Neighborhoods are amorphous, tricky things. Boundaries are usually the subject of conflict, their descriptors are highly qualitative, and in New York City, they are all we seem to talk about.
Breaking down neighborhoods into tangible and succinct nuggets for consumption are what media outlets and bloggers do best. Everything from where the trendiest hotspots are, to the borders of gentrification, always comes down to a discussion of neighborhoods. Arguably, planners often use neighborhoods as a geographic starting point for analysis or as zones of administrative responsibility (read: NYC Community Districts). Real estate developers and brokers often have the greatest weight in determining outside perceptions of neighborhoods, placing arbitrary boundaries or reaching into the past to resurrect a neighborhood name like Crow Hill (in Crown Heights, Brooklyn) or inventing new and painful designations like Bed-Wick (the border area between Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, also in Brooklyn). In an act of self-determination, the DUMBO neighborhood (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) was named in response to real estate speculation: residents hoped the ridiculous-sounding name would discourage further neighborhood change (read the NYTimes article here). The name ultimately had zero influence.
Open-source and crowd-sourcing technology has helped to bring more fluidity (and more keyboard critics) to the definition of neighborhoods. Some use a combination of qualitative data such as Yelp! reviews or neighborhood news sites like Patch.com. Others like Outside.In and Every Block (owned by CNN and MSNBC, respectively) scour social media outlets to aggregate and stream what people are saying about a place up-to-the-minute. Walk Score, a very neat tool which tries to get a bit more quantitative, combines neighborhood data to allocate a specific score to an address, which can then be compared and ranked across the nation to determine the ‘livability’ of a given place. Mapnificent breaks traditional neighborhood boundaries by creating maps based on commute times around the globe, linking neighborhoods across the city temporally rather than spatially.
The latest tool I have come across is the newish Vibe by MapQuest. This takes qualitative and quantitative data to rank neighborhoods based on a user-selected set of variables. There is a list of neighborhood aggregators below. Can you think of any other internet tools that should be added to this list?
- Patch (AOL)
- Outside.In (CNN)
- EveryBlock (MSNBC)