When it comes to the debate over statehood, is D.C. being wiped off the map?
A rise in the popularity of infographics has ushered in a raft of new visual ways to present data, and even a quick Internet search reveals a variety of images to illustrate topics including CEO pay scales and the adventures of various “Star Wars” characters.
But on digital-age maps of the U.S., the nation’s capital often is left out, leaving nothing but a nondescript space between Maryland and Virginia.
“I think it’s very easy to think that it is the federal government, but not that there are people who live in D.C. their whole lives,” said Reuben Fischer-Baum, the infographics editor at Deadspin, a popular sports website.
The city gets lots of attention for politics, but that means cultural aspects can be overlooked, he said.
Deadspin posted an infographic last year on the highest-paid public employee in each state. The majority were football and basketball coaches. Football reigned supreme for the states surrounding the city, but the District wasn’t included on the map. Mr. Fischer-Baum said it was one of the first things readers commented on.
“Truth be told, I wish I did include it,” he said.
But, he said, there are reasons the city sometimes is left off of data tables and maps. Despite having a higher population than either Vermont or Wyoming, the District doesn’t have the geographical diversity afforded by states with far more physical reach.
“When you have that data that’s sort of on a sliding scale, it’s hard to include D.C. sometimes,” Mr. Fischer-Baum said. “Every other state is a combination of cities and not cities, and D.C. is just a city.”
That means data on the District can be strange because a single city dictates the entire area, without a balance of other cities or rural areas.
“If New York was just a city, it would be an outlier, too,” Mr. Fischer-Baum said.
Cultural website Thrillist also excluded the District when it produced an infographic on the top alcoholic drinks or brands in each state.
“My brother lives in D.C., so I know exactly what the city is capable of as far as food and drink culture goes, but I do feel like people are sometimes surprised when I tell them how much fun I had while visiting,” said Ben Robinson, Thrillist’s editorial director. “That’s one of the things we love so much about our local coverage — letting the world know about it all.”
Reasons for omission
The District’s omission wasn’t a conscious decision, he said, but a result of the focus of the survey on the 50 states.
“The truth of it is that we had a different working map title for a while that involved the 50 States of Booze, and once we were locked into that mentally, it became weird to add D.C.,” Mr. Robinson said.
But the District is one of the cities Thrillist includes in its coverage of bars, restaurants and events. Although left off of the Red, White, and Booze map, the website has reported on DC Brau, Bluejacket, Atlas Brew Works, and the Capitol City Brewing Co., among others.
“We’ve been covering the bar and restaurant scene in D.C. for over four years, so we know what the city has to offer better than anyone,” Mr. Robinson said.
Ironically, the map that Thrillist used as inspiration — Steve Lovelace’s Corporate States of America — did include the District.
“For me, I’m a completionist,” Mr. Lovelace said. “I know there’s 50 states and D.C. I know it exists and I knew it should be printed there. I’ve been in D.C. twice in college and I like the city. I know the map wouldn’t be completed without it.”
The map started with the idea that some modern-era corporations are becoming more powerful and wealthier than many countries, Mr. Lovelace said. So for each state he chose a company that he believed best represented it.
With few multinational corporations based in the District, he picked C-SPAN, whose coverage of political affairs is ubiquitous.
“As a corporation and an entity, I thought it still represented the politics and as D.C. as a separate district,” said Mr. Lovelace, who works for Communities in Schools, a nonprofit dropout prevention group.
Under the microscope
Even if it is included on maps, the District poses one more design problem — it’s small, taking up less landmass than Rhode Island. That means readers might have to stare at the Virginia-Maryland border in an infographic before they are able to locate the nation’s capital.
The infographic inconsistencies mirror the unique place the city holds in the American political landscape: a sort of quasi-state that is controlled by the federal government. That has left the city government battling for greater independence.
“Full freedom and democracy were and are still denied to the people who quite literally live within the sight of the Capitol dome,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray said last year during the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. “We pay more than $3.5 billion in federal taxes but don’t even get the final say in how we spend our own locally raised money. And we send our sons and our daughters to fight for democracy overseas, but don’t get to practice it fully here at home.”
• Phillip Swarts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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