By on January 19, 2012

An in-development Microsoft smart phone app designed to help drivers and pedestrians avoid unsafe neighborhoods is proving controversial among some minority rights groups that find the software potentially discriminatory.

Well, it sure would have helped Sherman McCoy and Reginald Denny, but is it good for society?

The source article is long on aggrieved quotes from self-appointed “community leaders” but short on details. PCWorld notes that

in order to create suggested routes, Microsoft’s GPS — which will reportedly be inserted into Windows Phones in the future — will use input from more varied and up-to-date sources, including crime statistics. This idea is leading some people to think it will be an insult to poor neighborhoods. The patent covers other things as well, such as helping pedestrians avoid “harsh temperatures.”

As we all know that “it’s so cold in tha D”, presumably during the winter this app will keep journalists away from the NAIAS for at least two reasons. We could fill this article with jokes about John Singleton movies and the literary work of Iceberg Slim, but the issues raised by being able to program one’s navigation system to avoid certain areas go beyond the hot-button quick-hits of alleged racism and Microsoft-bashing.

Don’t we all fundamentally agree that consumers should have the right to tailor their own personal experiences? If someone doesn’t want to drive through the “ghetto”, shouldn’t they be able to make that choice? Websites like DailyKos, HuffingtonPost, and Drudge Report are successful because they provide “filters” through which to view current events and news. The future is all about “isolation” — from the unpleasant, the unwelcome, the uncomfortable. We leave our double-paned car windows up, look at a smartphone instead of a homeless person, listen to carefully selected playlists, and discuss topics on which everyone in the car is of the same mind. It is our right. We’ve paid our money, and we took our choice.


The isolated life is fundamentally poorer in thought, experience, personal growth, and all the things which come to define us as human beings. In an effort to “Avoid The Ghetto”, we build the walls of our own intellectual ghetto and dwell there in complacent self-satisfaction. The FoxNews viewer who dismisses welfare recipients as frauds and Muslims as terrorists, the DailyKos habitue who is force-fed Christopher Hitchens and vomits Bill Maher — this is not the American experience as it was originally envisioned.

Microsoft has to the right to provide such an application, and since Microsoft has at times served as the behind-the-scenes vendor for systems as diverse as the original iDrive and the current myFordTouch, it will presumably find its way into nearly every kind of car one could imagine. If it shows up on your vehicle, consider selecting the “off” option. Make the conscious choice to engage with people who are not identical to you in birth, growth, thought, and deed. Use technology to expand your mind, not wall your garden. Not everyone in a dangerous neighborhood is dangerous; not everyone in the safe neighborhood is safe.

Still, when I’m traveling through an unfamiliar city with my son in the back of the car, I know what I am likely to do. It’s all well and good to expand one’s mind, but when it comes to protecting one’s children, the backbrain still calls the shots.

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93 Comments on ““Avoid The Ghetto” Smartphone App Is Proving Controversial, Even Before Release...”

  • avatar

    “Still, when I’m traveling through an unfamiliar city with my son in the back of the car, I know what I am likely to do. It’s all well and good to expand one’s mind, but when it comes to protecting one’s children, the backbrain still calls the shots.”

    Sorry, that’s a crock and a cop-out. It’s always about the “children”. Baloney.

    I’m protecting myself and everyone else who may be riding with me, whether “children” or not. I don’t and won’t carry a waepon, so I’m going to avoid all those areas at all costs. Yes, my mind has expanded to the point that I’m not putting up with certain stuff anymore, as it proves nothing. Plus, I’m too old and half-blind to take silly risks like that!

    Sorry, but that “children” reference always gets my goat.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I am willing to take personal risks to which I am not willing to expose my child. I spent years working in the highest-crime ZIP codes in Ohio, but I wouldn’t let my son wander around unguarded in those zipcodes. I don’t jaywalk across city streets with my son’s hand in mine. I don’t put him in the passenger seat when I’m flying Cessnas without a license. (Not, ahem, that this ever happens.)

      For better or worse, that’s my mindset.

      • 0 avatar

        Downside is that nobody lets their children play in the front yard unattended anymore, despite no appreciable increase in the danger of it. Someone better-spoken then I said something like, “if we let nervous parents make all the laws (referring to tripe like Megan’s Law, Shawn’s Law, whatever) we’ll bankrupt the nation (in a financial as well as cultural sense).”

