Cairn Geographics Python Documentation


If you are running a fairly modern version of Python 2 or 3, you should be able to install the Cairn Geographics client with

pip install cairn-geographics


To use Cairn Geographics, you will first need an API key to identify your client to the central geographic server. You can create one of these for free at Once you have created one, store it somewhere safe, as it is your password to Cairn Geographics. It will be in a format that looks likeCGIS-80c6d145-22ec-45da-a0fc-9f7e8666f062. The rest of this page assumes you have an API key, and refers to it as API_KEY.

Quick Start

Cairn Geographics includes a library of simple geographic objects such as Location (a point on the Earth, i.e. a latitude and longitude) or Region (a region of the earth, such as a country, state, or county.) These objects are used to construct queries that can then be evaluated by the Cairn Geographics server. Here's how to run a simple query to find the state that contains the location with latitude 40.76 and longitude -111.89:

>>> from cairn_geographics import Connection, Location
>>> conn = Connection(API_KEY)
>>> query = Location(40.76, -111.89).region('us_state')
>>> result =
>>> result
Region(type="us_state", key="UT", name="Utah")

More complex queries are also possible by combining several objects and function calls. The following example shows how to compute driving distance from the centroid (middle) of Oregon to the centroid of Washington State:

>>> from cairn_geographics import Connection, Region
>>> conn = Connection(API_KEY)
>>> washington_center = Region("us_state", "WA").centroid()
>>> oregon_center = Region("us_state", "OR").centroid()
>>> query = oregon_center.driving_distance(washington_center)
Measure(value=301.90, unit="mi")

API Reference


Location objects can be created either from a latitude and longitude pair, or from a US address string. Both of the following forms are acceptable:

  • Location(40.7551,-111.8881)
  • Location("150 S State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84111")

To geocode a location (i.e. turn an address into a latitude/longitude), simply run a Location object with an address as a query. The result will also be a Location object, this time with lat and lon fields added:

>>> from cairn_geographics import Location
>>>"150 S State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84111"))
Location(lat=40.7551277, lon=-111.8881408, address=150 S State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84111)
>>> (, _.lon)
(40.7551277, -111.8881408)

Location objects support the following class methods:

Location. region(region_type: str)

Returns the US political region that contains the given location, where region_type is currently one of the strings "us_county", "us_state", "metro_area", or "zip_code". Examples:

>>>"30 Dunster Street. Cambridge, MA 02138").region("metro_area"))
Region(region_type=metro_area, key=14460, name=Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH)
>>>, -116.2146).region("us_state"))
Region(region_type=us_state, key=ID, name=Idaho)

Location. driving_distance(end_location: Location)

Given another Location object, computes the driving distance to that location. Returns a Measure object in meters. If either the start or end point do not fall on the road network, then the distance includes the shortest possible straight line route to get from the start/end point to the nearest road. Example:

>>>, -116.2146).driving_distance(Location(40.7551,-111.8881)))
Measure(value=548728.9, unit='m')

Location. driving_time(end_location: Location)

Similar to driving_distance above, but returns a Measure object in seconds instead, representing the average drivetime between the two points. Example:

>>>, -116.2146).driving_time(Location(40.7551,-111.8881)))
Measure(value=21539, unit='s')


Region objects are created with a region type and a region key; for example:

  • Region('us_state', 'WA')
  • Region('zip_code', '90210')

The region types that can currently be created in this way are "us_state" and "zip_code", since these have well-defined unique IDs. Other types of regions can be created from an interior point using the Location.region function described above.

Region objects of type "us_state" or "zip_code" can also be created using the State and ZipCode aliases, e.g. State("AK") or ZipCode("30094").

Region objects support the following class methods:

Region. centroid()

Returns a Location object containing the geographic centroid of the region. Example:

>>>"zip_code", "90210").centroid())
Location(lat=34.10105584880364, lon=-118.4147335422377)

Region. area()

Returns a Measure object containing the total area of the region in square meters. Example:

>>>"zip_code", "90210").area())
Measure(value=26376181.913986266, unit='m^2')

Region. demographics(demographics_type)

Queries the American Community Survey for demographics information about the region. Returns a Measure object containing the result. demographics_type can either be a predefined query like "population" or "median_household_income", or an arbitrary expression combining ACS columns (e.g. "B05001002/B05001001"). Examples:

>>>"zip_code", "90210").demographics("median_household_income"))
Measure(value=92052, unit='USD')"zip_code", "90210").demographics("B05001002/B05001001"))
Measure(value=0.6092871394884818, unit='units')

Available demographics keys currently include:

Key Description
population Total 2015 population
pop_white Total population identifying as white alone (more info)
pop_black Total population identifying as black alone or in combination with other races (more info)
pop_asian Total population identifying as Asian alone or in combination with other races (more info)
pop_native_american Total population identifying as Native American/Pacific Islander alone or in combination with other races (more info)
pop_hispanic Total population identifying as Hispanic or Latino (more info)
median_household_income Median household income in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars (more info)

Note that Cairn Geographics is aware of the correct result unit for predefined queries, but cannot infer units for arbitrary ACS column expressions.


The Measure type is used to pass numeric results back from Cairn Geographics, and to do a limited set of numeric calculations on the Geographics server. Each Measure object has a numeric value field in addition to a string unit field. Examples include:

  • Measure(value=761321, unit='m^2')
  • Measure(value=1200.5, unit='s')
  • Measure(value=110000, unit='dollars')

The Cairn Geographics query evaluator is unit-aware, so you can pass in queries like this:

>>> beverly_hills = Region("zip_code", "90210")
Measure(value=22052, unit='people')
Measure(value=26376181.913986266, unit='m^2')
Measure(value=0.0008360573214088534, unit='people/m^2')