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Ford/Knight: Environmental Justice and Public Health: Online mapping tools and resources

Research with Deb Jackson Fall 2013

How to use these three tools

Just like with WordPress, I suggest that you all do as much individual playing around on these mapping sites as you can. 

There's so much information out there! And there are a LOT of details about technical map layers, uploading, exporting, etc. that may take time to work with and learn.

Google's Build-a-Map will be your best site for actually creating the maps where you show your research. Since you can add the features, you will be able to pinpoint exactly the point(s) you want to make with a map.

So, you'll have to gather layers of data from the other two tools and think together about how the data interact and how to show that on your maps.

I suggest making a shared place to store maps that you think are interesting as you go through the research process, so that you can all see everything.

Google API key

To create your API key:

  1. Visit the APIs Console at and log in with your Google Account.
  2. Click the Services link from the left-hand menu.
  3. Activate the Google Maps API v3 service.
  4. Click the API Access link from the left-hand menu. Your API key is available from the API Access page, in the Simple API Access section. Maps API applications use the Key for browser apps.

By default, a key can be used on any site. We strongly recommend that you restrict the use of your key to domains that you administer, to prevent use on unauthorized sites. You can specify which domains are allowed to use your API key by clicking the Edit allowed referrers... link for your key.

On API Access page of the Google Google's API Console, in the Simple API Access section, click on the Edit Allowed Referes link and add ** to the list.

Social Explorer

Social Explorer provides quick and easy access to modern and historical U.S. census data and demographic information. The web interface lets users create maps and reports to help visually analyze and understand demography and social change throughout history. The site currently includes data from the entire US Census from 1790 to 2010, all annual updates from the American Community Survey to 2008, original Census tract-level estimates for 2006 and 2007, the Religious Congregations and Membership Study from 1980 to 2000, and 2002 Carbon Emissions Data from the Vulcan Project.

Use this link to get to Social Explorer's Help pages and their How-to-videos.

Reports - this is a great way to export a layer of data to add to your maps.

1. Search or browse all of the Census tables from 1790 - 2010. You can also browse the American Community Survey (ACS) and Religion data.

2. Choose one of the reports and then select by Geographic Type, then choose one or more Geographic Areas, click on Next.

3. Select a dataset, next select one or more data tables, then click on Add.

4. Click on Show Result; at this screen choose to send to an Excel spreadsheet or Data Download.

5. Search across Reports for specific topics, such as health, environment, etc. The results will link you to data reports that have this term somewhere in the title or text of the reports.


1. Choose Maps to discover historical data from the 1790 Census to present.

2. Search across interactive historical data maps.

3. Choose one of the maps,once displayed you can select other data maps to display and save.

4. Within a map choose the iReport button to customize the table. Choose report type, then decide on Selection Area, choosing to select by using either a Point or Circle Tool; click on OK, then select the area using the tool, next click on Make Report.

How to Make a Map:

  1. Access Social Explorer through the library homepage. 
  2. Select Maps & Tables from the menu at the top.
  3. Select the Maps button on the left, and click on "Explore map" below.
  4. Zoom into area of interest or use Find button.
  5. Select topic by clicking on the Data Selection box in the upper left (it should display the title of the current dataset), and then Browse by Category or Browse by Survey.
  6. Select variable to map.
  7. Adjust the data visualization type and colors.

Policy Map

Policy Map

This is a free site that has great mapping/data features. 

PolicyMap is a fully web-based Geographic Information System. It's fast, efficient and captures data in visually powerful ways through custom demographic maps, tables, reports and our analysis tool, Analytics. You can even use our GIS mapping to easily incorporate your own data and leverage it against the thousands of indicators already available in PolicyMap. Available data includes the latest demographics from census, real estate data, health data, mortgage trends, school performance scores, unemploymentcrime statistics and city crime rates. A complete list of data available can be found in our data directory.


Basic Steps 

1. Set your map location (Using the search box at the top).

2. Add sites of various things using the tools on the left side.

3. Add layers of demographic and other data using the tools at the top.

4. Adjust unit, year, shading and data classes with the legend that appears once you add a layer of data.

5. When you have 3 layers (your max on PolicyMap), click Print at bottom of the map and assign name to new map. Your map can now be downloaded from "My PolicyMap" at the top of the screen.

For free, with REGISTRATION, you can:

  • Access all of the public data available in PolicyMap through maps and tables;
  • Download much of the public data as csv files in order to conduct your own analysis;
  • Save or print maps as high resolution PNG or JPEG files to incorporate in your own work;
  • Embed fully interactive maps (complete with source information, legend and title) on your own webpage;
  • Email maps to colleagues;
  • Save your work into your MyPolicyMap account or on your hard drive as PDFs.

If you want to make your own account, you can access more of PolicyMaps but NOTE: The subscription account is only free with the 7-day trial!! Please don't forget to cancel if you sign up for the trial!!!:

  • Upload and share your own data to view on maps and summarize in tables;
  • Customize your maps by setting your own value cut points;
  • Access our customizable reports that provide a snapshot of up-to-date demographic and economic information, as well as trends in your community;
  • Create detailed analytics which allow you to create crosstabs (layering) of up to three datasets.


Google Maps

Free app Build-a-Map is powered by Google Maps, and is an easy-to-use way to create interactive maps.
When you publish your map, the data is saved on Build-A-Map servers. You also get a URL for sharing a map with others and a code for embedding it into your website.
You'll have to make an account, using your Google account and providing your Google API key (see box to the left on this page).

Layers are map's building blocks. Each data source added to your map is exposed as a layer. The following layers are supported: 

  • Build-A-Map - Build-A-Map layer is a layer which holds a collection of features. Any feature created with custom Build-A-Map tools (see Tools tab) can be added to this layer. 
  • Panoramio - You can add photos from Panoramio to your map using Panoramio layer. 
  • SimpleGeo Places - Use SimpleGeo layer to search for places near a point (either center of the map or specific address) by category and name. 
  • Google Places - Use Google Places layer to search for places near a center of the map by category and name.

Build-a-Map Layer Features - click on "Tools" at the top of your map to add these features to your map.

  • Bubble - Draw a speech bubble on the map. 
  • Circle - Draw a circle on the map. 
  • Label - Draw a label on the map. 
  • Line - Draw a multi-line on the map. 
  • Marker - Place a marker on the map. 
  • Polygon - Draw a polygon on the map. 
  • Route - Display directions on the map. Three travel modes are supported: driving, bicycling, and walking. 
  • RT Label - Draw a rich text label on the map. 
  • Ruler - Measure and display a distance between two points on the map.

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