Patchwork Nation

I just discovered the Patchwork Nation project which was launched by the Christian Science Monitor in 2008. The PBS NewsHour has a whole section on the website dedicated to it.

Patchwork Nation is a reporting project that aims to explore what is happening in the United States by examining different kinds of communities over time. The effort divides America’s 3,141 counties into 12 community types based on certain demographic characteristics, such as income level, racial composition, employment and religion.

I always find this type of information fascinating. it’s incredibly interesting to me that whenever I find national data like this, there is always a section broken out for the Mormons. It seems as though they are such outliers to the rest of the country that they (and those regions) need to be viewed on their own to put things in perspective.

Also, according to this data, I live in a “Monied ‘Burb”, which is entirely surrounded by “Campus and Careers” counties. Interesting, but also not terribly surprising when I stop to think about it.

Another interesting personal parallel that I picked up was in viewing the state of Montana, where much of my family comes from. Montana is a mostly rural state. It’s also mostly conservative and has a fairly low per capita income. The two major college towns Missoula and Bozeman are notable exceptions, serving and liberal and cultural epicenters. There are also some other cities such as Butte, Helena and Billings. I’m pretty familiar with both Helena and Butte, but I can’t speak to Billings although I do know it’s very large for Montana.

In northwestern Montana there is a large lake called Flathead lake. My family owns a cabin there. My great grandfather bought the land in the 1930’s for $500. We own 5 acres of lakefront property and another 10 off the lake that is completely undeveloped. Our lakefront property has a one room cabin with electricity and no running water. There’s an outhouse. It’s very rustic, and very beautiful.

We’re kind of the odd ones on Finley Point (the area where the cabin is). All of our neighbors have retaining walls and docks. One of our neighbors has a giant water slide. Most of them cut all the trees down and grew grass. None of the animals in the area can actually get to the water because of all the development on the lake.

Over the past couple of decades (more or less, I don’t know), Flathead Lake has become a popular destination and summer home spot for tourists. And in Montana, that pretty much means people from outside the state. In particular, people from California…with money. Flathead Lake has become so popular with the tourists that the land value has skyrocketed, making it almost impossible for Montana families to hold on to their land in that area. This is a problem that hits home for me as my Montana family struggles to figure out how to keep their very modest family cabin in the family. If you take a close look at the Patchwork Nation Communities in Montana, you’ll notice that Flathead County is one of two counties in Montana that are labeled as “Monied ‘Burbs”. Interesting. This kind of screws with part of my point, but the southern part of Flathead Lake region (where my family’s cabin is) is actually in Lake County, designated as a “Tractor Country” community. Regardless, much of Lake County (in particular the stretch of 93) is quite a bit different that the areas bordering on the lake.

Long story short, you should definitely check out Patchwork Nation and draw your own personal parallels.