        That said, the filter bubble is a basic American right. Like it or not. As long as the filter bubble doesn’t violate civil rights-type laws, it would be patently unconstitutional to legislate it.

      • 0 avatar

        Jack, I didn’t mean my comment to be a personal affront, it was a blanket statement because I hear that term used as an excuse for the underlying truth(s) that the person or organization using it can’t utter for some reason – whatever cause or thing – people would go crazy.

        Of course I agree with you about not exposing your child to risks I/you would take. That’s natural.

      • 0 avatar

        I would not be in a rush to link Jack’s parenting habits with the safety-obsessed culture that always gets the blame for all the hideous regulations. One thing is to protect own child, another thing is to get everyone else handcuffed. By the way, just like Jack, I do not fly my daughter either. I don’t think I am getting enough recurrent training to be a sufficiently safe pilot for that. However, I am a-ok with other people flying with kids or letting children play in the front yard. This is the key difference.

      • 0 avatar

        Zackman was referring to, I think, JUST the “child” thing…not the whole.
        I kind of agree. I suppose you can do any risk taking with yourself but not with a child. Regardless…the child being in the argument doesn’t add to the wrongness, or rightness, of the concept.
        Anybody should be allowed their fears and prejudices without regard for public stoning, as long as no harm is being done to others.

        This is kind of like the introduction of “crimes of hate”. Look…a crime is a crime. Killing a black or gay person is no more a special crime than just killing me…not being any of those.
        You kill me or somebody I love and I am just as angry (well, you understand the concept) as if you killed someone of a “special” group.

        This kind of reminds me of a radio discussion I heard many years ago. A pilot called in and was describing how much more careful he was as a pilot since he had 200 plus souls in seats behind him.
        Another pilot called in and gave him hell. He flew for UPS.
        But he flew his airplane JUST as carefully as any other pilot even IF it were just he, his co-pilot and a shit load of boxes behind the both.
        He seemed to be JUST as concerned about HIS life as anybody else’s.
        Ditto here…I am JUST as concerned about MY safety with OR without anybody else in the car.
        You see…I do watch Fox News but do not believe in the next life and am very, very concerned about how long I can stick around in this one.

      • 0 avatar

        The goal shouldn’t be to avoid the ghettos, nor is it to pretend they don’t exist – the goal is to eliminate them. No one should be driving around in dangerous, unsafe neighborhoods.

        Pretending that this is some kind of racist app, or being frustrated that this data is sought out, will not eliminate the problem.

        We should be grateful that this data is availble at our fingertips. What we do with it reflects more on ourselves, than the fact that the data exists in this format.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      I’d rather be armed.

      (and when I get my CHL, I will be!)

    • 0 avatar

      You may find this appalling but many parents research the graduation rates and test scores of a school district before buying a house there. Is making this data public record racist? Maybe we should keep that information a secret so that more parents accidentally send their children to under-performing schools where they can gain a greater cultural awareness outside their bubble.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe we should keep that information a secret so that more parents accidentally send their children to under-performing schools where they can gain a greater cultural awareness outside their bubble.

        It’s an ethics violation for a Realtor to volunteer demographic data, and the disclosures that are made have to be within guidelines:

        When involved in the sale or lease of a residence, REALTORS® shall not volunteer information regarding the racial, religious or ethnic composition of any neighborhood nor shall they engage in any activity which may result in panic selling, however, REALTORS® may provide other demographic information.

        While it’s fair to want to enroll one’s kids in a good school, we shouldn’t really be endeavoring to revive Jim Crow, either.

  • avatar

    Conflicted on this. As liberal as I am, my Garmin has taken me on a tour of Baltimore’s murder-rate one too many times.

  • avatar

    The app does not know the color of people’s skin.

    So if you want to avoid a crime ridden route, as a free American citizen, you have every right to do so with the tools you have at hand. And guess what? You are not making this decision based on the color of anyone’s skin but crime statistics. That’s very non-racist to me.

    One thing I would like to know is what “will use input from more varied and up-to-date sources” are.

    BTW, I would love to have this app on my phone’s GPS.

  • avatar

    If it’s based on crime statistics, then so what? It’s called reality. I often wondered why maps didn’t do this.

