Mapping Influence

What do you think your personal sphere of influence is? What about your city's? If you live in a smaller community, what town or city has the greatest cultural influence on yours?

If you know any seniors in college, you may have already asked them the dreaded question: "So, where are you thinking of moving after graduation?"

Their answer to that question is based on soggy ground saturated with hope, fear, fact and pure emotional "guestimation".

The CommonCensus map project is a bottom-up, vote-driven mapping project in which citizens redraw their local cultural borders, ignoring state and local municipal boundaries, to reveal the cultural 'spheres of influence' that both unite and divide the United States.

This project is an intriguing attempt at emotional mapping, but the story it tells is a bit lopsided.

According to the project, which asks participants to vote on the greatest cultural influence in there region, Pittsburgh has a geographic halo reaching north to Lake Erie and south into West Virginia, and leaching over into Eastern Ohio and Western Maryland.

While this may be true in regards to attracting a regional workforce--plus all important tourists and fans of the Steelers, the Pirates and Penguins--it doesn't reflect the devastating brain drain of talent that occurs.

[See the article 'Brain drain' acute from Pittsburgh area in the Post-Gazette]

As with many once influential Rust Belt cultural centers (Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, etc.) the centers of excellence may still thrive (CMU in Pittsburgh, Cranbrook in Detroit, University of Buffalo) but the jobs don't.

More devastating, the venture capitalists aren't stepping up to fund and retain the talent and ideas streaming out of the region.

From Z+ Partners:

The premise underlying the project is similar to the "Nine Nations of North America" thesis first laid out by Joel Garreau in the book by the same name.