Urban Mapping Gives Us Free Neighborhoods

For those of us who dwell in cities neighborhoods are an incredibly useful convention that is usually only known by locals. They break a city up geographically or architecturally or socially. Until now there has been no freely available source of neighborhood data for geohackers. As of this morning Urban Mapping is providing free access to their neighborhood database via an API. This same data powers the neighborhood features on IYPs-MSFT, MQ,YellowPages, SuperPages AskCity and appears to be powering Google Maps (Radar post).

us neighborhood maps

Urban Mapping’s data is impressive (if you want to test it out go to AskCity, they have the best neighborhood maps). Their “US coverage touches more than 1,000 municipalities, representing more than 20,000 distinct neighborhoods“. The map to the right shows that coverage. Urban Mapping also have neighborhood data for portions of Asia and Europe.

The APIs are well-documented and have sections to guide geo-noobies through the commonly-used terms. Neighborhoods can be retrieved by lat-long, city and postal code. My zipcode 98122 has the following neighborhoods associated with it in the Urban Mapping data store: Broadway, Stevens, Yesler Terrace, Madrona, Leschi, Minor, Central Area, First Hill, Downtown, Capitol Hill. This is a good list (though it is missing the odd name used to describe my specific neck of the woods, Squire Park).

Surprisingly, the API is SOAP, not the ever-popular REST. If you aren’t very familar with SOAP Urban Mapping has put up code samples in PHP and Ruby for each call. To use the API you must register first. There is no limit to the number of calls one can make, however like any free service it can be withdrawn at any time.

What can we expect from this? I expect to see neighborhoods start to appear in more mashups. (I hope WalkScore creates a walkability leaderboard for the neighborhoods of each city.) It would be great if neighborhoods got added to Housing Maps as well.

Why would Urban Mapping do this? It literally puts them on the map. If my prediction above becomes true their logo will start to appear on mashups. Aside from increasing name recognition I think that releasing the free API was a really smart thing to do business-wise. Neighborhood data, though incredibly valuable is not very common. People don’t expect it on a site. By releasing their data into the wild Urban Mapping may be creating a market, a market where sites “have to have” neighborhoods.

[Updated: Urban Mapping no longer powers the neighborhood data for Ask. Maponics does. UMI will admit to powering IYPs-MSFT, MQ,YellowPages, and SuperPages]

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