Ah, New York. The city that never sleeps ... because its residents are too busy bellyaching and bemoaning and yammering on. It’s a city that’s very identity is carved around the fine art of kvetching — a town populated by world-class whiners and gold-star grumblers who would seem to be perpetually inconvenienced by something. And no matter how trivial, that something usually needs to be broadcast (bonus points for doing it in public). As any New Yorker could tell you, not complaining on a regular basis — letting whatever is irking you fester up inside without release — just isn’t good for one's health.

Naturally, New York City’s neighborhoods boast their own distinctive, often stereotype-driven grievances (stroller gridlock in Park Slope, etc.) with some obvious overlap. In my own corner of Brooklyn, those grievances would be the bus, the helicopter noise, the illegal dumping, the lack of a hardware store, and the list goes on.

Or if I were to head on over to HereHere, a just-launched interactive mapping website developed by Microsoft's Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs that assigns neighborhoods with moods based on its top complaints called into they city's non-emergency 311 number (AKA "The Parking Info and Complaint Hotline"), I’d find that, today at least, my neighborhood is: “Angry ::Grits teeth:: It's been a while since this has come up, a few water conservation concerns. More than I've seen of this in a while, 5 illegal building use issues and a few reports of pedestrian signal out.”


To be clear, not every neighborhood across all five boroughs gets it chance to shine in the complain-y spotlight. In my case, I picked the neighborhood geographically closest to my own which would be teeth-grinding Sunset Park. The moods in other Brooklyn neighborhoods range from “uncomfortable” (Williamsburg), “worried” (Greenpoint), and “frustrated” (Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights).

Across the East River in Manhattan, residents of the Lower East Side have dog poop and panhandling on the brain; on the Upper West Side it’s dead animals and oil spills; in Chelsea, residents are up in arms about radioactive risk (!) and overflowing trash cans. The residents of Murray Hill are apparently dealing with raucous churches but mold and “dirty conditions” complaints are at a low.

Over in the Elm Park and Port Richmond sections of Staten Island, the mood is decidedly more “amused” with zero reports of illegal parking, and only a few traffic signal problems to speak of. And those snake icons you see popping up across Queens in the below screenshot? Those would represent illegal pet complaints.

And I have to ask since it popped up in a handful of neighborhoods across New York City: What exactly is a “bathtub concern?”

HereHere complainer map

In total, 42 neighborhoods/areas are represented on the HereHere map, described as a “research platform with the intention of surfacing the most pertinent information with a human perspective.”

A bit more on how the public data is compiled:

Several times a day we grab the freshest NYC 311 data. The data comes in as a long list of concerns issued by people in NYC (either via phone, email, or text message) and range from heating complaints to compliments to concerns about harboring bees and everything in between. We separate the data by neighborhood for each of the 42 neighborhoods throughout the 5 boroughs of NYC, and count the total of each concern per neighborhood.

Next, we process the data through the Sentient Data Server. SDS equips each neighborhood with a personality (like a character in a movie or videogame) and we calculate the character’s response to the latest data based on pace, position and trend. For example, a neighborhood might be delighted if after several days of more than 30 heating complaints, heating complaints drops down to 0; or a neighborhood might be ashamed to see a sudden rise in homeless person assistance requests.

HereHere summarizes what we determine to be the top 3 most interesting changes in 311 data for each neighborhood. It might be the most complaints, or the first time a certain complaint type dropped below the daily average for the first time in a while, or that there were 0 complaints for a certain complaint type for the neighborhood that day. You get the idea.

There’s also a rather amusing Leaderboard section of HereHere complete with clever icons that doles out superlatives to different neighborhoods based on daily 311 complaint data.

For example, Williamsburg can slap itself on the back for being the biggest Trash Talker (most litter and recycling complaints) while Greenwich Village is the Wildest Party Animal of the day based on what I assume are vice-oriented “adult” complaints and after-hours noise issues. Long Island City/Astoria can pride itself on being the Greatest Animal Defender of any neighborhood thanks to a heavy amount of calls placed to 311 regarding animal safety concerns.

Explains Kati London, project lead of HereHere, in a news release issued by Microsoft:

HereHere NYC introduces daily neighborhood engagement with a light touch. It takes neighborhood-specific public data, and it enables the neighborhoods to communicate how they’re doing — expressed through text and cartoonlike icons. People can receive the information via a daily email digest, neighborhood-specific Twitter feeds, or status updates on an online map. We want to understand how it changes or impacts the way people relate to their community when they can interact with data in this way. Think of it as a meta-status update for the day — a simplification of issues in your neighborhood compressed into a text that you might get from a friend. The idea is that we are inundated with all kinds of data in our lives, and it’s overwhelming. Characterization helps bring immediacy and a human scale to information. When the Lower East Side says it’s totally cool with a few vermin complaints, we’re giving a human voice to the neighborhood which, hopefully, will stimulate conversations about issues.

New Yorkers or anyone else curious about the specific woes (and triumphs) of certain New York City neighborhoods, please do head on over to HereHere. I've got no complaints about it.

Via [The Observer]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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The Big Apple's complaining culture gets its own mapping website that spotlights the top complaints reported within 42 different neighborhoods on a daily basis.