The rise and prosperity of an urban neighbourhood may not only be based on economic capital, but also the presence of a vibrant arts, music and science culture, scientists say. In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Physics, the researchers used social media images of cultural events in London and New York City on image hosting site Flickr to create a model that can predict neighbourhoods where residents enjoy a high level of wellbeing.
With more than half of the world's population living in cities, the model could help policy makers ensure human wellbeing in dense urban settings. "Culture has many benefits to an individual: it opens our minds to new emotional experiences and enriches our lives," said Daniele Quercia, Department Head at Nokia Bell Labs, Cambridge, UK.
"We've known for decades that this 'cultural capital' plays a huge role in a person's success. Our new model shows the same correlation for neighbourhoods and cities, with those neighbourhoods experiencing the greatest growth having high cultural capital," said Quercia.
The researchers accessed millions of Flickr images taken by people attending cultural events in London and in New York City over ten years. The events included festivals, libraries, cinema, art exhibitions, musical performances, technological demos, handicraft artisans, restaurants, museums, newspaper stands and theater.
The team organised the images, which all had global positioning system (GPS) tags indicating the place and time taken, into 25 categories. They also cleaned the data to adjust for outliers, accounting for issues such as many museums not allowing photos of exhibits and different generations gravitating to different choices.
"We were able to see that the presence of culture is directly tied to the growth of certain neighbourhoods, rising home values and median income," said Quercia. "This could help city planners and councils think through interventions to prevent people from being displaced as a result of gentrification," he said.
"We already have data from wearable technology showing that both the 2016 US presidential election and 2016 Brexit referendum greatly impacted people's sleep and even heart rates," said Luca M Aiello from the University of Cambridge in the UK. "Information on cultural consumption could similarly be used to track the impacts of large-scale change," said Aiello.