Monday, September 29, 2008

Mash-Up: Where Are We Peeing Illegally?

New Yorkers are famously competitive, and the battle between neighborhoods is no exception. Upper West Siders sneer at the old money across the park; Chelsea residents stay away from the tourist trap of Greenwich; and the Lower East Side is vastly superior to the East Village, thank you very much. Now, thanks to information from New York's 311 citizen information phone line, we can compare neighborhoods using an age-old standard of popularity: which gets pissed on the most?

In 2005, New York City Council passed Local Law 47, which requires the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to release monthly reports of the calls made to New York's 311 number. Local Law 47 was intended to increase the transparency of the city government, by letting people know how long it took the city to respond to complaints. But the information it provides can also be used as a window onto the lives of New Yorkers: what they do, what they see, and what they complain about. And one of the things New Yorkers call to complain about is people relieving themselves in public.

The map below shows reports of urinating in public in Manhattan since the beginning of 2008. The reports are grouped by zip codes--the smallest geographical areas available in DoITT's monthly reports, and areas that largely (if imperfectly) coincide with neighborhoods. Each icon represents one complaint; zip codes that aren't included below have zero complaints this year.

Admittedly, information about where we pee illegally may be subject to reporting bias: residents of tony Gramercy, for instance, may be quicker to complain to 311 than those in the neighboring (and more transient) Lower East Side, which may explain some of the difference captured in the DoITT's reports. Indeed, neighborhoods that rank the highest in complaints may even try to claim superior citizenly virtue, for being so quick to notify the city of their misbehaving brethren. This isn't the last word in the Great Manhattan Inter-Neighborhood Piss-off. But until then, let's let the numbers tell their own story.

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