The Birth of the Map of the Cool

Certain parts of the city generate "buzz" -- through events, parties, or other attractions. Just how much buzz they create is hard to nail down. But a new study focusing on L.A. and New York seeks to quantify the cool factor that makes places pop.
April 9, 2009, 10am PDT | Nate Berg
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"The research, presented in late March at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, locates hot spots based on the frequency and draw of cultural happenings: film and television screenings, concerts, fashion shows, gallery and theater openings. The buzziest areas in New York, it finds, are around Lincoln and Rockefeller Centers, and down Broadway from Times Square into SoHo. In Los Angeles the cool stuff happens in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, along the Sunset Strip, not in trendy Silver Lake or Echo Park."

"The aim of the study, called 'The Geography of Buzz,' said Elizabeth Currid, one of its authors, was 'to be able to quantify and understand, visually and spatially, how this creative cultural scene really worked.'"

"To find out, Ms. Currid, an assistant professor in the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and her co-author, Sarah Williams, the director of the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, mined thousands of photographs from Getty Images that chronicled flashy parties and smaller affairs on both coasts for a year, beginning in March 2006. It was not a culturally comprehensive data set, the researchers admit, but a wide-ranging one. And because the photos were for sale, they had to be of events that people found inherently interesting, 'a good proxy for ‘buzz-worthy' social contexts,' they write. You had to be there, but where exactly was there? And why was it there?"

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Published on Wednesday, April 8, 2009 in The New York Times
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