Advice and answers from the mySidewalk Team

In this article, you will learn how to build a map with mySidewalk, and how to customize it via:

  • Displaying data by different geographies
  • Selecting project boundaries (such as viewing by map extent, drilling into a specific geography, drawing your own area of interest, or uploading your own custom area of interest)
  • Displaying various datasets 
  • Normalizing your data
  • Viewing data sources
  • Creating a bivariate map
  • Filtering your visible data
  • Adding a description to your map
  • Changing map settings

If you haven't yet read about the description of our Map Interface, it may be helpful before starting to build your own map. 

Create A New Map

There are a few ways to create a new map within the application:

  1. Option 1 - From the Home page, click New on the right side, then click Map 
  2. Option 2 - From anywhere, click Menu at the top, then click New Map 
  3. Option 3 - From Maps, click New Map 
  4. Option 3 - From Template Detail, click Create Map on the right 

In the New map box, select to change your geography, choose a template from the template library, change the map name, select a project folder to house your new map, and then click Create Map (Note that selecting a template and project folder are optional). 

Display Data By

Next, decide what type of boundary you want to work with. Click on the Display data by tab and select the desired boundary from the list (state is the most vast, while census block group is the most granular).

Select Project Boundary 

The next step is to decide how you want to view the data on the map. You can set an area of interest, or you can choose to view data for the entire map extent.  Setting an area of interest will allow you to isolate a specific geography such as a city or project area, and make surrounding areas disappear on the map. The location you chose when you created your new map will be your area of interest by default. To select a new area of interest, locate the Area of Interest selector at the top left-hand corner of the map interface, and search for a new geography. To turn off this area of interest, uncheck the box to the left of your area of interest.

Option 1 - View data for the entire map extent: work with data for the entire map extent (in other words, view the data for the entire visible map). To do this, uncheck the box to the left of your area of interest

The image below is an example of working with the map extent. Here you see the map of Kansas City and the surrounding areas divided into ZIP codes. The dataset being displayed is Total Population, meaning the ZIP codes in darker green have a higher total population, while the areas in lighter green have a lower total population.

Option 2 - Drill into a specific geography: Isolate your geography from it's surrounding, and see your area of interest broken down into smaller units of geography.  As an example, this would be useful if you wanted to look at all of the census block groups within one specific county. 

  1.  Option 1: Move your mouse over the specific geography on the map and click on it (a dark grey border should appear to show you have selected it)
  2. In the white box in the upper right side of the map, select the circle with the three dots, then click Set as area of interest
  3. Option 2: Using the Area of interest selector tab in the top left-hand corner of the map interface, search for a new geography, or select one using the Recent Geographies, Nearby Geographies, and Custom Geographies columns
  4. If you would like to continue to drill into a sub-geography (ex: census block groups within city boundaries), go back to Display data by and select a smaller unit of geography
  5. Note: you can export the raw data from your area of interest

The image below is an example of drilling into a specific geography.  I have selected Kansas City as my area of interest, and then broken it down into all of the census tracts that touch the Kansas City boundary. 

Option 3 - Draw your own area of interest:
By drawing your own area of interest, you can select an irregular grouping of geographies and control which geographies are included in your data analysis. Note: If your area of interest is not rectangular, please read Drawing Tools to learn how to draw your own custom area of interest - a polygon, radius, line, box, or even a combination of multiple census geographies for quick analysis. Once you have your shape drawn, it will be available to use under you Area of Interest selector at the top left hand corner. 

  1. Locate the area of the map you would like to look at more closely.
  2. Decide how you want to display your geographic boundaries by clicking on Display data by in the upper-left side of the map page and selecting the correct geography
  3. Select the Draw Area of Interest tool from the left side tool bar
  4. A square will appear on your map, highlighting each geo that it touches
  5. To move the square to a different place on the map, place your mouse over the white box in the center of the square, click, and hold down while you move the square to the desired location
  6. To resize the square, place your mouse over any of the white boxes on the corners of the square, click, and drag inward or outward to change the square's size
  7. Once you have drawn the area of interest you would like to work with, open the Draw Area of Interest tool again and click Save
  8. Note: You can extract the raw data from this area of interest

Option 4 - Upload your own custom area of interest.
You can do this by uploading a shapefile, which you can then use to find the data for a custom shape. As an example, this would be helpful if you were interested in data for a single, irregularly shaped boundary, like a business district.

  1. Upload your shapefile into the application 
  2. Activate the polygon layer by opening up the layers tab in the left side tool bar and clicking the check box to the left of the layer name
  3. Once the layer appears on your screen, click on it and note that a new white box with the layer name appears in the upper-right side corner of the screen (Note: if you need to zoom in or out to view your layer, you can do so by clicking the + or - signs in the lower-right side scale bar)
  4. To isolate the layer as your area of interest, go to the white box with the layer name in the upper-right side corner, click into the circle with the three dots, then click Set as Area of Interest
  5. Note: You can extract the raw data from this area of interest

Now that you have decided how you want to view the boundaries on your map, you can begin to display datasets. The application has over 800 pre-loaded datasets, but please note that not all datasets are available at all locations or over geographic boundaries.

