In this post, I create some data visualizations in the form of maps using Tableau. The data set being used concerns rural areas and small towns in America and was found on The research questions I explored using this data and Tableau’s map features concern whether or not rural and small towns across America largely share certain characteristics in communities and demographics, follow certain patterns, or are more randomized. The results of course show that this depends on the characteristic being questioned.

Opening the dataset in Tableau, I first chose the tables I wanted to work with. Creating the map only required dragging one of the components on the left that are geographic in nature (as denoted with the globe symbol) onto the detail button of the marks card. For this project I used the county data. At this point the map doesn’t tell us much useful information, only counties that have small towns, which includes most counties in the U.S. 

adding counties to the detail marks card to create a map visualization.
counties with rural and small town communities.

To make the map show us meaningful data, I added various cross reference to compare. These include showing comparing the numbers of education levels in these rural/small town counties. These bubble maps were formed by dragging the relevant data tables from the lefthand menu onto the map. 

map showing low education areas, these being most prevalent in southern states.

The resulting maps show a great disparity between northern and southern states when it comes to areas being determined to be low education. 

Other components show other patterns, such as this one showing which counties had the highest number of rural areas deemed to be farm dependent – predictably those in the farm belt. And another shows the more evenly distributed recreation dependent rural areas.

map showing farming dependent areas, clustered mostly in a vertical strip from the Dakotas down through Texas.
map showing recreationally dependent areas distributed across the U.S.

To play further with these maps and Tableau’s features, I changed the background map style by going to the map menu, and under background maps, picking the outdoors setting. 

changing the background map

Also, instead of relying on often deceptive bubble maps, I also explored some demographic features of these rural areas by dragging the relevant data tables straight onto the map. This resulted in providing the numbers of foreign born people living in rural areas and small towns in each county, visible when you mouse over the particular county you are curious about and displays all counties with the same size dot. 

numbers of foreign born people in Kalamazoo county, by continent or origin.
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