Fun with maps

Many factors traditionally determined borders between jurisdictions. Some follow approximately linguistic, ethnic or religious boundaries. Others are based on straightforward points of reference, such as rivers, lakes, mountain ranges or latitude/longitude coordinates. Few were ever determined with the help of a computer.

What would the map look like if boundaries were created using the many data analysis tools we have at our disposal today?

The first example below comes from an analysis conducted by Robert David Sullivan of CommonWealth magazine. His re-drawing of U.S. state boundaries is based on his county-by-county analysis of how Americans voted in elections from 1948 to 2008. The results is a 10-state U.S.A. (more if you treat non-contiguous regions, such as the Upper Coasts, as being separate states).

Sullivan's political map of the U.S.

Sullivan's political map of the U.S.

The next map comes from Luanne von Schneidemesser, Ph.D., a linguistics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her map is based on English usage in the U.S. — specifically, the terms that people use to refer to beverages such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Her map shows a 5-8 state U.S. divided largely along north/south and East Coast/West Coast lines.

Von Schneidemesser beverage terminology map of the U.S.

Von Schneidemesser beverage terminology map of the U.S.

Here’s an interesting one that looks at Canada’s ethnic boundaries. It still comes out to about 13 provinces or territories, depending on where you draw the lines, but a redrawing of our provincial and territorial boundaries along these lines would still produce a much different looking Canada than we know today.

Census ethnic distribution map

Census ethnic distribution map

Now, on the other hand, here is a border that doesn’t seem to follow rhyme or reason. It’s the border between the Belgian provinces of Flanders and Wallonia, and by extension, between the Walloon town of Braine-L’Alleud and the Flemish town of Sint-Genesius-Rode.

What’s noteworthy about this boundary is that it might become Europe’s next international border. Belgians went to the polls a few days ago and elected a parliament in which the Flemish separatists are the largest party. You might recall this blog discussing Belgium’s problems in late April. This week’s election seems to bring the country even closer to breakup.

Nowhere are these problems more acute than in the towns and suburbs that straddle the Flemish-Walloon frontier, where a 38-year-old woman was “refused permission to buy a house in the southern suburb of Sint-Genesius-Rode because she can’t prove sufficient Flemish roots” (!) and where, if you happen to ask for a government form in the ‘wrong’ official language, you’ll have to wait for authorization.

If these tensions lead to a Belgian breakup, it could truly complicate life in Sint-Genesius-Rode/Braine-L’Alleud, where the would-be international boundary between an independent Flanders and an independent (or French-annexed) Wallonia would run through the middle of a few houses, meander across peoples’ yards, bisect the occasional driveway and, in at least one instance visible below, cut through a family’s backyard swimming pool.

There Goes the Neighbourhood: Walking the dog could turn into an international journey in this Belgian neighbourhood if that country splits up

Fortunately for residents of Avenue du Saphir/Saffierlaan — where merely walking down the street takes you from Flanders to Wallonia — it’s unlikely that there would be any border controls requiring people to report to customs if they merely walk down the street. It does make you wonder, though, which country’s postal system would be responsible for delivering the mail to that one house about half-way down the street, where the boundary appears to run between the sidewalk and the mailbox.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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