New York's happiness, according to Twitter. The lighter the blue, the happier—the brighter the purple, the more pissed off
New York City is a land of extremes. Gorgeous, towering skyscrapers and filthy, polluted canals. Dense urban jungles and resplendent verdant parks. The wealthiest executives in the world, some of the poorest immigrants. It's only fitting that those impossibly steep divides should carry over to New Yorkers' moods—and the way we tweet in the city.
The city's emotional divide has remained mostly one of conjecture: we know the people are typically happier in Central Park than they are in Penn Station, obviously. But now, researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute have taken a mathematical stab at quantifying NYC's geographical happiness. They're using Twitter, of course. By mapping the emotional content of New Yorkers' tweets, they hope to build a real-time map of who's happy and who's bummed out across the five boroughs.
NECSI developed a way to classify tweets, "using key words, phrases and emoticons to determine the mood of each tweet, this method, combined with geotagging provided by users, enables us to gauge public sentiment on extremely fine-grained spatial and temporal scales."
In other words, NECSI believes it can achieve a reasonably accurate portrait of where people are happy and where they're miserable, from the minority of people who are actively tweeting about their surroundings. The theorists filtered over 600,000 such tweets over a two-week period in April 2012. They distilled the findings into a report, Sentiment in New York City: A High Resolution Spatial and Temporal View, authored by Karla Bertrand, Maya Bialik, Kawandeep Virdee, Andreas Gros and Yaneer Bar-Yam. Then they created a map that reveals where angry tweets reign and happier ones prevail, indicating which regions are better off than others.
The emotions you'll find tweeted out of many of the city's locations aren't particularly surprising:
"We find that public mood is generally highest in public parks and lowest at transportation hubs, and locate other areas of strong sentiment such as cemeteries, medical centers, a jail, and a sewage facility," the report notes.
So yes, people are blissful in Central Park, and bummed the hell out at Penn Station, as intuition dictates. They're also hating life near the Holland Tunnel, JFK airport, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Port Authority. Obviously. In fact, transit hubs as a rule—with the notable exception of Grand Central Station—drive people to express their rage on Twitter.
Here's a list of the most maddening transportation hot spots in the city:
B1. Hunterspoint Avenue train station
B2. Harlem 125th St. station
B3. Port Authority Bus Terminal
B4. Penn Station
B5. Midtown Tunnel
B6. Holland Tunnel
B7. Brooklyn Bridge
B8. Hugh L. Carey Tunnel
B9. JFK Airport
B10. LaGuardia Airport
Having been to just about all of the above, I can attest that each is capable of turning the gentlest romantic into a misanthrope. But it's not all bad, of course. Here's a list of the happiest parks in the city, according complex systems theorists.
A1. Central Park
A2. New York Botanical Garden
A3. Pelham Bay Park
A4. Marcus Garvey Park
A5. Astoria Park
A6. Gantry Plaza State Park
A7. Red Hook Park
A8. Prospect Park
A9. Highland Park
A10. Jacob Riis Park
There seems to be no better argument for city planners not to skimp on the urban green spaces than this. People love parks!
Hospitals and prisons were, obviously, dens of anger and sorrow—Riker's logged some of the most negative tweets on the map. And the Lutheran and Maimonides Medical Centers both inspire unparalleled hate-tweeting.
There are some strange anomolies in the study, too. For insance, three cemeteries—Palisades, Weehawken, and Holy Cross—attracted among the strongest Twitter sentiment on the list. But while tweets sent out at Palisades and Weehawken are overwhelmingly negative, those at Holy Cross are largely positive. NECSI was unable to determine why that might be.
And you would never guess what the happiest place in New York City is: Times Square. Yeah, Times Square. The report notes, bluntly, that "Sentiment progressively improves with proximity to Times Square."
Not only is Times Square the most joyful place in the city, it is the city's veritable epicenter of happiness. That's disturbing, for the obvious reasons, but it also makes a certain amount of sense. Times Square is the gleeful buzzing monument to American consumerism. It's the place where many new arrivals and tourists go to feel like they've arrived in New York—and that feeling is exciting. It makes them happy. Happier than anywhere else in the city. And they tweet about it.
Elsewhere, for the most part, happiness tends to correlate to leisure and wealth, though perhaps not as overtly as you'd guess. People are unhappy in East New York, but also on Wall Street. Poorer neighborhoods appear to be home to more angry tweets, and so do industrial or commercial districts where there aren't any tourists. Which brings us to the saddest place in New York, which, again, you'd never guess. It's Maspeth Creek, Brooklyn.
It's not unhappy because it's poor—it's unhappy because it's one of the most polluted places in the city.
"While it's geographic features are unremarkable, this area is one of the most polluted urban water bodies in the country," the report notes. There was a massive oil spill in Maspeth years ago—one of the biggest in American history—and it's still getting cleaned up. The cleanup process releases a foul stench, and the toxic nature of the spilled oil may have adverse impacts on the community's health. And they hate it. It's the least happy place in all of New York because of it.
When I visited the NECSI offices a week ago, founder (and co-author of this paper) Yaneer Bar-Yam told me that the ultimate goal of this research is to create a real-time map that would allow city officials to see where citizens were faring poorly, so their issues could be addressed. Sort of a cross between a massive mood ring, a suggestion box, and that computer in the Dark Knight Batman hacks to spy on everyone. Sort of.
Regardless, it's a fascinating look at where we're tweeting our rage—and our contentment—throughout the city.