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Analysis | The search for the ultimate student city, and more!

The Miami University Marching Band plays on the soccer field before a Redhawks game in Oxford, Ohio. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)


Deep in the vaults of the Department of Data, your quantitative questions pile up like unprocessed tax returns in an IRS canteen. We can’t answer them all, but we read (and often reread) them all, stopping daydreaming about how to find the perfect dataset to solve the problem you’re posing.

Occasionally — eureka! — we find a plethora of answers. That forces us to put on our green eyeshadow, put the point to paper, bust out the official Department of Data rubber stamp, and rush to process as many data queries as possible. Without further delay, here’s the latest Data Dive!

Student cities feel different. But how do you quantify a feeling?

We’d say it’s a geography issue, not just a student population issue. The classic university town is built around the school at its heart. It breathes with the rhythm of the students, inhaling nervously in autumn and exhaling as summer begins.

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Student towns are not suburbs or cities. They’re provincial, they’re probably a bit isolated, and if the college closes, they don’t have a plan B. Remove a college or two from a college-rich Boston suburb and you’ve still got a bunch of prime real estate. the Charles River. Take out Miami University from Oxford, Ohio (62 percent students) or Slippery Rock University from Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania (67 percent students), and you’ve got nothing but a smoking crater.

So for this analysis, we chose to look at urban areas, the blobs our friends at the Census Bureau drew around unique population centers. Urban areas follow population density patterns rather than typical city boundaries. (City limits aren’t very useful here anyway, since some colleges are independent administrative entities.)

And America’s most collegiate city is (envelope, please): Alfred, NY, where students make up an astonishing 85 percent of the city’s 4,500 residents (subject to huge seasonal fluctuations, of course).

Wedged into a hilly expanse of western New York, far enough from any city or landmark that its precise location is difficult to describe, Alfred is defined by the public Alfred State College and the private Alfred University, which lie just across the main street. If you turn left at the city’s only traffic light, you’ll be on one campus. Turn right, you are on the other side. That is now a student city.

The No. 2 college town is also America’s No. 1 black college town: Prairie View, Tex. Halfway between Houston and College Station, it is home to Prairie View A&M University, one of the nation’s largest four-year HBCUs. Prairie View’s student body makes up a vibrant 78 percent of the city’s population of about 6,200, a not insignificant portion of whom march in the school’s 300-member band, the Marching Storm.

By this definition, New York and Ohio are pockmarked by college towns, while states with sprawling urban connections can look like college deserts (sorry, New Jersey!).

To correct this, we looked for the most collegiate cities in each state — because who are we to deny Dover, Del., or Providence, RI, their place in the college town spotlight? It’s not their fault that students make up only 9 and 8 percent of their population, respectively.

The most common place names for animals

We’re not sure if it’s enshrined in the Constitution (yet), but Americans certainly exercised their right to bear names.

The continent’s largest predator clearly impressed the men, other men, and occasionally women who inhabit Bad Bear Creek in Idaho, Curly Bear Mountain in Montana, and thousands more of the 2.3 million officially designated streams, reservoirs, peaks , lakes, churches, cities and cemeteries in the United States.

When we searched over 10,000 common terms appearing in the wonderful Geographic Names Information System in search of animals, we found everything from Skunk Camp Wash, Ariz., to Bug Tussle, Okla. But “bear” easily topped the list, beating out the many beavers, horses, eagles, and deer that can be found there.

Indeed, bears topped the rankings in 23 states. Beavers took the lead in nine states in the Northeast and Midwest. Horses took down seven mostly western states. And Mississippi’s top animal is the almighty catfish – but if we didn’t count the dams named after private catfish ponds, beavers would rule too.

Bears are so ubiquitous that they almost seem like a national animal (with apologies to the eagle) when it comes to place names. To better illuminate regional differences, you need to eliminate the bears – and believe us, the early white settlers tried. That reveals a remarkable divide between mostly northern beaver states and mostly western horse states. Eagles, fish, foxes and turkeys also climb up the rankings. The catfish stays put.

