A presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) held in Las Vegas this March described how geographic analysis can be used to identify the “coolest” places in LA and NYC–depending upon your definition of “cool.”
“The Geography of Buzz” project, conducted by Elizabeth Currid and Sarah Williams, was brought to my attention after being featured in the New York Times. Their methodology: Currid and Williams mined through thousands of stock photographs from the imaging giant Getty Images, carefully identifying photos that showed masses of ‘cool people’ doing ‘cool things.’ Then, they located where these photos were taken on a map. According to the two women, the objective of the study was “to be able to quantify and understand, visually and spatially, how this creative cultural scene really worked.”
To be eligible for selection, images had to have been taken in either Los Angeles or New York, and they had to “chronicle flashy parties and smaller affairs on both coasts for a year.” In doing this, Currid and Williams claimed that the photos acted as “a good proxy for ‘buzz-worthy’ social contexts.” Their findings show this: that the ‘cool’ areas of these cities were clustered around iconic locations such as Times Square and Rockefeller Center in New York, and Beverly Hills and Hollywood in L.A.
Another map of New Yorks ‘cool locations’
This map shows the ‘hotspots’ of L.A.
Curiously missing from these ‘cool’ places, however, are actual cool places. Neighborhoods that are on the cutting edge of art, music and fashion–undeniably creative activities of greater interest to most cultural geographers than socialite gatherings–such as Williamsburg (Brooklyn) and the Lower East Side in New York, as well as Echo Park in L.A, are not included in the researchers’ list of buzzing places. In my opinion, the study seems to map popularity of place more so than locating actual areas of innovation.
If Currid and Williams would redo this study–as they say they plan to– with images collected from such Web 2.0 sources as Facebook, TwitPic, Flickr and the numerous ‘hipster blogs’ that populate the ‘interweb,’ (that’s the “cool” term for internet, btw) their data would reflect a much broader sampling of cool cultural activities in the two cities. And their maps would likely have a much different look to them.
Cameron for My Wonderful World