Stroman’s approach to creating her map was unique. Her main interest is fair funding for public schools so she took care to keep school districts together. This required finding the district boundaries on her own, since they were not part of the mapping tool. She put a lot of time into her map and succeeded with her goal to draw a fair map. The scope of her conversations with others was exceptional as was her explanation of her work on the map.
As a very active member of Fair Districts PA for almost two years and a total data/stat nerd, I was very excited for this project. I probably spent more time than most (~20 hours total) on this map because I was trying to adhere to all the rules, including the traditional redistricting criteria and the rules that I put in place for myself. What I discovered was that this was actually much harder than I thought. I ultimately had to break more of my rules than I would have liked to adhere to the equal population criteria.
I first set out researching how different organizations, both government and private, broke the state up by region and built a rough map based on that. After which, I reached out to a friends and family from various areas of the state (Waterford, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Scranton, Allentown) to get an idea of which of the surrounding areas were most like one another in terms of interests and terrain (though I have spent a lot of time myself throughout each region of PA).
For example, Waterford friends suggested go south; Pittsburgh friends suggested if I have to break parts of Pittsburgh up go west. The Harrisburg area I grew up in, so I am very familiar with which communities around there are more tied together than others. In Philly, where I live, I wanted to try to keep neighborhoods that were most alike together while maintaining the two majority-minority districts.
From there, my most important priorities were minimizing county, municipality and school district splits while trying to adhere to compactness. (To minimize splitting of school districts, I used a publicly available map of PA school districts). I gave more leeway on county splits and compactness to keep regions and school districts together as best as possible (but still gave more priority to minimizing county splits). For example, I have a weird little jut in District 7 into Luzerne County in order to meet the population criteria for District 7 while also keeping the Northwest Area School District together. The jut was not desired but given my priorities it was the best I could do.
Why were school districts such a focus for me? Something that always sticks with me when we talk about the effects of gerrymandering is how poorly and unfairly funded our schools are. I particularly think of Reading which is the (or one of the) most underfunded school districts in the nation. I don't think it's just a coincidence that the city was sliced and diced in our previous congressional map.
Overall the most challenging part of this was meeting the population criteria in southeastern PA while trying not to slice and dice unfairly. I worked from the northwest to southeast and I came up against a wall in the Southeast. I ended up having to give some pushback toward Lancaster county and do more county and school district splits than I would have liked.