Photo by Libby March

How Google’s Bad Data Wiped a Neighborhood off the Map

Inside the big, twisted industry of neighborhood data collection

The Fruit Belt neighborhood of Buffalo, New York outlined on Google Maps
Clockwise, from top left: Houses in the Fruit Belt neighborhood; the Gethsemane Grape Street Baptist Church; Dennice Barr. Photos by Libby March
Veronica Hemphill-Nichols in front of the Medical Campus.

With so little public understanding of how these systems work, it’s tempting to assign intent to these myriad decisions. The process is too opaque to scrutinize in public. And that ambiguity foments a sense of powerlessness.

Clockwise, from top left: India Walton, co-founder of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust; A community park in Fruit Belt; a man walks down the street in the Medical Campus. Photo by Libby March

Data brokers responded by coding hierarchies into their data, so that some neighborhoods would, say, disappear into others, or surface only after several zooms.

The Fruit Belt neighborhood, and the Medical Campus to the west.
City of Buffalo Master Plan Phase 1: Community/Neighborhoods Condition Summary map — the source of the “Medical Park” mistake.
Photo by Libby March

Enterprise reporter @thebuffalonews, formerly @washingtonpost.

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