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Cornfields, Trees, and Water: Mapping the Rest of America

Most maps of the U.S. prioritize metropolitan areas. But "Minimal Maps" single out the nation's forests, crops, and waterbodies.

Eighty percent of the U.S. population lives in "urban" areas, a staggering 249,253,271 souls. Yet these folks live in just 3 percent of the country's 2.3 billion acres of land. Most of America's 50 states are forestland (30 percent), pasture and ranges (27 percent), and crops (18 percent), with parks, tundra, and swamps making up the rest. 

These are statistics that never fail to blow my provincially urban mind—in part, perhaps, because most maps of the country visually prioritize metropolitan areas.

But London-based designer Michael Pecirno produces images of America that illuminate all land use patterns, type by type. "Minimal Maps" uses 2014 USDA data to explore in rich detail how forests, grasslands, crops, and water spread across the contiguous states—each with its own map. 

"[C]orn fields take up 91 million acres of the American landscape," writes Pecirno in an email. "This is a staggering 4.83 percent of the continuous United States. While hearing that value is quite astounding, there is little way right now for us to visualise what 4.83 percent of the American landscape looks like, or furthermore, where this land is. By focussing each map on a single subject, we are able to better visualise and understand our landscape."