Bakersfield: A Better California Capital?

On October 5, 2010 · 11 Comments

We had a lot of fun and some great comments during the discussion of state capitals most inconvenient to the residents of the states’ largest cities. I’d mentioned that I’d found the U.S. Census Bureau’s list of Population Centers by State from the year 2000 census. Naturally I took the last two questions from the previous exercise and modified them to compare the state capitals with the state centers of population.

Dropping the latitude / longitude coordinates into Google Maps almost always produced a street address. From there it was easy to generate directions and mileage to the respective state capitals. Here’s an example for Ohio.

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I probably could have could have produced even more accurate results. I received a number of fascinating suggestions. However I had to go with what was both easily available and conveniently calculated.

The results were… boringly similar. Juneau is still incredibly distant from the center of population in Alaska (which barely nudges away from Anchorage by the way). Sacramento is still incredibly inconvenient for tens of millions of California residents, and is by far the worst location for a state capital from an overall societal perspective.

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There was only one major difference: Florida. This was noted in a comment by reader "Matt" about ten minutes after I’d dropped the lat/long in Google maps and noticed the same thing. Matt gets the gold star for amazing coincidences. He should go play the lotto this evening.

Jacksonville, on Florida’s northeast corner is the state’s largest city. However, think of all the major cities further south: Tampa; St. Petersburg; Orlando; Ft. Lauderdale; Miami; and dozens of smaller yet still significant communities that line the coasts. Jacksonville may be the largest city but the center of population falls much further south, even south of Orlando, and that’s quite distant from the capital at Tallahassee. This pushes Florida into the number 2 position for overall state capital inconvenience.

Better state capital choices for the five most inconveniently misaligned locations would be:

  1. Bakersfield, California
  2. Winter Haven, Florida
  3. Middletown, New York
  4. Joliet, Illinois
  5. Killeen, Texas

Oh, and Juneau, Alaska is still an outrageously inconvenient place although it doesn’t impact nearly as many people as the others. I’m not knocking Juneau as a town. I’ve been there a couple of times and I think it’s a nice place. It’s still a really poor choice for a capital city.

Are there any bets on the most conveniently-located state capital with respect to the center of population? I was thinking it would probably be one of the really small states or one of those that seem to sit at dead center. The "best" one is neither.

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Maine’s center of population is only three miles away from its capital city of Augusta.

Totally Unrelated.

A bit late (I kept forgetting to post it), but you should absolutely read A Visit To The McFarthest Spot on Data Pointed if you haven’t seen it yet. A personal visit to a noteworthy geo-oddity gains top marks in my estimation. I would have loved to have accomplished something of the magnitude described in that post. Kudos to Data Pointed!

On October 5, 2010 · 11 Comments

11 Responses to “Bakersfield: A Better California Capital?”

  1. Tim Elliott says:

    A fun topic! But I can’t imagine any state actually picking up and moving its capital anymore. I live near Chicago but have never needed to travel to Springfield (aside for a sightseeing trip as a kid) for any service, as essential services like Sec of State are scattered all over. I lived in Nevada for a while, and I imagine most of Carson City’s services are duplicated in Clark County. I don’t recall a stream of Las Vegans traveling up 95 to Carson 🙂

  2. James says:

    I love your site. And yet, as is so often the case on the Internet, it is the urge to nit-pick that has inspired me to comment.

    How about Columbia, South Carolina? Looks like it’s about 2.4 miles from the population center to the capitol building, as the proverbial crow flies.

  3. Bill Cary says:

    The most conveniently-located state capital with respect to the center of population would have to be Rhode Island, followed by Connecticut, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina in some order.

    • Cape May says:

      The centre of population of Delaware in 2000 was located at 39.397164, -75.561908 – which is in the middle of the Great Cedar Swamp near the Appoquinimink Wildlife Refuge. The distance to the state capital of Dover is 24 miles. For such a small state with a huge population center up north, this isn’t bad at all. Dover is pretty much located smack dab in the geographic centre of the state.

  4. A Note on How I Came Up with "Most Convenient"

    Regular readers know I’m all about coming up with the easiest solution that provides a decent result. That’s not because I don’t care about exactness but because I’m lazy and I like to call it a day with a simple Close Enough.

    There are probably many different ways I could have estimated the value. James suggests a great one — probably the best one: as the crow flies from the lat/long of the center of population to the dome of the state capitol building. I used an easier method: I plopped the lat/long into Google Maps, let it auto select whatever road happened to be closest to it, and asked for driving directions by road to the name of the capital city. This lacks a certain precision especially when deciding among several nearly equal possibilities but I selected it purely because it was simple and because I had to repeat it 50 times. Subjective? Arbitrary? Totalitarian? Absolutely!

    Using that admittedly flawed Close Enough method, here are the Top 5 which you can examine yourself on Google Maps by following the links:

    Different methods will select different orders, but in reality there isn’t a tangible difference between any of the top results. Wouldn’t it be cool if the public actually cared about this honorific and it somehow sparked a rivalry between Maine and South Carolina?!?

  5. gS49 says:

    How about a comparison of the population center and the geographic center of each state (and the country). Altho I suspect that the geographic center of Florida may be in the Gulf!

  6. Matt says:

    Perhaps even “dumber” than the location of any U.S. state capital (save Alaska’s) is the capital of British Columbia, Canada: Victoria, which is on an island reachable only by boat or plane.

  7. James D says:

    It’s slightly disappointing that no state’s population center is in another state. I was hoping that New York would turn out to be Suffern, NJ, or something.

  8. Matt says:

    Perhaps nothing, though, can beat the inconvenience of Myanmar’s new capital city, Naypyidaw, built from scratch in the middle of the jungle over the past five years. Supposedly the military regime moved the capital there so the masses won’t be able to overthrow the regime in a revolution like they could in a big city like St. Petersburg or Paris. The government buildings are all spread out over many miles — urban sprawl as insurance against regime change.

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