But local naming trends don’t really emerge until we begin to map out how individual animal names have spread. Then we see that sheep, antelope, coyote, and rattlesnake are western names, while northerners prefer moose, trout, and otter, and southerners are unusually inspired by the turkey, panther, bee, and buzzard.

Our analysis is based on a remarkable registry governed by the Federal Board on Geographic Names since 1890. It is now the purview of the Domestic Names Committee, a crack squad of officials from across the government who carefully deliberate on proposed name changes.

However, the data has one big caveat: the version of the database we relied on, the most recent available for large-scale analysis, has yet to be updated to reflect a recent revision aimed at eliminating the word ” squaw,” which “has historically been used as an insulting ethnic, racial and sexist insult, particularly to Indigenous women,” the Interior Ministry said.

That change affected more than 600 places. And in many cases – from Water Dog Springs, Ariz., to Bumblebee Pond, Fla. – the changes serve to further strengthen the US list of animal names. (Recent updates have also removed more than a million man-made places from the registry, which will now focus on cities and natural features, but until they’re removed from the public database, we’ll continue to use them in our analyses.)

America’s Founding Beverages

While searching thousands upon thousands of American place names for fauna, we noticed another trend: Americans like to name landmarks after libations.

So we dove back into the Geographic Names Information System to make another map!

One trend emerged that overpowered all others: the naming of the American West was fueled by whiskey and/or scotch. (We counted both spellings.)

Meanwhile, much of the country’s early interior, including most of the original 13 colonies and early Midwestern states, emerged as a distinct brandy belt. That analysis combines places named for both brandy and brandy, the latter being more popular in the mid-Atlantic.

But something about our map wasn’t right. Was the American South really so fond of gin, that juniper-laced spirit that helped fuel the British Empire? Or was there perhaps some other reason why the nobility of the cotton country would use the word ‘gin’ in place names?

To get around this problem, we created a different version of the map, dropping the gin and adding an all-American alcohol-adjacent gear called the still. (This forced us to filter out a few terms, such as “Still Pond,” which, while calm, didn’t fit the spirit of this exercise.)

The result is the definitive portrait of America’s alcoholic heritage. With a dim knowledge of history and some heroic assumptions, you can figure out what our ancestors were likely drinking when they poked a wobbly finger at the map and declared that a place will henceforth be known as “Schnappsville!”

The best question we can’t answer

Which States Eat the Most or Least Desserts? I recently learned that Utah has more candy stores per person than any other state – interesting but understandable given the number there that shun alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Which State Eats the Most Sugar? The least?

Barbara Bean in Harrisonburg, Va.

We are deeply frustrated with our inability to find better data for Barbara on the state of desserts in the state of Deseret. For now, we can only provide a brief update on retail employment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Rhode Island employed the most baker workers in 2021, compared to the size of their workforce. insurance data to create ultra-detailed job and payment data for states and counties.

Several states and territories are not listed in the 2021 census, but pre-pandemic data suggests the Virgin Islands would score super high. This leads to an obvious follow-up question: What is it with islands and bakeries?!

After the islands, the list is dominated by the Cannoli Belt—Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Utah and its western neighbors are around the national average, if not slightly lower.

But we can’t be sure that bakery employment correlates perfectly with confectionery cravings, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on getting more accurate data on national or local sugar consumption!

Hello! The Department of Data loves your quantifiable questions! What are you curious about: which city has the least used urban parks? What proportion of the litters have small fry and how are they doing? Who bets the most on sports? Just ask!

If your question inspires a column, we’ll send an official Department of Data button and ID card. This week, the buttons go to Barbara and to Jeremy Singer-Vine, a seasoned data journalist who recently launched the Data liberation project and whose peerless newsletter first alerted us to the Federal Place Name Database.

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