Some of the brightest minds at MIT are using Google technology to create extraordinarily beautiful, and even useful, maps of independent coffee shops for cities throughout the United States.
The maps are a result of the You Are Here project, part of the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab. The big concept is to use the maps to provide visual data to help people better understand their collective experience within a city, while pointing out opportunities for what You Are Here calls healing.
The project incorporates Google Places API to locate shops, represented by a dot, while Google Distance Matrix API provides a radial “walking-shed” around the shop, covering 1 kilometer (approximately 0.7 miles). At the You Are Here site, the maps are interactive, linking to a shop’s Google+ profile.
“Each of these maps will be an aggregation of thousands of microstories, tracing the narratives of our collective experience,” the project states. “We hope that by showing these stories, we empower people to make their city — and therefore the world — a more beautiful place.”
A guiding premise is that independent coffee shops provide positive change in communities, and saturation or gaps in the maps show us where this positive change is most active, and where there are opportunities. Similarly, maps of bike accidents can help residents and urban planners identify areas of need. Also, they are just kind of pretty to look at.
Launching last week, the project says it will be making 100 different maps for 100 different cities, on any number of community landmarks — from coffee shops to bike accidents to public benches.
Here is what You Are Here has to say about the role of independent community coffee shops:
Independent coffee shops are positive markers of a living community. They function as social spaces, urban offices, and places to see the world go by. Communities are often formed by having spaces in which people can have casual interactions, and local and walkable coffee shops create those conditions, not only in the coffee shop themselves, but on the sidewalks around them. We use maps to know where these coffee shop communities exist and where, by placing new coffee shops, we can help form them.