We suggest using The RED Project map to examine places that you know. In this tour, we will describe some of the places that we visited for this research project, and our reactions to the predictions of wireless communication there.

From this page, you can visit the electromagnetic spectrum of five neighborhoods in the United States. We suggest you first read our interpretation, then click the "Predict Wireless" button next to each picture.

On this page: Lake View, Chicago, Devon Avenue, Chicago, West Humboldt Park, Chicago, The Town of Sidney, Illinois, and South Central Los Angeles.


Lake View, Chicago



The first stop is in the Chicago neighborhood of Lake View. This area is home to a number of well-known high-end retail franchises and luxury apartments and condominiums. The 2000 Census tells us that Lake View is the Chicago Community Area (a historical demographic boundary) where those employed in the profession "Information Technology and Management" are most likely to live. As might be expected, Lake View contains the highest density of Wi-Fi that we measured in this research project. However, the brightest spot of red on the map is directly adjacent to an area with no red at all -- one of the lowest predicted densities of wireless (East of Rosehill Cemetary). The residents of the Census tract we visited reported themselves to be 86% white in 2000. The tract had low unemployment (2%) with a per capita income of $54,280. The median age was 35. Almost all residents (95%) had a high school diploma. Despite the affluence and education in this area, notice the high degree of variation in the amount of wireless communication that is predicted here. Even though it seems obvious that people with more money will have more advanced technology (like Wi-Fi), a single factor like affluence doesnít do a good job of predicting wireless use in this affluent neighborhood.

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Devon Avenue, Chicago



The second stop on our tour is formally named "West Ridge," but this area of Chicago is best locally known as "Devon Avenue" after its thriving multicultural commercial district. (Devon Avenue is also signposted as three other names: Gandhi Marg, Mohammed Ali Jinnah Way, and Golda Meier Blvd.) 64% of the people in the Census tract we visited identified themselves as white in 2000. Unemployment was low (4%), 80% of residents said they had a high school diploma. The per-capita income was just one-third of our last stop, at $17,573, and the median age is 33. Despite the drop in income, we found a large amount of Wi-Fi use here. The word "immigrant" isnít usually popularly linked with high technology. The portion of this neighborhood that we visited was reported to be 42% immigrants in 2000, mainly from South Asia. Do the lighter red spots on the map represent concentrations of immigrants? This seems unlikely. Other researchers have found that immigrants from some South Asian countries are far more likely to use high technology than Americans with similar incomes. Aside from its South Asian population, this area also contains the largest Hasidic community in the Midwestern United States, and was historically called the "Golden Ghetto" after the immigration of East European Jews. Orthodox Jewish sects often ban television and are deeply ambivalent about the Internet, sometimes allowing it only if it is necessary for work.

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West Humboldt Park, Chicago



The third stop of our tour is the Chicago neighborhood of West Humboldt Park. The Humboldt Park community area is one of the poorest in the Chicago metropolitan area. The residents of the Census tract we visited were 97% black in the 2000 Census, with high unemployment (13%), a per capita income of $9,060, and a median age of 25. The low median age represents larger families and households than are found in the other neighborhoods visited so far. 56% of residents here had a high school diploma. Although we found much less wireless here, again a single factor like race or income alone cannot do a good job of explaining wireless communication. It seems obvious that the poor canít afford to participate in expensive new communication technology like wireless computing, but in fact people of all incomes feel that communication is essential, and are willing to spend money on it. For example, after cellular phones became widespread, some poor communities became much more likely to use them than more affluent populations. From the map, this doesnít seem to be the case for Wi-Fi, however, as the reds are much lighter than most of Lake View or Devon Avenue.

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The Town of Sidney, Illinois




The town of Sidney, Illinois contains about 1,000 people, but because US Census Tracts are much larger than that, Sidneyís contribution to the Wi-Fi use in the area is difficult to ascertain. Although a prediction can be made, the map is all one color, showing no local variation. Residents of Sidney and the surrounding area were 98% white in the 2000 Census. The per capita income was $20,085. 49% of residents had a high school diploma, and the median age was 38. This census tract reported 3% unemployment. About one-third of the US population lives in rural areas, although many accounts of technology and communication donít pay these people much attention. The difficulty in using Census tracts to understand small towns is just one illustration of this lacuna. Despite the problems with measuring and describing rural places, the uniform coloring of this wireless map may be unintentionally accurate. Wi-Fi varies substantially from block to block in cities because the buildings absorb the signals and prevent them from traveling long distances. In flat, treeless areas like Central Illinois there is nothing to stop the signals. With nothing to get in the way, a low-powered transmission from a farmhouseís 2nd floor window can easily travel miles. Some empty fields in rural Illinois are filled with these Wi-Fi signals, although they are devoid of people.

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South Central Los Angeles



Officially, these neighborhoods of Los Angeles have names like "King Estates" and "University Expo Park West," but in conversation they are better known as part of South Central LA. Despite the generally low incomes, this area shows a wide variation in predicted wireless use. Demographically, in some ways this area is similar to Humboldt Park, but in the areas we visited the level of education is lower. But what explains the blank spot just to the West of the mapís center? This spot (like its surroundings) was reported to be predominantly black (74%) in the 2000 Census. 36% of residents reported holding a high school diploma and 3% were unemployed in 2000. One intuitive explanation might be that this represents a pocket of poverty, where people are unlikely to own computers. In fact, the residents in this blank spot reported a higher income than the surrounding areas ($25,568). In contrast, the deeper red areas North of Exposition Boulevard were significantly poorer ($14,034 per capita). Instead, this spot could be explained as a pocket of age: the blank spot has a much higher median age (47) than the surrounding areas, and older people are less likely to use newer computer technology like Wi-Fi. These competing explanations demonstrate the difficulty of reasoning about complex social situations (like technology use), even with a lot of information. Any unexpected or unexplainable situation that we find on these maps could be caused by the inaccuracy of the Census or an error in our methods of prediction. The error could also be in our preconceptions.

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We invite you to suggest your own tour in our discussion forum, or to suggest other interpretations of this tour.

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