Packages to simplify mapping in R

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Computerworld's Sharon Machlis has published a very useful tutorial on creating geographic data maps with R. (The tutorial was actually published back in March, but I only came across it recently.) While it's been possible to create maps in R for a long time, some recent packages and data APIs have made the process much simpler. The tutorial is based on the following R packages:

  • sf, a package that provides simple data structures for objects representing spatial geometries including map features like borders and rivers
  • tmap and tmaptools, packages for creating static and interactive "thematic maps" like choropleths and spatial point maps using a ggplot2-like syntax
  • tigris, a package that provides shapefiles you can use to map the USA and its states, counties, and census tracts (very useful for visualizing US census data, which you can easily obtain with the tidycensus package)
  • rio, a package to streamline the import of flat files from third-party data sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


With those packages, as you'll learn in the tutorial linked below, you can easily create attractive maps to visualize geographic data, and even make those graphics interactive with scrolling, zooming, and data pop-ups thanks to the capabilities of the leaflet package. All of these packages are now available on CRAN, so there's no need to install from Github as the tutorial then suggested, unless you want access to even newer in-development capabilities.

Computerworld: Mapping in R just got a whole lot easier

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