Display data on your map

Click on Display map by in the upper-left side of the page. Now, you can find the dataset you want in a few different ways:

  1. Search the datasets using a keyword: Click the current dataset's name near the magnifying glass to search the available datasets by typing in a keyword
  2. Use a suggested tag: Select a suggested tag from the list that appears when you click on the search bar, such as economy, city planning, education, transportation planning, parks planning, elections, economic development, elected official, health & wellness, or housing. 
  3. Browse through all of the datasets: Click on Browse data underneath the search bar and scroll through the list of datasets

After displaying data on your map, there are a few options:

Option 1: Normalize your data

To normalize your data and get a more accurate representation of what's happening in the area you are studying:

  1. In the Display map by tab, click the drop down menu for Normalization
  2. Choose how you want to normalize your data - note that you need to normalize based on whatever dataset you are displaying (i.e. if your dataset refers to population, normalize by total population; if you dataset refers to households, normalize by total households; if your dataset refers to families, normalize by total families and so on)
  3. This will turn the data displayed on your map into a percentage, instead of an absolute value, which allows you to more accurately compare different places
  4. Normalization is also useful for bivariate maps - see Option 3 further down in this article to learn how to add a second dataset to your map, and how to normalize to measure both datasets on an equal scale 

Option 2: View data sources

When creating a map, writing a report, or developing a plan, it is important to know where your information is coming from so you can make better data-driven decisions. Follow these steps to learn how to find the source of your data, as well as an explanation of what the data is measuring exactly

  1. Click on the Display map by tab in the upper-left side of the page. Once you have selected the dataset you would like to use, click View data source at the bottom of the drop down box
  2. OR click the Info button directly under the Content heading in the left-side toolbar, then click View data source 

Option 3: Create a bivariate map

Looking at a map that displays two datasets (i.e. two variables) at the same time can be helpful when you are trying to see which areas are affected by two overlapping types of data (such as areas with low food access AND high poverty), and which areas relate more to one set of data or the other.

  1. In the bottom of the  Display map by tab, switch the toggle button next to Bivariate map from off to on
  2. In the second tab that appears, select a second dataset by searching for the dataset, selecting a tag, or browsing the data library
  3. Optional: Normalize your data (see option 1 above). This allows you to measure both datasets on an equal scale 
  4. Your map will appear with two different colors, one for each dataset, which you can see in the bottom-right side of the screen
  5. To switch the colors corresponding to each dataset, select the green button with two arrows in the bottom right of your two Display map by tabs
  6. On your map, any area where you see more of one color than the other reveals that the dataset corresponding to that color is more prevalent in that area - any area that reveals a mix of both of the colors shows that both datasets are prevalent in that area
  7. Optional: Notice the correlation feature in the white box at the top corner? Learn about how to interpret this number to find relationships in your data 

Option 4: Filter your visible data 

You can control the minimum and maximum values for the datasets displayed, which allows you to get rid of outliers and eliminate areas that aren't of interest to you. 

You can choose to filter by percentile or by value. Percentiles are useful any time you're interested in focusing on or comparing areas relative to their neighbors, or if you'd like to perform the same analysis across multiple areas. Answer questions like "Which areas are in the lower 25th percentile of per capita income?" or "Which areas are above the 75th percentile of millennials?" instantly. 

  1. Find the gradient sliding scale in the bottom right-hand corner of the map. Click the grey funnel icon
  2. To filter your map using percentiles: Click Percentile. You can slide the bars on the left (minimum values) and the bars on the right (maximum values) to determine the range of data distribution you would like to be represented on the map. You can also type in the desired percentages in the small boxes next to the tops of the sliding bars.
  3. OR to filter your map using absolute values: Click Value. Type in the minimum and maximum values of the dataset(s) you want to be displayed on the map.
  4. To reset your filters back to their original minimums and maximums, click on Reset 

Option 5: Add a description to your map

A great way to add context to your map is to add a description to it. This allows for team members and people you share your map with to understand the context behind the data displayed on the map.

  1. Click the Info button located under the Content header on the left-side toolbar. Under the title of your map, click Update
  2. Type in a description for your map then click Update 

Option 6: Change your map settings

Whether you want to brand the maps and chart you share, create visual differentiation among the multiple maps in a project, simply prefer one color over another, or want to adjust the zoom and interactive features on the map, you have options.

  1. Click the Map settings icon on the left-hand toolbar. 
  1. Adjust map contrast and display type: Click Map, then choose any of the three display types: Low Contrast (the default display type), High Contrast, or World Imagery 
  2. Change the map color theme: Click Colors, then choose any of the 5 color themes. You can swap the order of the colors using the swap icon on the right of the preview. (Note: Only the blue-green combination is color-blind friendly)
  1. Adjust map zoom and interactivity: Click Controls. Check or uncheck the Screen Wheel Zoom feature (Note: You can also zoom using the "+" and "-" symbols in the bottom right hand corner of the map)

At this point, you should have a map that you have customized to include a location of interest to you, the type of geographic boundaries you want to view, and data being displayed according to your preferences. 

Hopefully, a picture of your community has begun to form. If you want to continue to gain insights and share those insights, here are a few possible next steps to take:

  1. Add Charts to your map: add a whole new level of insight by adding interactive charts to your map 
  2. Add Annotations to your map: Highlight and provide context to a specific location on your map 
  3. Add Layers to your map: further customize your map by adding preloaded mySidewalk layers or by uploading your own
  4. Export raw data from your area of interest: download the raw data as a CSV from your area of interest on the map 
  5. Share your map: share your map with others! 
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