Geographic Democracy in the Physical Heart of the GeoWeb

Or in San Francisco it’s only slightly easier to get maps of representative districts than in Mumbai (one of our core motivators for OSM in India).

Start with a simple question. Who are my representatives from the local, to state, to national levels. Yeah, I don’t know, cause I’ve lived in England for four years, and I’m not around here much anyway. When I launched OpenStreetMap Brighton 1.0, the excellent WriteToThem identified my local councilor, MP, and MEP (even though I couldn’t vote for any of them) and I duly spammed them with invites to our party (the mayor did show up!).

For the US, one of the first hits was Project Vote Smart (awesome, are there others?). My zip code confusingly listed multiple representatives for the US House, and State Senate and House. (And nothing for local councilors). Turns out my zip is districtly schizophrenic.

state senate districts unclear

The State Senate turned up this unfriendly tabulation. This PDF confirms that 94114 is in both State Senate Districts 3 & 8 (at least as of 2002. you’re screwed if you stumble across a 1992 pdf without knowing better). The image exported from their GIS is totally unhelpful, I live somewhere below the “O” in Diamond Heights Blvd.

state senate districts, a little better

This PDF is almost there, looks like the district border is a couple blocks over. Maybe. What if you live on the border street. Different representative from your neighbor across the street? Why the dip to Castro Street to take us into the West side of SF? We’re should clearly be on the East, not with the Westside!

State assembly districts, unclear

The State Assembly is no better for an overview.

state assembly, clear

Close up, we have some clarity and a somewhat more logical choice of division boundary in my neighborhood at Twin Peaks Blvd. There are twice as many Assembly districts than Senate districts. Why not some confluence? What logic are these divisions based on? What tortured debate possibly made Corbett Street the dividing line for the Assembly districts.

House of Reps, unhelpful

US House of Reps is equally unclear. CalVoter doesn’t tell me if it’s 8 or 12, Pelosi or Speier, and doesn’t care at all about coastlines or any identifiable geography.

National Atlas Fails too

The “National Atlas” fails too.

Raccoon Drive bummers

GovTrack finally seems to answer the question. For me at least. The folks on Raccoon Drive don’t only have marsupial problems.

So even for me, pretty competent in searching the web, searching the web for geodata and maps, extremely familiar with the local terrain and streets, and experienced interpreting and scrutinizing maps, it took time and effort and puzzling and uncertainty. Spread over numerous websites, some official and some not, in different geographic styles, scales and precision. And I didn’t even try to find the data, to try and do a better job independently. Seems like one of the most basic things government and civil society should get right, and we’re not.