Monday, 28 January 2013

A living vs a tourist location

Following up on my reading of the wonderful book  The Spirit of Cities by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit, I have been thinking about how we can describe cities or places using social media data.  I am not just looking for the kind of dry descriptions of average income or crime rates or population density, what I am wondering is can we know what a place is like by looking at social media, can be class areas. I have been using my tool to map major cities to see what social media can tell us about them.

In a previous post I looked at Bell and de-Shalif's description of the different 'spirits' of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  I found that there was something objective reflected in social media about what they said.  Tel Aviv is a place with far less cultural and historic significance, as judged by Wikipedia, than Jerusalem but far more commercial and social activity, as judged by Foursquare.

Social Media map of Jakarta, showing a flood of tweets in a vibrant active social media community
As opposed to Saint Mark's in Venice, where Wikipedia and Flickr images dominate, and foursquare sites are mostly for tourists.  A lovely place where people from all over the world come to visit, but not a vibrant living community in the square which has become essentially a museum.
Bell and de-Shalif go on to examine a well known danger for cities that become more historic than they are modern: decline of sustainable viable community.  This reminds me of a trip to Italy I took with my wife.  We visited, among other Naples and Venice.  Both cities are rich in artistic and historic value, but my wife complained that Venice seemed more like a museum while Naples was a vibrant city.  

Looking at where I live, London, I can see that different uses of land are reflected clearly in Social Media.  For example take Westminster, a place people go to see, vs Soho, a place people go to have fun.  Westminster social media map looks a lot like the Vatican's actually.  People do important things in both places, but very few people and not the kind of people who are going to use Foursquare to checkin to the office, one hopes.  

Social Media Map Westminster London, showing popular (not necessarily trending) Yelp, Foursquare venues, significant Wikipedia entries (those with several edits) and popular Flickr posts.
Social Media map the Vatican

Now below look at the map of Soho in London.  No doubt that Soho in London is of massive cultural significance, and we see a lot of Wikipedia entires associated with locations in Soho.  But look at that hive of popular Foursquare venues.  This swarm of venues shows a vibrant social life.  And that is precisely what you see in Soho, a historic area that hosts a vibrant living community.  I have long seen Soho London as one of my ideal city areas.

An extreme example of what I am talking about is the Pyramids in Gaza.

The Pyramids Egypt
The Wikipedia articles that cluster around a few building attest to the massive historical significance of each building.  But the 2 popular Foursquare venues tell us how this area is used socially.  People enter, look at the Pyramids, checking for the big Pyramid and checkin at the Sphinx and let their friends know they have been there.  Certainly, as anyone who has been there can tell you, the area of Giza is full of shop and places to eat but none of them deserve a Foursquare venue.  The Pyramids are all history and now modernity.  

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