Understanding segregation with a simulation

In 1971, Nobel laureate economist Thomas Schelling proposed that a desire to have neighbors of the same race — even a small percentage — can lead to segregation. The model has been simulated through a variety of interactives before, but in Parable of the Polygons, Vi Hart and Nicky Case put extra effort into teaching the model, bringing playfulness to an otherwise serious subject.

Two groups of people are encoded as shapes — squares and triangles — and they take you through each step of the model. Use the sliders to adjust thresholds and population distributions, and run the simulation. The shapes on the left move if they’re looking for similarity, and the line chart on the right shows segregation over time.

You end up with an understanding of how segregation works (however simplified this model might be) and a glimmer of hope of how we might shift directions.

Worth a try.

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