I just heard about the work of Eric Fischer, a programmer in the San Francisco area who has created a series of maps of major cities showing where people take photographs. Because the public photo-sharing websites Flickr and Picasa enable geo-tagging of the images people upload, Fischer was able to create maps that show the hot-spots—the places that are photographed by many people every day. This is interesting for my research because it could help city museums visualize the urban spaces that are most important to the public—the places that possess a high amount of social capital, the ones we want to remember.
As if that weren’t enough, Fischer took it one step further and used the timestamps on photos to divide them into those taken by tourists and those taken by locals. He defines tourists as people who took photos in a given locale for less than a month, and locals as those who log timestamps over many months in the same city. Above is Fischer’s Locals and Tourists map of Boston. Blue represents locals; red represents tourists; yellow represents photos that couldn’t be categorized. Since city museums must be mindful of the different needs of locals and tourists, it’s really interesting to be able to confirm in such graphic terms that the places residents care about are often not the places tourists care about.
Here’s the Locals and Tourists map of Helsinki:
The first thing I noticed is the prominence of the ferry ride to the island fortress of Suomenlinna. It shows up as a sharp blue line extending from the southeastern edge of Helsinki centre to a blue and red island that looks like a bunch of grapes. The blue line is so defined that you’d think it followed a road, but it’s actually traversing the harbor. And then, of course, you can also see Senate Square and the Esplanade in bright and shining red at the centre, in contrast with the oval blue outline of Toölönlahti, Helsinki’s version of Central Park, just to the north. I look at this map and I am proud to say that I have visited just as many blue spots as red. While I am by no means a local yet, I do know something about the Helsinki of Helsinkians.
You should all go explore the cities you love through Fischer’s maps—there are hundreds of them. Fischer has made them available in multiple sizes, everything from thumbnail to the original 6137 x 6137 files—just click on the “all sizes” button in the top left corner of each map to access a version with more detail. Isn’t it amazing when information becomes a work of art?