Sunday, 27 January 2013

City character: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv


I have been reading the excellent book The Spirit of Cities by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit.  In it they write a portrait of Jerusalem.  They compare Jerusalem to Tel Aviv over and over again.  Essentially their observation is that Jerusalem is a city of religion and spirituality, of history and learning while Tel Aviv is a city of commerce, secularism, modernity and entertainment.

Having been to both cities this seems correct to me, but I wondered if there was some way to test this assertion using Social Media Big Data.  In an age of Big Data it may be possible to confirm of refute such observations which in the past rested on a subjective assessment.  Could I produce a definition of religious or commercial that I could use to test  what Bell and de-Shalits say?

Operationalising what they say I make these conclusions:
  1. Religion is an activity linked to culture and history,
  2. Fun and business are community actives linked to the commercial life of a city.
So if it is true that Jerusalem is a religious city concerned more with spirituality and Tel Aviv is a city of money, fun and modernity you would expect to see higher levels of commerce and more sites of trade inside Tel Aviv, and you would expect to see more culture and history associated with Jerusalem.

But how to test this.

I make an fairly obvious hypothesis in analysing social media data that Wikipedia content associated with a location is generally about culture and history.  Foursquare venue on the other hand measures commercial activity and business venues. Certainly major culture sites can be Foursquare venues, and major businesses will be in Wikipedia, but the authors of Wikipedia tend to concentrate on history and culture while Foursquare user like to checkin to bars, pubs, theatres, restaurants, etc.

So I can convert by two assumptions in to testable hypotheses:
  1. There should be more Wikipedia sites associated with the same area in central Jerusalem, in the Old City, then anywhere in Tel Aviv. That is Jerusalem is more culturally significant than Tel Aviv to world history and religion.
  2. There should be more Foursqaure activity in Tel Aviv city centre than anywhere in Jerusalem.
Using my Happan.in app I have been able to confirm these.  See the pictures below:

The Old City of Jerusalem, we see a heavy cluster of Wikipedia articles associated with sites in the Old City and the area around it in Jerusalem, reflecting the cities history and cultural significance.  
The same sized area in Tel Aviv has a much smaller scattering of Wikipedia articles associated with it.

Testing commercial density of the same areas, we see Tel Aviv is full of popular Foursquare revenues that line the main streets.
In Jerusalem on the other hand there are far fewer active Foursquare venues.
Conclusions: It is understood that Foursquare is relatively new and Wikipedia is in constant growth.  It may be that much of the difference observed could do to the relative poverty of Jerusalem (meaning less people with smartphones and data plans) and the international meaning of Jerusalem over Tel Aviv.  The distribution of Wikipedia and Foursquare in the two cities does not necessary imply that Jerusalem is a sacred city and Tel Aviv is a commercial centre.  If you read the Wikipedia entries and look at the foursquare venues this becomes more obvious, but is a complex task for machine learning to teach a computer to understand this.

But, the distributions of Wikipedia articles and Foursquare entries is what you would expect if Bell and de-Shalit's observations about the cities was true.  Reading the entries, I argue, would convince anyone that this 'spirit' of the two cities is clearly expressed in the social media content associated with both places on the web.

Given Popper's brilliant analysis of science, that scientific theories can not prove they can only fail to disprove, we can say that social media gives a level of scientific validity to the ideas of Bell and de-Shalit.

By the way excellent book, I am enjoying it so much I look forward to creating more tests of their conclusions.

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