Manhattan is the densest area in the U.S., and one of the densest in the world. That’s because while there are 2 million people who reside on the island, that number doubles to 4 million during the workday, when people from the surrounding counties and states pour into the city.
A new interactive by the data viz designer and researcher Justin Fung shows this remarkable mini-migration over the course of a single day. Using a mix of data from the 2010 Census, the MTA’s turnstile database, and a previous NYU study, Fung was able to create block-by-block estimates for the population of Manhattan at any given time.
Fung first became interested in compiling this kind of data set after Hurricane Sandy, when he began to wonder if there are good estimates for how many people are actually in Manhattan at particular times, which would help with emergency planning. He was in graduate school at Columbia University at the time for operations research, and created the data set using the three sources as part of his work there. This week, he decided to turn it into a map to make the data viscerally understandable for more people.
The sheer number of people who are crowded into the city during its densest hour–he estimates it to be at about 2 p.m. on Wednesdays–make Manhattan’s transportation infrastructure impressive . . . despite its many, many flaws. “I think what is really amazing is that for Manhattan commuters, a vast majority use public transit,” Fung tells Co.Design in an email. “While people can gripe about the state of N.Y.C. infrastructure, the fact remains that the sheer number of people they move everyday is nothing short of a modern engineering miracle.”
It’s mesmerizing to watch the GIF of his data, which ebbs and flows like a heartbeat. Blocky bars that look like skyscrapers reveal the population of a particular block; the graph is supplemented by color, with dark reds indicating denser population and lighter pinks showing fewer people. During the day, Midtown and the Financial District have the population density to match their tall towers. Fung’s data shows that the population of Midtown is 10 times greater during the day, and the population of the Financial District quadruples.
“When I look the visualization, I do see an organic, breathing being that is the sum of all of us (a ‘beautiful,’ humbling thing)–but one that also brings back a sense of coffee-induced tension from having to experience that firsthand in crowded subway cars,” Fung says. “[It’s] probably one of the reasons I moved out to the ocean in Rockaway Beach.”