As an experiment in social media, crowd mapping and urban metrics, BTAworks decided to conduct a survey of Trick or Treating Hotspots around the City of Vancouver through the over 1,800 Twitter followers and the 600 plus Facebook fans of Bing Thom Architects. We wanted to explore the question: Could the number of trick or treaters be used as a proxy measure towards illustrating the social cohesion, fabric, and capital of a neighborhood? In a series of tweets and posts between November 1 and 2, we requested respondents send us the number of trick or treaters that visited their households and the nearest street intersection to their homes. From the 16 responses, we processed these replies in Excel and used Google Fusion to produce this map.
While the results can hardly be said to be scientific nor comprehensive, there is promise and perils to this type of technology where citizens can help gather and share information about their environment. We were able to rapidly develop and deploy this data acquisition and analysis system in less than two hours with very little resources. In spite of its representative and severe statistic limitations, the map results follow a popular observation that the best trick or treating areas in the City of Vancouver are, for the most part, in the ground oriented, family sized housing neighborhoods surrounding Downtown Vancouver. With reported number of 200 plus tricker or treaters on its streets, the neighborhood of Strathcona seems to be an epicenter of Halloween spirit.
These observations being said, there are a few challenges and limitations towards the representativeness of crowdsourced/crowdmapped data. Clearly, many more data points need to be gathered before this map could ever be suggested to be statistically representative. One needs motivated crowds to report – a post sugar haze may not be one of them. Within this data, the issue of respondent bias occurs where the data may reflect who the respondent is as much as the desired phenomenon that is being measure. The maps created through crowdmapping are only as good as the crowd who are doing the mapping.
These maps may reflect more those who have access or desire to use social media than the actual measured phenomenon itself as the method defines the responses. As an example, does Strathcona have the most trick or treaters? Or does Strathcona have the most BTA social media subscribers who live in the neighborhood and are generous enough to share information about the trick or treaters? While using new technologies like social media and online mapping resources, this experiment also reflects age old and ongoing challenges and limitation in data gathering and interpretation.
From an urban metrics level, high density tower districts do not seem to be not very friendly towards trick or treaters. At the same time, the neighborhoods that are often identified as the most affluent in the city did not necessarily see many Trick or Treaters. Neighborhoods that saw the most Trick or Treaters tended to be in the older inner ring/street care suburbs of Vancouver who often share a pedestrian friendly scale and block structure compared to other parts of the region. Both in the number of responses and location of responses from Strathcona as well as number of trick or treaters, this perhaps reflects the remarkable social and physical fabric and richness of that neighborhood.
On a much more serious note, organizations like Ushahidi are doing trail blazing work in the field of information collection, visualization, and interactive mapping via the web and mobile phones. Meaning “testimony” in Swahili, the website was originally developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout in 2008. Since then, its software has been used to document and share data on such events like the 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami, the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and 2011 “Snowmageddon” in the Northeastern United States. Ushahidi has also set up Crowdmap to monitor elections, curate local resources, and map crisis information which allow technological neophytes to create their own crowdmapping platforms — and, in the off chance, also document a zombie invasion.
Special thanks for the BTA Twitter and Facebook respondents for making this experiment possible!