Your images of income inequality, seen from space

A month ago, I covered a study showing how tree cover was related to income level. A couple of weeks later, I posted images gleaned from Google Earth showing how easy it is to spot income inequality from space. I also asked you, my readers, to send me more examples of the same.

The response has been overwhelming. In fact, I’m still receiving emails and comments. I haven’t been able to go through them all, so if yours isn’t below, hang tight. I’ll get to it eventually. Consider this a post that’ll be updated continuously. As they say, check back early and often.

So without further ado, here they are. This is where you see income inequality. You may see it every day, right in your own backyard. You may have stumbled across it years ago. You may have noticed on a vacation. But collectively, you see it everywhere. Keep ’em coming.

Mexico City

From Todd Gastelum, who writes:

Although it appears that these satellite images are presented at different scales, I assure you that they were not. The houses in Lomas truly are enormous whereas San Miguel Teotongo is typical of the dense, irregular urbanization characteristic of the city’s more peripheral zones.

Lomas de Chapultepec, Miguel Hidalgo

San Miguel Teotongo

San Miguel Teotongo, Iztapalapa

Lomas de Chapultepec

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

From Aaron Krolikowski, who writes:

I’m a PhD student (in Geography) from the University of Oxford. My work takes place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and I spend quite a bit of time looking at maps of the city. One of the first things I noticed was exactly what you mention in terms of the ability to see income inequality from a birds-eye view. I’ve shared some photos with you to give you an idea of what I look at (and live!) every day here.

The first – To the left you have unplanned settlements of “Mikoroshini” and “Makangira”…to the right, the highly affluent and very European “Oyster Bay”

The second – To the left is the informal settlement of Hanna Nassif and across the river is middle-class Upanga

Mikoroshini, Makangira, and Oyster Bay


Hanna Nassif and Upanga



From Sylvian Paradis.

Downtown East Side

Downtown East Side

British Properties

British Properties

Lisbon, Portugal

From João Jordão.

Cova da Moura, Amadora

Cova da Moura



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  1. What a simple picture fails to communicate, particularly in Vancouver, is that many downtown eastside single-family homes have valuations probably on par with those of the British Properties. It’s also a matter of proximity to the city centre.

  2. While there is no doubt that larger land parcels on average will carry heftier values, the above “tree cover” comparison does not apply to some of the most densely populated and wealthiest areas in the world like Manhattan, NY, Tokyo, list goes on and on.

  3. If I can bring the topic down to earth for a second (pun intended), I think that a big part of the problem is that people seem to almost exclusively these days rely on the nursery trade for tree and other landscape plantings. That can be extremely expensive and even when it’s done through public money (municipalities’ park departments/ urban forestry), the decision making is at least partly political and underserves the poor neighborhoods.

    I feel like people have forgotten that given time, trees will grow from seed. I have grown numerous trees from seeds or seedlings that popped up on their own (and I moved to a different spot) in both urban and country settings, and the main ‘care taking’ I found with urban trees grown from seed while they’re in the seedling stage is trying to convince the neighbors or the landlord or the city that they’re not a weed to be dug up and replaced with nursery stock and/or pruned excessively and/or have branches yanked off for the hell of it. Other than that, they just need watering on occasion in droughty summers — not as much as nursery stock might need.

    Nursery stock they plant for street trees here (NYC) is typically about 6 years old with severely compromised root system, and don’t do much growth for the first few years since they have to rebuild their root system. They also cost in the hundreds of dollars each to plant and a large percentage doesn’t even survive beyond the first few years. A 9-year old oak tree I had planted as a tiny seedling in a city tree pit by my building is now taller than trees twice or three times older next to it. Last fall a city contractor pruned its lower branches drastically (to bring it up to city specs of 8′ above the sidewalk) even though they’re supposed to leave the young trees alone, but apparently they make the age determination by caliper, and this oak is not only taller than typical nursery stock of that age but has the girth of a much older tree.

    I told a neighbor who thanked me recently for the beautiful tree (even after it got butchered by the pruning service) that well, all you need is a little patience. But it’s a problem if nobody knows. People think trees are pieces of furniture the city brings on truck and plops in front of their building. It’s a problem, too, if the expectation is that to have a tree you have to order a ready-made one and pay according to size. I really believe that with a different approach, it can cost next to nothing to green up neighborhoods and the resulting trees can be healthier and easier to take care of.

  4. This is really interesting. But I’m wondering if that pic of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans is pre-Katrina, because I think it looks even worse now.

    1. That picture of the Lower Ninth Ward is post Katrina, and post “recovery”. You’ll notice the date of the satellite flyover is 11/29/2011. The gaps in the landscape are houses that were destroyed and never rebuilt. What the satellite imagery does not show is the many houses that are still unrepaired, and those that are completely blighted but still standing in this (and other) neighborhood.

      I don’t live in the 9th ward, but my neighborhood is dotted with abandoned properties and empty lots.

  5. If you notice many of the richer and greener neighborhoods are suburbs, where it is not possible to walk to your daily needs, you must rely on an automobile. The poorer and denser neighborhoods are traditional neighborhoods with a grid network of streets, uses are mixed and people do not need to rely on automobiles. Of course not every “rich” neighborhood is a suburb, for example the garden neighborhood in New Orleans. In a perfect world we would not have suburbs and neighborhoods would be mixed income (think Savannah, GA). Thanks for this study, it was interesting to see.

  6. I was thinking about the same issue as Vijay, but what one finds in some place like Manhattan, the Gold Coast of Chicago, or the central arrondissements of Paris is proximity to enormous parks. This may not be true, however, in Asian cities, like central Tokyo or Hong Kong. Is anyone familiar enough with those cities to comment on that?

  7. Point your Google Maps here:

    University Circle, East Palo Alto, CA

    … and turn on the satellite images.

    The diagonal line running from northwest to southeast is Highway 101, which divides East Palo Alto from Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

  8. This is a very useful study and needs to be expanded.
    There are other issues such as density which can be a factor.
    There is also a cultural component. There are some people who just don’t like trees around. I’ve seen this in Boston’s Italian neighborhoods and suburbs where people are likely to cut their trees down and pave over their lawns because they don’t want the maintenance. They don’t value the green.
    Great work!