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The Rise of the Networked Neighborhood

Earlier today I attended a presentation by Bernt Wahl on the work he’s doing specifying neighborhood geodata. A masters’ project for UC Berkeley’s iSchool, it also seems to be what underlies the business Factle.

Maps tend to be geared around discrete entities such as streets, zip codes, city boundaries, county boundaries, etc. Neighborhoods have proved remarkably challenging, because they are far more subjective. Cracking the neighborhood nut, though, could be immensely rewarding, because people, at least in cities of significant size, tend to think in terms of neighborhoods.

This is something real estate agents figured out long ago (and one of the reasons Trulia was an early user of Factle’s data.) In some work that Adaptive Path just completed for a local-search-information company (you know who they are, but we can’t reveal it yet), we worked with them to bolster their coverage of neighborhoods, because neighborhoods are often a more important means of identity than city.

A few years ago I attended a lecture by Manuel Castells where he discussed the global city (I wrote my notes here.) His thesis was that there are emergent global connected cities which have greater meaning to their residents than the states or nations in which the cities are located. San Franciscans have more in common with New Yorkers and Londoners and Barcelonans than they do with people who live in, oh, Modesto.

Listening to Bernt’s lecture, I realized that this connection probably needs to go the neighborhood level. If I think about Oakland, people who live in Temescal are more in tuned with the people who live in South Congress in Austin, or the Hawthorne District in Portland, than they do with folks in West Oakland or East Oakland. When I travel, a big chunk of time is spent trying to find *neighborhoods* that I like, can hang out in, drink coffee, shop, etc. And thanks to the internet and relatively cheap travel (rising gas prices notwithstanding), we’re seeing the development of global connected neighborhoods, with distinct identities, perspectives mindsets. The lofty, modern, design-conscious, locally-sourced-food mentality of Portland’s Pearl District resembles Austin’s new 2nd Street or Berkeley’s 4th Street.

Thinking about the Rise of the Networked Neighborhood sheds an interesting light on subjects that warrant approaching at a level more granular than that of the city. The subjectivity of neighborhoods make such comparisons messy, but interesting.

  1. Peter – if you look at the network of real estate agents who are looking to refer people when they relocate, you’ll probably see this neighborhood-to-neighborhood mapping in action. I’ve seen a lot of agents show up in online social networks, both agent-to-agent networks and places like Twitter, and that kind of matching is apparent.

    I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a mobile decision support tool that gave you a view of where you were color-coded by the neighborhoods it would think you would like, based on some criteria. Generally in my case there is some proxy you start from (look for a food co-op, start from there) which simplifies things.

    compare to the road trip version of this: richard shindell’s “next best western”

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