Real-life Geographies Lie at the Heart of Context

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When someone asks where you're from - what you like or don't like, why you moved there, what you do for fun - you'll likely talk about the people, activities, and cultural offerings of the particular neighborhood you're in. You might even compare your neighborhood to one in a different city. For example, if you live in Gramercy Park in New York, you could tell a Californian that your neighborhood is akin to Nob Hill in San Francisco. As my team gathered data for our Context™ suite of datasets, we came to think of our neighborhoods as "socioregions," a play on the term "bioregion." A bioregion ignores political divisions - town and state lines - and focuses instead on the primary characteristics of the land. The Sonoran Desert is an example of a bioregion, with its small mountain ranges and intermountain basins. It crosses state and national boundaries, encompassing parts of Arizona, California, Baja and Mexico.


A socioregion also ignores administrative and political boundaries, but instead of focusing on the biogeography of an area, it takes into account "real-life geographies." These are sort of synonymous with local character - the things about a neighborhood that make it unique. What kind of schools we send our kids to, the ages and lifestyles of our neighbors - even whether we live in an area that's easily walkable, bikeable or drivable. What's exciting about Context data is that it can be used to develop apps and analytics that quickly identify different socioregions, mirroring the way we think about territory these days. If we're moving across the country and want to live in the same kind of neighborhood we do now, doing a neighborhood search with character matching on a realty website tells us what areas have low crime, similar lifestyles, excellent schools and so on. (See illustration below.) Or, when we're traveling, we can get a bead on what kind of socioregion we're in by using our smartphone to find nearby restaurants, parks and museums. Lots of ethnic restaurants indicates a more multicultural region; modern art museums suggests an area that prizes the arts. As we continue to get our sense of belonging more from people and the surrounding culture than from the land or political divisions, products like Context will only become more relevant.