for California specific data and shape files for ArcGis or similar applications this is the place to go. The REP likes the Landstat imaging available despite the fact that it has no application to race-based advocacy.

Healthy City

Statewide Database

  • Site Summary: Provides 2000 Census and other data in DBF format.
  • Suggested Uses: Do you need Census 2000 data for desktop GIS application? This is a great source for SF1 and SF3 data. The DBF files include the LOGRECNO field and a Block Group Code. The Block Group Code is the same as the STFID field present in ESRI Census shape files. Please not, however, that the Block Group Codes in the Dataset are not unique values. Thus, for instance, you might have multiple entries for the same block group. The REP suggests using GISTools to obtain Census 2000 data. You may wish to use the statewide database is you are unable to use GISTools.

Area Specific Mapping Resources

Philadelphia Neighborhood Information System

  • Site Summary: Philadelphia NIS is a web-based property and social indicators information system used by city agencies and community based organizations throughout Philadelphia. NIS users research individual properties; run queries to locate comparables; plan, site and evaluate housing development programs; and study neighborhood conditions with user-defined maps, charts and reports.
  • Suggested Uses: Any data or mapping need for the city of Philadelphia.

Print and PDF Resources

Myron Orfield, American Metropolitics: The New Suburban Reality, Brookings Institute Press 2002

  • Summary: “American Metropolitics provides an eye-opening analysis of the economic, racial, environmental, and political trends of the 25 largest metropolitan regions in the United States which contain more than 45 percent of the U.S. population. Using detailed maps and case studies, Orfield demonstrates that growing social separation and wasteful sprawling development patterns are harming regional citizens wherever they live.”

Myron Orfield, Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability, Brookings Institute Press 1997

  • Summary: “Metropolitics is the story of how demographic research and state-of-the-art mapping, together with resourceful and pragmatic politics, built a powerful political alliance between the central cities, declining inner suburbs, and developing suburbs with low tax bases. In an unprecedented accomplishment, groups formerly divided by race and class–poor minority groups and blue-collar suburbanites–together with churches, environmental groups, and parts of the business community, began to act in concert to stabilize their communities.”

Jason Reece, Eric Schultheis, Poverty’s Place: The Use of Geographic Information Systems in Poverty Advocacy, 42 Clearinghouse Review 9-10 (January – February 2009)

  • Summary: This article provides an introduction to geographic information systems (GIS) and explores a series of advocacy projects conducted by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Race Equity Project that used GIS to support anti-poverty advocacy. The case studies range from litigation, community capacity building, administrative advocacy to service delivery evaluation.

GIS Tutorials & Case Studies

Every so often, the REP posts “tutorials” and “case studies” on using GIS software, both desktop and web-based, in poverty law practice. We’ve decided to re-post some of our best efforts here. Enjoy.

A Case Study Of Poverty Advocacy & GIS

  • Summary: This case study examines the use of GIS to support local government in connection with county provided healthcare to indigent county residents. The case study explores the uses of maps and data to support advocacy and map design choices in the context of advocacy.

Directing Resources In Response To The Foreclosure Crisis

  • Summary: This tutorial teaches users how to use DataPlace, a web-based GIS application, to identify areas where substantial populations of LSC eligible homeowners reside and where substantial populations of LSC eligible homeowners of color reside. The provision of foreclosure related services to the areas identified would maximize the impact of the limited resources that LSC service providers can expend to address the variety of foreclosure issues faced by our client populations. This tutorial requires a basic familiarity with Excel.

Directing Resources In Response To Natural Disaster – The Southern California Fires

Mapping HUD-Subsidized Housing

  • Summary: The REP often needs to map the location of HUD-subsidized housing complexes in our work. This tutorial, produced by HUD, walks users through the process of mapping HUD-subsidized housing complexes as points with ArcGIS. This tutorial requires a working knowledge of ArcGIS.

Maps used in support of the Plaintiff’s arguement in Kennedy et al. v. City of Zanesville, et al.

  • Summary: This case study, writen by Allan M. Parnell, Ph.D., Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities, discusses the use of GIS in a civil rights action challenging the discriminatory provision of waste water services to persons living in a community directly adjacent to the City of Zanesville, OH. Plaintiffs won a near 11 million dollar jury verdict in the action (attorney fees reserved).

Community Mapping Service Providers

Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities

Sharing Resources

Please share your mapping resources. Whether these resources are in the form of a map, a presentation, or a case study, sharing resources allows us to maximize our collective impact. We can make documents available for general or restricted release according to your preference. Lastly, if you have a mapping issue that you can’t resolve, let us know. We may have something to help you in our cache of restricted release documents. Please include your name, organization, position, and a description of the type of information needed and for what purpose it will be used. We will try our best to help you.

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