These Streets Were Made for Talking

Written by Gabrielle Alfiero on . Posted in News Our Town, News Our Town Downtown, News West Side Spirit.


A program helps takes the emotional temperature of the city’s neighborhoods

311 Emotions_Kati Lond_optA new research project from Microsoft Research Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs is giving New York City’s neighborhoods a voice. HereHere NYC (herehere.co) displays the daily emotional temperatures of 42 neighborhoods on an interactive map. Led by Microsoft senior researcher Kati London, the project, which debuted publicly on March 10, uses 311 data to build stories and personalities for each neighborhood. Based on the 311 information, each community posts a daily mood. The Upper East Side might feel ‘worried’ about handicap access and rodent sightings. Greenwich Village could feel so frustrated it wants to flip a table because of fire alarms and broken traffic lights.

Without ‘oversharing’—there are typically a few updates per day, as new 311 data comes in—London wants to examine how assigning human traits to neighborhoods can create conversation around local issues and neighborhood dynamics.

“We take a reaction or response and make it human,” said London, who lives in Chelsea. “You can see an account of how many homeless assistance requests are in a neighborhood, but what happens when your neighborhood tells you that it feels bad about that? How does that change our interaction with that data?”

Users can tap in to neighborhood concerns on the map, which features corresponding cartoons—headphones suggest noise complaints, a flattened squirrel denotes road kill sightings—or neighborhood-specific email lists and Twitter feeds. The map also includes links to community board contact information.

311 Emotions_OTDT_optHereHere NYC also notes what issues were relevant one year prior, and awards daily superlatives; the neighborhood with the most transportation concerns is dubbed ‘Friendliest Commuter,’ while the one with the most graffiti reports wins ‘Most Artistic.’

“Superlatives are super cute and funny, but you dig down one level deeper, and you look at ‘Biggest Trash Talker,’” London said. “That’s really the neighborhood that has the biggest issues around garbage, recycling and litter. We’re trying to use a playful thing that’s recognizable to people as a way of driving home information.”

HereHere NYC could easily read as a virtual complaint box, but doesn’t post solely negative comments: neighborhoods can feel ‘amused’ by reports of dead trees or ‘satisfied’ by a decline in sewage complaints.

“You don’t want to hang out with your friend who’s always depressed,” London said. “We want to make a healthy relationship for the users, so we want to celebrate things that are going well.”

London and her colleagues will continue to analyze if cute cartoons, characters and share-ability more deeply connect New Yorkers to the neighborhoods they call home, while working to improve the program based on user feedback (email hhinfo@microsoft.com with comments). London has already been approached by other cities interested in similar projects.

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