MIT Media Lab

How "walkable coffee shops" might foster a better sense of community.

If every independent coffee shop in San Francisco had a gang color and territory, what would you get?

To start, one of the most effete turf wars in history, with skinny bearded guys trying to kneecap each other without spilling their macchiato. But also this splendid, rainbow-colored cartography of coffee shops and the neighborhoods they serve, created by the data-viz magicians inside MIT's Social Computing Group.

The map is part of MIT's "You Are Here" project, an ambitious attempt to make a data-based map every day for a year. Based on Google's API troves, it shows the shops as red dots surrounded by multihued auras representing a "region which is walkable to a specific coffee shop (within one kilometer or 0.7 miles)." According to the MIT folks, the ability to stroll to a coffee shop is an important part of a healthy city. They explain:

Independent coffee shops are positive markers of a living community. They function as social spaces, urban offices, and places to see the world go by. Communities are often formed by having spaces in which people can have casual interactions, and local and walkable coffee shops create those conditions, not only in the coffee shop themselves, but on the sidewalks around them. We use maps to know where these coffee shop communities exist and where, by placing new coffee shops, we can help form them.

The map shows what probably could've been predicted: a dense clumping of coffee shops in the downtown area, SoMa, and North Beach, with a booming canyon of java stretching down into the hip Mission District. There are fewer shops in farther-out communities like the Sunset District and Bayview, and the visionary entrepreneur who will build a Philz on top of Twin Peaks hasn't arrived, yet.

To see how San Francisco stacks up to other cities in terms of coffee-shop distribution, MIT also made this map of Brooklyn:

 

There's also this one for Cambridge:

Maps courtesy of the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab

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