Census for City Streets

The Census for City Streets tool was developed to collect data for a project in San Francisco, but has not been formalized into a tool template or method. It was an experiment in using geotagged data from social media to map the diversity of public life at a macro-scale.

We are curious about how advances in mobile technologies allow researchers to understand the real-time dynamics of public life through social media and other big data about how people move through cities. We were initially attracted to the potential of this method because it engages a large number of people passively, without asking them to do anything extra, unlike the Participant Survey.

Information was derived from various geo-tagged data sources, which were collected from mobile phones through Instagram. We chose Instagram as a potential data set because it is designed for people to post about places they live while they are still there. Additionally, Instagram has a highly diverse useship, is only used on smartphones and so captures people on the go, and offered an easy source to capture data for this test.

In this initial experiment, we found that Instagram data did not represent a viable data set for drawing conclusions about the use of public spaces by local users. Because visitors tagged spaces more than residents, our results tended to measure the popularity of a space for tourists rather than local connections. Therefore, we are still seeking a better data set for our Census for City Streets concept.

This tool does not have a template. If you are interested in using it in the field, we would love to hear from you.