Big Data Comes To Boston’s Neighborhoods

WBUR: “In the spring of 1982, social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling published a seminal article in The Atlantic Monthly titled “Broken Windows.”
The piece focused public attention on a long-simmering theory in urban sociology: that broken windows, graffiti and other signs of neighborhood decay are correlated with — and may even help cause — some of the biggest problems in America’s cities.
Wilson and Kelling focused on the link to crime, in particular; an abandoned car, they argued, signals that illicit behavior is acceptable on a given block….Some researchers have poked holes in the theory — arguing that broken widows, known in academic circles as “physical disorder,” are more symptom than cause. But there is no disputing the idea’s influence: it’s inspired reams of research and shaped big city policing from New York to Los Angeles…
But a new study out of the Boston Area Research Initiative, a Harvard University-based collaborative of academics and city officials, suggests a new possibility: a cheap, sprawling and easily updated map of the urban condition.
Mining data from Boston’s constituent relationship management (CRM) operation — a hotline, website and mobile app for citizens to report everything from abandoned bicycles to mouse-infested apartment buildings — researchers have created an almost real-time guide to what ails the city…
But a first-of-its-kind measure of civic engagement — how likely are residents of a given block to report a pothole or broken streetlight? — yields more meaningful results.
One early finding: language barriers seem to explain scant reporting in neighborhoods with large populations of Latino and Asian renters; that’s already prompted targeted flyering that’s yielded modest improvements.
The same engagement measure points to another, more hopeful phenomenon: clusters of citizen activists show up not just in wealthy enclaves, as expected, but in low-income areas.”