When you ask a new urban mapping app for directions, it gives you two choices: the “boring” route–the most efficient path suggested by Google–and a longer path that lets you explore an interesting part of the city you might not otherwise ever discover.
“[It] offers an alternative approach to pedestrian navigation through the city by including a sensitivity about what’s nearby, to bring back pleasure to urban walking,” says Martin Traunmueller, a PhD candidate at University College London who designed the new app, called Likeways.
While the shortest path in many cities might use larger streets with more traffic, the meandering route tends to take less-traveled roads. “A nice coffee shop, a gallery, or other places of interest could be just one minute away in a less busy, but more pleasant side road, but might stay in the dark by following suggested routes,” he says.
On a recent walk, the app led Traunmueller past a hidden garden in a crowded neighborhood.
“The most recent discovery that comes to my mind was a small, more or less ‘secret’ garden somewhere in Shoreditch,” he says. “For someone who is less familiar with London, Shoreditch is London’s tech hub, very hip and trendy and highly dynamic day and night. In this environment one wouldn’t expect such a garden, somewhere in the backyard of an old factory building–quite an oasis in the middle of this busy area.”
The app lets you enter your destination and what you’re interested in seeing along the way (right now, this is limited to restaurants, bars, shops, museums, and art galleries, but more choices are coming). Then it pulls data from Facebook Places about the most-liked spots on the way, and draws you a map. It’s possible to turn off the pins marking points of interest, so there’s more of a sense of discovery as you walk.
It’s designed for anyone to use, whether they already know a neighborhood or they’re traveling in a new city. Traunmueller tested it on a recent visit to Istanbul. “I found it quite practical to have this mix between being lost as an explorer, and still knowing that you’re on the right way to local sights you don’t want to miss out on,” he says.