Visualizing where rich and poor people really cross paths—or don’t

By Ben Paynter

The two coffee shops occupy the exact same block in Boston. Yet while they’re just a couple minutes walk apart, each serves a different mix of clientele. The first spot caters to people from many different income brackets, but the second caters almost exclusively to people with lower-income levels.

That’s an example of “place inequality”—a metric that measures how people of different income, rich and poor alike, tend to cluster in some public spots either because they feel more comfortable there (or perhaps are excluded elsewhere).

It’s an idea that’s hard to visualize unless you can see it on a map. So MIT Media Lab collaborated with the location intelligence firm Cuebiqto build one. The result is called the Atlas of Inequality and harvests the anonymized location data from 150,000 people who opted in to Cuebiq’s Data For Good Initiative to track their movement for scientific research purposes. After isolating the general area (based on downtime) where each subject lived, MIT Media Lab could estimate what income bracket they occupied. The group then used data from a six-month period between late 2016 and early 2017 to figure out where these people traveled, and how their paths overlapped.

Related Content