UrbanGems, the beautiful path isn’t always the shortest one

The project I want to talk about today is called UrbanGems and it uses crowdsourcing to create a map which helps us to walk the most beautiful, calm or happy path from a place to another. It reminded me, as first thing, about a passage from Fahrenheit 451:

“The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, nowhere.”

This thing that for Bradbury was sci fi, for us is reality. We hurtle with cars, trains, airplanes, not paying attention to what is between the point A and the point B: no one seems to care about the beauty, the only essential thing is to save time.

This doesn’t happen only with long travels and itineraries drove on a vehicle: it happens that we search on maps’ services even the ways to walk to a place of interest, and once more we find the ways to reach it with the shortest path possible. But what if we could finally decide to have directions to go from A to B walking through the way which is the most beautiful?

Beautiful citiesThis is exactly the idea at the base of the project UrbanGems by Daniele Quercia: to give users the chance to have directions on the most beautiful path from A to B. Challenging idea, ok, but also revolutionary.

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Screenshot del sito http://urbangems.org/

To this day, the team created an algorithm which, thanks to the opinion of those who access the site and choose between two photos taken from Google Street View, calculates the level of beauty, happiness or calm of the various places. The first city on which they are experimenting is London.

Basically, collecting clues which make some places more appreciated than others, they created a list of “aesthetic virtues”, theoretically applicable in general.
Talking about this, as Daniele Quercia explains, for instance it seems that some disorder and degradation factors in city areas are the cause for an increase of crimes, since they create a precedent. On the other hand, the results they obtained until now talk clearly: greenery is tightly related with the three virtue factors. So, with these datas in hands, why not create “precedents” which give a positive perception of the places and so increase pleasure and relax factors?
Plus, always talking about the first datas, the increase of the path is only about 12%, so nothing horrible even for those who aren’t great walkers.

For now we can give our contribution visiting the project’s site and taking the test comparing ten photos: which are the ones you like more and what percentage of users you think can agree with your choices? Creating a profile on the site and answering to the questions, you can already have advices on your favourite spots.

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Ecco alcune “Happy Gems”

Soon it will be also possible for those who have favourite places in London to upload their photos and tags.

As further development of the project, the team analyzed some millions of photos of the same place on Flickr and their datas (comments, tags, reactions). In particular, this time Boston has been used as test city and the team created a beauty path. Then they asked to 54 people to walk it and to give after their impressions: all agreed on finding it better than the shortest one.

Only possible problems could be, other than the obvious subjectivity of the opinions, the quality of the photos, that in some cases could compromise the choice, and the safety of the place, that the algorythm can’t measure. Furthermore, there’s a difference of perception on the same places depending on the social class.

Critical issues aside, the team is working on a mobile app; who knows, maybe soon we will find it available for our smartphone, so we’ll be finally able to choose, alternatively to the classical shortest path, to change a moving from a point to another in a beautiful and relaxing walk, taking also back to us city areas that otherwise we’d not see or live…because, at the end, it’s even about this, right?  🙂

You want more infos?
I started from this article: “Una mappa che indica la strada più bella, e non la più veloce” and then I had a deeper look reading this, this and also this! 😉

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