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Tech Buses Related to Violent Crime

There is a news story today about the S.F.'s 'clusters of affluence'. The headline says "Where divisive shuttles roam, affluence appears". The study come from a mapping of known tech shuttle stops overlay with map of restaurants and cafes. It shows that there is a pattern of overlapping between the two. And so here comes an Sunday article saying how tech bus form affluence clusters and fuel gentrification.

Not satisfied with the conclusion, I decided to make more maps. I have used the same tech bus stop listing, but instead I overlay it with incidents of violent crimes, murders, aggravated assaults, etc. The visualization is shown below. Lo and behold, there is a correlation between tech buses and violent crime!

Lest the bus protesters going to jump on this and accuse Google buses lead to violent crime, I would note that I have picked the crime data from 2008 and overlay it with the bus stop data from 2012. So the causality does not work. Instead, maybe someone would want to explore headline like "Fear of escalating murder incidents, Googlers seek refuge in private shuttle buses".

Chris Walker, the maker of the "Cluster of affluence" map, uses the concentration of restaurants as an measure of affluence. I do not find this metric as useful. Notice there are a big blob of restaurants in Chinatown and Tenderloin. They are clearly not affluent neighborhood. The more interesting case is in Mission. Is it affluent? On the one hand, the rent is rising and restaurants and cafes are flourishing. On the other hand, the demographic is still largely low income. Where fancy restaurants opens, you will find just as many fast food joints. I hesitate to label Mission as "affluent". Instead I think the more appropriate label should be mixed.

At the end, both of these maps are actually mapping of high density urban area. If you look closer at the restaurant map, they are just the map of well established commercial corridors that preceded Google. They are not created by the tech buses. These are places with high concentration of people and activities. So there are more cafes, more restaurants, and more bus stops. But these are also more homeless, more drug dealers, and more violent crime. They all happen in the same dense urban core.

The true story, I contend, is the revival of urbanity. Unlike the last generation who prefer spacious and secluded home, private cars to work and dine, this generation come back to the walkable urban core. To the surprise of the last generation, they eschew driving and content with commuting by bus. They also confront the crime that have driven people away. The shuttle bus stops simply follow where people go.

In my opinion the phenomenon of revival of urbanity is decidedly positive. People are choosing more sustainable live style. They reengage with the community rather than seeking isolation. They reversed the trend of segregation and mixing with other demographics again. While these changes inevitably causes frictions and challenges, let's not forget the social problems of the yesteryear, of white flight to suburbs, leaving behind the urban core to poverty, crime, and decay.


[1] Dotspotting - "Foursquare Shuttle Stops", a sheet of dots by zach

[2] sanfrancisco.crimespotting.org crime data API

[3] Visualization




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