A map of New York, with details under debate | ET REALITY


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In New York, the answer to the seemingly simple question “Where do you live?” can be controversial.

Is your Queens apartment in Astoria or is it actually in Long Island City? Are you in Manhattan’s East Village or far enough west to be in Greenwich Village? Debates like these have raged for years, largely because there is no map that captures all of the city’s neighborhoods and their borders.

“There are a million official ways to divide New York City, but those maps don’t show the reality of how we see it overall,” said Larry Buchanan, graphics editor and reporter for The New York Times.

Late last year, Buchanan and a team of Times editors began working on an ambitious project: creating a map of the entire city using nothing but reader input. To achieve this, they invited New Yorkers to identify the names of their neighborhoods and delineate their borders. The invitation sparked a strong reaction: more than 37,000 readers responded with maps and comments.

The aggregated responses form a detailed, interactive map of the city’s neighborhoods and their nebulous boundaries. The map, which was posted online last month, features more than 400 neighborhood names, and disagreements abound.

“What I like most is that the map itself is, at its core, a map of uncertainty,” said Buchanan, who designed and produced the project, along with Josh Katz, Rumsey Taylor and Eve Washington. They are members of the Digital News Design and Upshot teams, using data and visuals to inform articles.

The technology behind the map was initially created to accompany another Times article. Last year, a state law banning guns in Times Square required city officials to define the area’s boundaries; They drew a neighborhood that stretched from Sixth to Ninth Avenue and from West 40th Street to West 53rd Street.

Some New Yorkers were skeptical of the city’s generous dimensions. In the newsroom, the borders generated the idea of ​​a peculiar project on the borders of the area. Buchanan and Washington created an online interface that allowed readers to outline what they thought constituted Times Square. The drawings would be combined with other polygons drawn by the reader to approximate a neighborhood consensus. That feature was never published, but the technology became the basis of The Upshot project and was eventually expanded to include all five boroughs.

The resulting map is colorful. The bright, solid sections reflect broad agreement on the name of an area. The confusing ones indicate places where there is little (or no) consensus. In Brooklyn, for example, much of Greenpoint is currently bright yellow. However, in places where Greenpoint meets Williamsburg, the yellow is infused with shades of red or blue, indicating disagreement over neighborhood boundaries.

Introducing great ambiguity was one of the goals of the project, and Buchanan said he had enjoyed the debate. Some readers noted the emergence of newer neighborhoods, such as Alphabet City (considered by some to be part of the East Village) or Kingsbridge (a neighborhood within Riverdale in the Bronx). Others fervently insisted that certain neighborhoods, such as East Williamsburg, NoLIta, and Hamilton Heights, did not exist at all, at least not in name.

“It’s all made up, so in a sense everyone’s right,” Buchanan said of the results. “It allows neighborhoods that were once neighborhoods to no longer exist and new ones to emerge out of nowhere.”

Every tag used to identify a place (except officially named city streets or parks) came directly from data collected from readers, not from pre-existing maps or websites like Google and StreetEasy.

One of the first goals was to be as inclusive as possible, as it became clear that the project had struck a chord with many New Yorkers. If more than 1 percent of the people who live in a neighborhood use a name to describe it, that name is included on the map.

“It’s one of those fun little questions about identity,” Katz said of the project, “where you live, where you come from and how do you define that.”

Like many Upshot projects, the goal was to create a novel experience using technology; each decision, Buchanan said, was made in service of a larger journalistic picture about the changing design of New York.

Publishers hope readers will continue to submit data; the team will incorporate additional responses into the map. Since its publication, more than 7,500 readers have submitted new articles. Some have documented neighborhoods marked by immigrant communities, such as Loisaida in Manhattan, Little Yemen in the Bronx, and Little Haiti in Brooklyn.

“It’s a living document,” Washington said of the map. “It can be kept alive as long as people continue to respond.”

Contribute to The Times’ New York City map by drawing an outline of your neighborhood here.

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