Data & Statistics for Journalists: Geography of Data

Topic-Specific Geography

Occasionally, you will run into geographies that are unique to a specific topic. Some of the most common topic-specific geographies are:

  • U.S. Congressional Districts 
  • Health Districts 
  • School Districts 
Some geographies can be easily mapped to other established geographies (like Census PUMAs), others may not. If in doubt, contact a librarian! 

Census Geographies

Nested Areas (Large to Small)

  • Nation
  • Region
  • Division
  • State
  • County
  • County Subdivision
  • Census Tract
  • Census Block Group
  • Census Block

Non-Nested Areas

  • Congressional District
  • Metropolitan Area
  • Place
  • PUMA
  • Urban Area
  • ZCTA (ZIP Code)

Geography of Data

Determining the geography of your data need is a key part of your data search.

Geography deals not only with the specific location of your data (Astoria, Queens, NY) but also with the scope of your data-- the geographic levelat which you wish the data to be collected. Some of the typical levels at which you might want data:

  • International: multiple countries
  • National: single country (i.e., US)
  • State
  • Local (county/borough, city, town)
  • Smaller localized levels (census tracts, community districts, neighborhoods, etc.) 

NYC Neighborhoods

New York neighborhoods are a special case, because there are no formally-defined boundaries for many of these neighborhoods. You will have to make your own decision about what geography to use to best describe a neighborhood. 

Some of your options (in order of descending size) are:

NYC Geography Data Available

Boroughs (Counties): 

  • Manhattan (New York County)
  • Brooklyn (Kings County)
  • Queens (Queens County)
  • Bronx (Bronx County)
  • Staten Island (Richmond County)
  • 2010 Decennial Census
  • American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year
  • American Community Survey (ACS) 3
  • American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year

PUMAs (Public Use Microdata Areas)

PUMAs are areas of about 100,000 residents, may be roughly analogous to NYC Community Districts, and often contain multiple neighborhoods. This data is highly accurate.

  • American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year
  • American Community Survey (ACS) 3
  • American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year

ZCTAs (Zip Code Tabulation Areas)

ZCTAs are roughly analogous (but not equal to) USPS-defined Zip Codes, and as such do not correspond well with NYC neighborhoods. They are smaller than PUMAs.

  • 2010 Decennial Census
  • American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year

NTAs (Neighborhood Tabulation Areas)

The Dept. of Planning (DCP) created these areas to roughly correspond with NYC neighborhoods. Data in this format is only available from the DCP, not through traditional census sources. 

  • 2010 Decennial Census
  • American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year

Census Tracts

Census tracts are smaller than neighborhoods, so typically you combine several to create a neighborhood. Be aware that these areas have a large margin of error (since the measurement area is so small). 

  • 2010 Decennial Census
  • American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year

Many thanks to Frank Donnelly at Baruch College for his excellent work that inspired this table. 

As you search different data sources, be aware that each source may use a different geography to define a given NYC area. (For instance, the NYC Health Dept. uses "Health Districts.")