Enough Already With the Avoid-The-Ghetto Apps

A bad idea that won't go away.

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Update: As of 4:40 p.m., this site appears to be down all together.

Eighteen months ago, we wrote about a Microsoft app that would help people navigate around crime-ridden neighborhoods, an idea that was widely derided at the time as a not-so-subtle tool to help people with smart phones but no street smarts figure out how to "avoid the ghetto."

This basic idea – crime stats + travel directions – has since spawned a bunch of iterations. Here is an app called SafeRoute. And one called SaferRoute. And one called Road Buddy. In any form, this idea toes a touchy line between a utilitarian application of open data and a sly wink toward people who just want to steer clear of "those kinds of neighborhoods." But this latest entrant into the market has tripped well over that line.

Meet Good Part of Town, a web app that as of 1 p.m. Eastern this afternoon was actually called GhettoTracker. The GhettoTracker.com url now takes you here instead, after a feisty takedown from PandoDaily pinned down that the site is not, in fact, meant as satire.

The problem wasn't just the name. The imagery was a little suspicious, too. Here's PandoDaily's screenshot from earlier today:

And what the site looks like now:

The site has not yet fixed the loading text on the homepage map that reads "tracking ghettos..."

The biggest problem, beyond appearances, is in the content of the app. Good Part of Town relies not on actual crime data, but on subjective user-ratings of neighborhoods for the benefit of others. That sets the site up to quickly devolve into a platform feeding stereotypes more than statistics. The creator offers this explanation on a "message from the founder" now linked off the homepage:

The reason I opted to use user feedback, as opposed to crime stats, is because I wanted real feedback from real people. Crime statistics can also be inaccurate since many of them don't distinguish between property crimes and violent crimes.

Actually, public crime data is remarkably fine-grained in many cities now. And it's hard to imagine what "real feedback from real people" looks like if not a police report – unless, that is, you are looking for other signs of the "bad parts of town" that have little to do with actual reported incidents of violence.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.