Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
To chart the forces of urban inequality, mapmakers will usually look to neighborhood tracts. That’s where the best data tends to be available about things like racial clustering, housing prices, commute times, and other indicators of divisions.
But what happens when you zoom closer? Inside shops, restaurants, bars, schools, and other hubs, communities that look diverse from the outside can turn out to be pretty homogenous. A new mapping project from researchers at MIT’s Media Lab and Spain’s Universidad Carlos III de Madrid draws on novel types of data to show how that’s true across greater Boston. There, as in other cities, the daily routines of individuals across the economic spectrum lead to “micro-segregation” at the address level—i.e., where people actually spend time and money.
For example, two restaurants around gentrifying Chinatown—Amateras, a ramen joint, and a Chinese spot called Happy Dim Sum—are only a few blocks from one another, and neither is very pricey. But in terms of the income distribution of its clientele, they’re distinct: Amateras draws a fairly well-heeled base of customers, with most coming from communities where median incomes are between $90,000 and $114,000 a year. Happy Dim Sum is dominated by customers who live in neighborhoods where median incomes are less than $67,000 a year, which is how they define the bottom economic quartile.
Another block away is another dim sum restaurant called Hei La Moon, which attracts a set of diners much more representative of the Boston area’s economic diversity.
The mapmakers profiled the patrons of these spots by coupling census income data with anonymized mobility traces of 150,000 Boston area residents, which was scraped off their phones by a location intelligence analytics firm.
But the project is imperfect. For one thing, it doesn’t include the movement patterns of very poor individuals, such as the homeless, “who bear the brunt of segregation,” my CityLab colleague Tanvi Misra points out in her article about the map. But it is a notable example of how location data—the same stuff that your apps are constantly and creepily gathering about your whereabouts—can be used to illuminate important social dynamics. For example, if you believe that diversity is a benefit of urban life, this map might move you to reconsider your daily routines.
Write me: This project made me curious. What are the best maps you’ve seen that try to represent urban gentrification and change? Think location data could help?
Where Pokémon go, should players follow?
Two weeks ago, I asked MapLab readers who should be held responsible when people playing with location-based apps like Pokémon Go unwittingly stumble into private properties or otherwise unwelcome places. If a fence is broken or worse, should gamers be considered liable? Or should it be the software maker effectively playing Pied Piper?
Some readers saw the question as straightforward. Catherine Tanaka wrote that players ought to take responsibility—“If they sneak away and refuse to reveal their fault, that’s the same as hit and run”—while Lora Tenenbaum felt “the vast weight of it should be on the developers.”
Other responses added new dimension to the issue. Taylor Holden pointed out that while an early wave of mass adopters of Pokémon Go led to a lot of bad behavior, more dedicated, longtime players have since developed norms “to discourage people from ... mobbing public spaces without regard for others.” And Amy Duquesnoy, a GIS analyst for the city of Concord, New Hampshire, wrote that regardless of blame, users need to be wary for their own good:
It goes back to when GPS’s were first being used in cars and people were following the GPS into lakes and off roads – why would anyone follow the GPS when clearly it was wrong?? Anyone who was paying attention would realize the road ended and they must seek an alternate route. This is the same situation. Be aware, look up from your device, and just be a good human being.
Tracking fracking: a customizable database of every permitted natural gas well in West Virginia that your eyeballs will appreciate. (ProPublica) ♦ An odyssey of the Odyssey: Charting the history of Homer’s epic, in maps. (Lapham’s Quarterly) ♦ End of a beginning: geotagged Tweets aren’t making for great maps anymore. (Forbes) ♦ Speaking of opportunities to accidentally trespass, one reporter got to test out Google Maps’ new augmented-reality navigation assistant. (Wall Street Journal)
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