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Planners and social psychologists have suggested that the recognizability of the urban environment is linked to peo- ple’s socio-economic well-being. We build a web game that puts the recognizability …
Planners and social psychologists have suggested that the recognizability of the urban environment is linked to peo- ple’s socio-economic well-being. We build a web game that puts the recognizability of London’s streets to the test. It follows as closely as possible one experiment done by Stanley Milgram in 1972. The game picks up random locations from Google Street View and tests users to see if they can judge the location in terms of closest subway station, borough, or region. Each participant dedicates only few minutes to the task (as opposed to 90 minutes in Milgram’s). We col- lect data from 2,255 participants (one order of magnitude a larger sample) and build a recognizability map of Lon- don based on their responses. We find that some boroughs have little cognitive representation; that recognizability of an area is explained partly by its exposure to Flickr and Foursquare users and mostly by its exposure to subway pas- sengers; and that areas with low recognizability do not fare any worse on the economic indicators of income, education, and employment, but they do significantly suffer from social problems of housing deprivation, poor living conditions, and crime. These results could not have been produced without analyzing life off- and online: that is, without considering the interactions between urban places in the physical world and their virtual presence on platforms such as Flickr and Foursquare. This line of work is at the crossroad of two emerging themes in computing research - a crossroad where “web science” meets the “smart city” agenda.