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These 'Scribble Maps' Connect Every U.S. ZIP Code in Ascending Order

Explore these chaotic maps that link every postal code together in ascending numerical order. It works for other countries, too.
Screenshot of interactive scribble map of the U.S.
Screenshot of interactive scribble map of the U.S.Robert Kosara/

The Zone Improvement Plan, or ZIP code system as we know it today, was robustly rolled out in 1963 with the purpose of modernizing the mail-sorting process. But this updated postal zoning system ended up doing a lot more. ZIP codes have led to fine-grained information about American neighborhoods, including how rich, poor, and unequal they are, who lives there, and how the place is changing. Here’s how the U.S.P.S. Inspector General put it in a 2013 report called “The Untold Story of the ZIP Code”:

But data viz expert Robert Kosara wanted to go beyond individual ZIP code. He wondered if examining how they were spread out would reveal interesting patterns. To satisfy his curiosity, he created this interactive “Scribble Map” by connecting each dot representing each U.S. ZIP code in ascending order. Here’s what Kosara tells CityLab is the key takeaway from his visualization, via email: