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Philadelphia’s new council district map? Deadline is Sept. 9 and nobody’s seen it


How pretty is Philadelphia’s City Council Districts map? Pretty ugly at the moment. Look at districts 5 and 7, with their long snaking tails, a product of some ugly political horse-trading that not only made the districts cockeyed on the map, but created ridiculous neighborhood splits where one side of the street is one district and the other side of the street is another (and in some cases splitting the wards too).

Philadelphia City Council District Map, currently in effect

Every ten years, after new US Census data are released, cities and states are required by law to reconfigure their legislative districts to reflect population changes. The redistricting of Philadelphia’s ten council districts is due Sept. 9. And if you’re saying to yourself, I haven’t seen the new map, you’re not the only one. With what the Committee of Seventy tactfully called a lack of transparency, Council has yet to make public the proposed map. And that, in spite of the penalties for not acting in a timely fashion (post-deadline, council members salaries are held up until the map is approved).

Council members (l-r) Marian Tasco, Wilson W. Goode, Jr., Maria Quinones Sanchez and Anna Verna

Last Wednesday Steve and I went to a City Council hearing on redistricting at the Nueva Esperanza Academy Charter School on Hunting Park Ave.  This is one of three public hearings. It was scheduled at a time, 5pm, when citizens could attend–unlike the previous hearing at 10:30am, Aug. 16. The auditorium was pretty full of people, and the Council representatives — Anna Verna, Marian Tasco, Wilson W. Goode, Jr. and Maria Quinones Sanchez (joined later by Darrell Clarke) sat and listened. Goode asked each speaker what they thought of the ward divisions and whether they thought the wards should be changed. Apart from that, there was a rather peculiar silence on the part of the Council members, who were there apparently just to listen and correct any mis-information.

Steve Kimbrough, before testifying at the redistricting meeting

Steve testified about new council district configurations (and maps) he and his colleagues Frederic Murphy (Temple), Nick Quintas (Temple) and Ram Gopalan (Rutgers, Camden) had found via Steve’s algorithm. Team Fred did a LOT of work, they say, and came up with more than 100 new districting plans. Each of these plans meets the legal requirements of contiguity (each district is fully connected with itself) and population size. Also, each plan meets the socially desirable goals of being reasonably compact and not splitting any of the City’s 66 wards. (Some wards now are split between two or even three districts. Districts 5 and 7 in the current map are highly NOT compact, indicating gerrymandering.) Read an abbreviated explanation of their results.  Here is one of the maps found with Steve’s algorithm — now this is pretty (if I do say so)!


Aug 27 map is example districting found by Team Fred algorithms. Contiguous, populations within 5% of each other and none of the 66 wards broken up. based on 2010 census.

See more maps here.  Steve says there are more than 100 maps they found using his algorithm.

Azavea’s testimony at the hearing included a selection of maps from the Fix It Contest

Azavea, the local cartography gurus, held a contest where anybody could volunteer their idea for a new map.  Azavea’s Robert Cheetham testified and showed some of the maps from the contest.  Winners of the contest were announced yesterday, Tues. Sept. 6.

LatinoLines representatives testifying about their plan for redistricting

LatinoLines, a coalition of business leaders in the Latino community testified about the impact the current district has on their community (basically, the gerrymandered district 7 splits the community and dilutes their voting power and their access to the democratic process — bad enough, but the Latino population has grown enormously, as reflected in the census and to not rectify and redraw that district would be a travesty).  Watch a video of that testimony.

Representatives of the Asian American community also testified.  That group too showed a large population gain in the last census and they are seriously split between several districts now.

Steve notes that he used evolutionary computation to find these 100+ maps. Very similar methods are what people use in evolutionary art . “I hope people will look at the maps in that light as well. The computer finds a group of interesting solutions; people judge what’s good and the process is repeated many times. Now if only Council would use this method, letting the citizens in on the judging, Philadelphia could evolve beautiful districts.”  Read Steve’s testimony and that of others at the Committee of Seventy website.

Finally, an article in the Inquirer this morning says that Council will release its proposed map tomorrow.  Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez is quoted saying the new map is going to be ugly.