Place Pulse

Place Pulse


César Hidalgo for advising, Antony DeVincenzi for design, Mauro Martino for visualization work, Dietmar Offenhuber for curating the exibition and of course Katja Schechtner for also curating but for making it possible in the first place.

Press Coverage

Wired: UK
The Guardian
Fast Company: Design
Fast Company: Exist
The Atlantic Cities
Architect Magazine
Vice Magazine: Motherboard
MIT News
ZDNet's Smart Planet
Arch Daily
Der Standard

Project Awards

Place Pulse has been featured worldwide in popular press outlets such as The Guardian, Fast Company and Gizmodo, and has been presented to thousands at talks presented at TEDxMidAtlantic and TEDxCambridge. It was part of the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in Venice, Italy, where the exhibition received over 178,000 visitors, and earned a Special Mention from the Golden Lion jury, the first time the United States has been honored in the history of the Venice Architecture Biennale.

“Place Pulse puts the full force of science behind fuzzy things like how safe or rich or unusual a city seems, and it does it in the least likely way: by crowdsourcing people’s ratings of streets, using geotagged images, and turning those answers into hard, eminently crunchable numbers.”

- Fast Company
Imagine traveling through a strange city… Inside your mind, subconscious judgements about your surroundings are made in real time. Do you feel safe? Does the area you are in seem unique? Does it appear wealthy, clean or even energetic? You may not think about, let alone understand, what goes into making these anecdotal determinations, but when elicited, your opinions can be understood as part of a more substantial collective and used in powerful ways.

In 1960, Kevin Lynch published “The Image of the City” and established how people perceive and create mental models of the cities they inhabit. Since then, the fields of both architecture and urban planning have heavily studied urban perception, placing emphasis on everything from the macro scale of a city to the intricate details of an individual building. Institutional limitations, however, have limited the throughput of urban perception studies by constraining the quantity of both images and subjects used.

To mitigate these past limitations, we present Place Pulse. Place Pulse is a website that allows anybody to quickly run a perception study and visualize the results in powerful ways. Developed at the MIT Media Lab by the Macro Connections group, Place Pulse crowdsources surveys to internet participants, asking binary perception questions across a large number of geotagged images. From the responses of each participant, directed graphs are generated, which are then layered with the graphs of others, forming what we call a perception network. This perception network can be analyzed and visualized in a multitude of ways, allowing the experimenter to identify interesting patterns in the data, possibly forming the basis for a future hypothesis.

This is all made possible by manipulating readily available data on the internet and by employing massively scalable web technologies to aid in data collection and computation. Data collection is empowered by a community of participants who act as both survey creators and takers, while computation of this data relies on machine learning algorithms to identify which features contribute to held perceptions. With an increased understanding of perception from a more broad societal point of view, it may be possible for targeted changes, such as cleaning building facades and removing trash, but deciding to leave graffiti as-is, to have a disproportionate impact on the opinions of inhabitants and visitors alike.

Download our PLoS One Paper

As of September, 2012, Place Pulse has been transitioned to another group of graduate students to continue the project.

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