From the article:
Our goal was to take advantage of this wealth of data and apply a little bit of science to the question. If there was anything that could plausibly affect one’s quality of life in a particular neighborhood, we tried to incorporate it. We sorted the dozens and dozens of statistics we compiled into twelve broad categories: housing cost (as measured on a price-per-square-foot basis, for both renters and buyers), housing quality (historic districts, code violations, cockroaches), transit and proximity (commute times to lower Manhattan and midtown, the density of subway coverage), safety (as measured by violent- and nonviolent-crime rates), public schools (test scores and parent satisfaction), shopping and services (the number of neighborhood amenities, especially supermarkets), food and restaurants (judged by density and quality of options), bars and nightlife (ditto), creative capital (arts venues as well as the number of residents engaged in the arts), diversity (in terms of both race and income), green space (park and waterfront access, street trees), and health and environment (noise, air quality, overall cleanliness).
Silver goes on to rank 50 of New York’s neighborhoods and includes an interactive Livability Calculator. The article rankings and the calculator, with its preset options of “Young, Single, and Cash-Strapped”, “Double Income, No Kids”, “Married with Children”, and “Empty-Nested and Retired” as well as a customizable version, suffer from a number of flaws:
Specifically, the index makes the following faulty assumptions:
These profiles are grossly over-simplified and, such as in the case of “Young, Single, and Cash-Strapped”, make implicit assumptions about folks within that profile – there are many young, poor, single parents that would benefit from some help finding a better neighborhood. Despite our apparent fascination with lists of this type, they provide little help when it comes to actually making a choice about neighborhoods. Every neighborhood search metric should be unique, tailored to each of our families’ needs and the resources we have to share.
But the worst part is that articles like this don’t take advantage of available technologies. Whereas for decades the mainstream press was limited by the printed word to one-size-fits-all-lists, the barriers that formerly existed to unleashing the long tail of opportunity-based housing search are now nearly gone. Rather than crunch all of the data into rankings and sliders, Silver and NYM should have empowered their readers to search and explore the source data in an intuitive way, identifying specific neighborhoods that meet their specific needs and providing details as to how they might take advantage of those opportunities. Moving a slider along a bar with no units of analysis and then providing no maps, amenity listings, nor other visualization is far from helpful (although I’ll admit it is kind of fun and interesting).
Especially in New York, where the NYC Data Mine provides journalists with a great resource of data, stories and widgets like this do little more than drive speculative real estate investments and spread stereotypes about neighborhoods.
Where we live has an enormous impact on our lives and far, far too many make that decision based on shoddy information.