Take A Stroll Down Broadway Through Hundreds Of Thousands Of Instagram Images

“On Broadway” mashes up social media and open data to provide a unique look at all 13 miles of the famed street.

Want to get to know all of Manhattan, not just the touristy parts? One of your best routes might be to take a stroll down all 13 miles of Broadway–the curvy spine of the city–exploring New York’s rich cultural fabric from the Dominican neighborhood of Inwood to the heart of Chinatown. If you’re lazy, another good bet might be to do the same thing digitally with a new project called “On Broadway.”


Created by a team of four artists and researchers, the interactive installation and app mines hundreds of thousands of geo-tagged social media photos combined with other kinds of data to show a “new type of city view, created from the activities of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Users can scroll up and down Broadway and explore vertical slices of the city. Each 13-layer slice includes data from Instagram images, Google Street View images, Twitter posts with photos, Foursquare check-ins, 22 million taxi pickups and drop-offs in 2013, and U.S. Census economic data by neighborhood.

“We were interested in how we can enable seamless navigation between high-level, condensed views of the city and zoomed in, anecdotal data,” says one of the designers, Moritz Stefaner, in a statement. “The final application reflects this enormous data diversity and richness.”

The project was inspired by the 1966 book Every Building On The Sunset Strip, which unfolded 25 feet to show continuous photographic views of 1.5 miles on Sunset Boulevard. The designers behind On Broadway began to look at how they could use all of the data available today–both crowdsourced from social media and provided by the city–to create new representations of a modern city.

This isn’t the first time the team has mined social media for information about cities. Its “Selfie City” project mined Instagram images from around the world to describe people’s moods in different urban centers. Another project looked at Ukraine’s Maidan uprising played out over Instagram.

“The goal of our [On Broadway] project was to let citizens see how many types of urban data relate to each other, and let them relate massive city data to their personal experiences (places where they live or visit),” explains computer scientist Lev Manovich, a researcher with The City University of New York’s Graduate Center.


After exploring all of the New York City data, the researchers produced a few charts reflecting what most New Yorkers already know: Upper Manhattan (Broadway above 110th street, defined by the researchers) is much less touristy than downtown and midtown areas. In Times Square, tourists posted a full 5% to 9% of total images; downtown it was more like 2.5% to 3.5%; and even less uptown. Downtown and midtown were also busier (by social media activity and taxi trips) and wealthier. The fact that all of this data is tightly correlated could be interpreted as a sign of how the “digital divide and income inequality are closely tied together,” the researchers write.

The installation is available to check-out in person as part of the New York Public Library’s “The Public Eye” exhibit, or it can be seen in full-view on the web here.


About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.