Sunday, May 30, 2010

Abandoned Parts of the Country

The map above (click for a big version) shows the fraction of housing units that are vacant, as of the 2000 census.  Map courtesy of Webfoot.  The scale is from 0 to 50%(!) and as you can see, there are parts of the country that were approaching that.

I made this map because one is always hearing about abandoned housing units in Detroit and I wanted to investigate that issue, but it doesn't really show up in the statistics. Instead, the biggest places for home abandonment seem to be rural areas along the northern edge of the eastern side of the country, and then various parts of the mountainous west. I would guess that the big driver here is twenty-five years of mostly lousy farm prices that were falling in real terms. Probably those red regions on the map were agriculturally marginal, and so fell out of production.  A few more years of biofuel mandates and some more climate change could turn that around... (at least in the east - the western regions are probably just going to get drier and more agriculturally hopeless).

I'm interested in any other theories that readers have.


Gary said...

Cold rural area have lots of vacation homes that are not occupied most of the time. If this is 2000 census data, then we are still in the Clinton boom era that will pull people away from rural areas into cities for jobs. I can't wait for your comparison with 2010 data when it comes out!

Unknown said...

I suspect a couple of things are going on here.

There has been a trend of population migration to cities that has gone on for decades. In rural areas, it is harder and harder to find people who will stay on the farm and work it. While this is going on, farms have become larger and larger with larger equipment and less need for people. For decades very small towns have faced abandonment.

When I was a kid I noted places where there used to be a sort of general store at a junction in the roads, but those were built when cars were not common or the road conditions were poor - thus people didn't go far to get their daily supplies. But as good roads became available, people would drive further and further to find larger and larger stores. The small general stores were abandoned years ago, of course - in some cases the ruins of a building still exist.

Some areas (like the arrowhead in Minnesota) are really all vacation homes and resorts. A lot of the land is national forest and the soil is poor and rocky. Not at all suitable for agriculture - perhaps tree farms if anything.

Isle Royale in Lake Superior is I believe 100% a National Park. Yet it shows up in red on the map, which doesn't make any sense at all to me.

Stuart Staniford said...

The vacation home point is a good one - particularly since the data is as of April 1st, we might expect a lot of vacant vacation homes.

Unknown said...

Hi Stuart,

I am from Maine and the previous comment about vacation homes applies to Maine as well. A large area of Maine is mostly forests and not well suited to farming, but there are lakes, rivers, and mountains (more like hills for those from the west) where there are seasonal homes that are vacant except for summer (cabin on the lake), winter (for the homes and condominiums at ski areas), or the occasional hunting or fishing trip.


James said...


Not sure this map really accurately depicts the situation in the Rockies.

The part of the country that is really depopulating is the upper Great Plains, west of the 100th
Meridian, but this map shows the Rockies losing people faster.

I think this is a Census GIGO. My house here in Carbondale, Colorado, for example, I got three census forms this year: one for a yurt (which we use as a guest bedroom), one for a home office (or 280 square feet, separate building) and one for our main house. So, if I get the drift, they would show us as 2/3rds abandoned. Something similar must be going on in other areas I can see that have had population booms in recent years.

In short, not sure how much stock I would put in this portrayal.


Eric Hacker said...

Vacant does not equal abandoned. To get abandoned, one would have to have prior census data that showed an address as being occupied.

Like others have pointed out, the vacation property counts are very high in some of these areas. My camp in VT got a census survey, probably because we got an address for E-911 purposes.

Please keep up the great work.