The Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham reports on a software engineer in Boston who's come up with a program to draw "optimally compact" congressional districts in each state, instead of the weirdly appendaged districts we now see all over America.
Brian Olson's new districts are pretty. The goal of making them as close in population as possible (with variations of only a few hundred voters within each state) results in paintbrush-like lines rather than the hard edges that would come from following county boundaries. Some of the new maps look like tubs of Neopolitan ice cream.
Ingrahm cites another objection, which is that the prettier districts ignore "communities of interest." That is: "shared cultural background, economic interest, ethnic background, demographic similarity, political boundaries, geographic boundaries and on and on." Many of the weirdest-shaped districts are drawn so that they're majority-black or majority-Hispanic, on the grounds that this is the best way to ensure theh representation of major racial and ethnic groups in Congress.
Personally, I don't consider myself as part of any community of interest, but then I'm a white guy living in a state so urban (Massachusetts) that farmers and hunters couldn't control any district no matter how you slice it up. I'd rather live in a state that maximized everyone's vote by maximizing the competitiveness, rather than the compactness, of congressional districts.
Alas, we would end up with uglier districts than we have now, with most major American cities cut up into spidery shapes extending out to Republican exurbs. In the best-case scenario, members of Congress would be so confused about who they represent (and who they'll represent after the next redistricting) that they'd be forced to consider what's good for the entire state (if not the entire nation). More likely, they'd continue along the current path of considering what's good for their contributors, no matter where they live.
Images of Massachusetts from http://bdistricting.com/2010/, where you can find out how your own state would look after being puréed.