Rustbelt Makeover

”Whatever their purpose or subject matter, even the most rudimentary of maps have an inherent beauty, an attraction in their way of ordering things.” – Antonis Antoniou

Milwaukee Ages Map

This map is built with a simple data series: the ages of 139,931 residential buildings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The building data, maintained by the City of Milwaukee as part of a larger property dataset, has been hidden in plain sight for years. (Click here to explore the complete, zoomable map.)

Using only the age of a building plus the shape of the property that it sits upon, this map invites you to explore a city in a new way. Even a casual user can find quick insight in the data – perhaps noting new infill development in Milwaukee’s core (an indicator of urban renewal?).

Milwaukee Ages Histogram

Or, seeing how past housing booms still shape the nature and distribution of the City’s existing housing stock.

Milwaukee Ages Histogram

One of Big Lake Data’s core competencies is building custom interactive maps for clients.

Yet, this particular map is simply for the city itself. Here’s some of your rough government data, Milwaukee. With a new cut and polish, you really shine.


Building age data and parcel geometries come from the January 2014 Master Property and September 2013 Parcelbase datasets maintained by the City of Milwaukee. 139,931 residential parcels are colored by the year the building that stands upon the parcel was built. Identifying parcels by building age highlights meaningful historical periods in the growth and development of the city.

Roughly 21,000 Milwaukee parcels have no associated building age. This includes not only vacant land (6,501 parcels), but also tax-exempt property (i.e., public schools, non-profit institutions) (4,817 parcels), condominiums and large apartment buildings (1,182 parcels), commercial (9,134 parcels), and industrial properties (620 parcels). They are not colored, but if you zoom in you can see their outlines.


This map is chiefly inspired by WAAG’s magnificent map of every single building in the Netherlands. The color palette takes its cue from this Ken Kornacki treatment of a cream city brick building, which is typical of Milwaukee.


This map was made entirely with open source technologies. R was used to process the data and plot the histogram legend. Quantum GIS was used to join the building data to parcel geometries. TileMill was used to style and create the map tiles.

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