2013.3.2 Map of Massachusetts municipalities ranked by population

Whodathunkit, it's a map post! I was looking at the list of towns and cities in Massachusetts yesterday and got the idea to color this map of them by population rank, with dark red being most populous (Boston) and almost-white being the least populous (Gosnold), moving through red and yellow along the way. Each municipality is colored uniquely, automated with a quick and easy Processing algorithm manually. Click the map to toggle between the small version and a larger version with names of municipalities shown. The large one may take a little while to show up due to file size.

Massachusetts municipal population rank map

Of course the result is similar to a population density map, but it's misleading if you perceive area times darkness to correspond directly to population. For instance, Plymouth is dark red because it's 19th in population out of 351 municipalities, but it's also the largest town by land area in the state. The combination of these makes it look at a glance like a major urban center more populous than Worcester, which is decidedly not the case. On the other hand, it differentiates towns and cities more clearly from each other than, say, a density map by census block, despite a coarser grain. I think the colors are real purdy too!

The high-population contours of the state are quite clear here: Greater Boston and its suburbs due north to the Merrimack cities and up the North Shore, and due south, and a thread due west to Worcester; the South Coast cities (Fall River and New Bedford); the South Shore and the joint of the Cape; and the southern Pioneer Valley, and that's about it except for some outliers, e.g. Leominster and Fitchburg, Gardner, Greenfield, Pittsfield, and North Adams. There are some interesting negative outliers too that are surprisingly low in population for their land area and location, e.g. Lincoln and Carlisle.

One thing I kept noticing while I was coloring each municipality was how many pairs of municipalities of adjacent population rank are also adjacent geographically. There are sixteen pairs that I caught (most populous listed first in each pair, likewise pairs listed from most to least populous):

I also found four pairs of municipalities bordering each other that are just 2 apart in rank:

It seems probabilistically unlikely to have so many such pairs. In some areas it makes more sense, where a lot of towns in a region have similar populations, such as the eastern Berkshires/western Pioneer valley, with its compact concentration of most of the lowest-population towns in the state. The last five of the adjacent pairs arise thence. In more heterogeneous areas, the result is more surprising.

One benefit of filling in each municipality's color manually is that I have now seen the name and location of every municipality in Massachusetts. Some of them I'd never encountered before despite looking at maps like this plenty of times. Dighton? Oakham? Whoa. Also, North, East, West, and Nondirectional Brookfield are all separate, small towns, to my great surprise. The exercise also brought into relief the existence of Boxford, Boxborough, and Foxborough (but, disappointingly, no Foxford), each of which I was aware of separately but not simultaneously. I now want to make a map of municipal suffixes of Massachusetts, such as the diversity of -bridges south of Worcester. Stay tuned.