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Understanding changing urban relationalities: mapping gentrification using social media data

Authors: Ate Poorthuis, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Taylor Shelton*, Mississippi State University, Matthew Zook, University of Kentucky
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Social Geography
Keywords: big data, social media, gentrification, mobilities, urban geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


While the emergence and rapid growth of new sources of so-called ‘big data’ are widely thought to have revolutionized the study of social life, not all aspects of society are equally quantified or datafied. For instance, while gentrification has long been a cornerstone of urban research, our methods of measuring and mapping gentrification have remained fairly static over time. As such, this paper explores the potentials for big data – in particular, geotagged social media data from Twitter – to analyze gentrification ‘in real time and space’. We focus especially on geotagged Twitter data as an indicator of social activity, mobilities and connections over time and space, thus serving as a proxy for the evolving social and spatial contours of urban neighborhoods. Building on earlier work demonstrating the utility of this data for providing insight into the aggregate mobility patterns of urban residents (Shelton, Poorthuis and Zook, 2015), we seek to understand how gentrification represents a reconfiguration of the mobilities and relational connections between changing urban neighborhoods. In particular, we utilize a case study of Lexington, Kentucky and the city’s gentrifying Northside and East End, and how these neighborhoods are integrated into the everyday mobilities of Lexington residents as gentrification has intensified over time. We argue that while this data doesn’t present a comprehensive understanding of gentrification, it can provide an additional and useful avenue for research by focusing on how gentrification is produced through dynamic, relational connections between different people and places within the city.

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