The Los Angeles metro area is one of the most unequal places in the U.S.–a household in the top 5% income bracket earns nearly $250,000, more than 10 times what a household in the 20th percentile makes. A new map tells the story of that inequality through a classic symbol of Southern California: the swimming pool.
Unsurprisingly, neighborhoods like Bel Air and Hidden Hills–a gated community in the San Fernando Valley–are dotted with sprawling pools, while they’re rarer (and smaller) in poorer neighborhoods in around the center of the city.
Mapmaker Ken Schwencke downloaded tax parcel data from the L.A. County Assessor’s Office, and originally considered mapping the taxable value per square foot, “in itself sort of a proxy for poverty,” he says. But then he noticed an option to search for homes that have a pool, and thought it was a more interesting way to look at inequality.
The lack of pools in some neighborhoods isn’t necessarily because of a lack of space. “It turns out that South L.A. and other neighborhoods do have a lot of single family homes,” says Schwencke. “It’s just that they can’t afford the space, the upkeep, of everything that goes into a pool.”
As you click through the visualization, it randomly zooms to an aerial view of a neighborhood, something that Schwencke found himself doing as he explored the data. “I just started googling random addresses and looking at the pools,” he says. “I found myself doing this a lot, and so I built a system to do it for me so I could browse the data set.”
The contrasts are obvious. “You start to notice these differences, like if it blasts you over to Hidden Hills or Beverly Hills or something like that, these pools are with really big houses with really lush yards,” he says. “If it shoots you over to another part of the city, maybe further in the central area, it’s sort of just a row of tiny houses, and you notice that there’s only one, little kidney-shaped pool.”
In total, there are roughly 250,000 pools in L.A. County, far more than a previous atlas showed when other designers attempted to map the pools in city limits. In Beverly Hills, 60% of homes have a pool; in Hidden Hills, 87% do.
It’s interesting to explore, even if you know the city well. “As many people have, I’ve flown over L.A., you look down and you do see lots of pools,” says Schwenke. “I think I expected to see more in the middle of the city. They didn’t actually exist. I was struck by just how dense pool ownership was outside of the central part of the city…it makes sense on a lot of levels. But I think when you see it it’s sort of striking.”