    And yes, not everyone in a “bad” area is bad, but try breaking down in the middle of the night in a “bad” area and see how you feel.


  • avatar

    “In an effort to “Avoid The Ghetto”, we build the walls of our own intellectual ghetto and dwell there in complacent self-satisfaction.”

    If staying alive, or at least vastly increasing my chances of doing so, means I’m putting up a wall and complacently dwelling in my self-satisfaction, well…

    I’m fine with that on every level.

    I don’t call that an “intellectual ghetto”, I call that common sense, street smarts, survival instinct, and self preservation. Calling it otherwise is elitist PC blather.

    I chose to avoid certain bars. I avoid certain parts of town. I avoid Wal Mart as much as I can. I avoid certain people I can’t stand for any number of reasons.

    Avoiding streets that might lead to my getting carjacked or robbed or shot or any other number of unpleasant bits of ‘ghetto’ reality is my right, and this is an app that I would gladly pay for if I had a car with navigation and lived in a city, or traveled through them, and needed to know where not to go.

    • 0 avatar

      The OP was referring to something called “The Filter Bubble”, a concept that summarizes how unprecedented choice in our information creates a bubble which contains only things you like, and is not geography-based. The upside is a richer, more immediately satisfying life. The downside is a steady diet of similiar information.

      One person cannot control their intake of information online. Any user who has visited only a handful of Web pages will have their information tailored indefinitely. Even prices change according to your Web history.

      This app facilitates that in meatspace. I don’t like it either, but I oppose legislating it. I’d rather see a “pull” reason for me to go to the bad neighborhoods, rather than “push” legislation trying to stop me from being aware of them.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re on to something with the ‘pull’ reason.

        For me, there are all sorts of pull reasons – restaurants, record stores, interesting architecture… many things that are richer and satisfying no matter what the neighborhood.

        I’ve gone all sorts of harrowing places (although being in LA a few weeks after the riots, we were greatly deterred when attempting to tour the burned out areas!) but in certain situations, in certain places, at night, I think I’d defer to safety. People tell people ‘don’t go there at night’ or ‘don’t go three blocks off the main drag’ all the time. Heck, in my state it was ‘don’t stop for gas at an Indian reservation, particularly at night!’ I’ve done that with no problems, so there you go.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, if you drive an extra distance to avoid a bad neighborhood, that probably increases your chance of dying in an accident. So this app could actually increase your risk.

      Hmm… this was supposed to be a reply to something further down.

  • avatar

    See the real issue is that all humans aren’t equal. Some are smarter, others work harder, some get lucky.. Some are more empathic than others. It’s a real pickle.

    Eventually someone with their empathy dial cranked all the way up is going to tell me that I need to stay in a wheelchair 24×7 because I’m making 1% of the population feel bad when I stand up.

    And people wonder how I can be so happy living alone…

  • avatar

    I think people mentally overestimate the risk (humans are terrible at internalizing risk) of driving through a rough area. Most murders in such areas are of people “in the game.” One may be killed incident to a robbery if one is in a position to be robbed (alone and on foot). I have run into little trouble traversing some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago on a bicycle because I mind my own business and keep moving. In a car, the risk is virtually nil unless you have an ill-timed breakdown. The odds of that multiplied by the odds of being killed, overstated to begin with, are incredibly low. You’re far more likely, I suspect, to be killed in an accident.

    • 0 avatar

      People also seem to greatly magnify the risk of unfamiliar areas. I remember a visitor traveling to my workplace on business from Texas to Cali (back when I lived in California) lamenting that she didn’t have her gun and tinted windows in the rental car because the neighborhood was so rough.

      This was freakin’ Monterey, CA.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve ridden my bicycle in some fairly decrepit neighborhoods in Detroit and subscribe to the “crazy guy on a bicycle” theory. Even criminals give crazy folks a wide berth and most people figure that you’d have to be crazy to ride a bike in that neighborhood, so they leave you alone.

      Do I carry spare tubes and a CO2 inflator to speed up repairs in case of a flat? Sure.

      • 0 avatar

        I have really enjoyed riding a bike through old, industrial, and bad neighborhoods; it’s a great way to learn a lot about history and architecture. There is no better way to see a lot of a city (particularly the downtown), especially on a weekend morning when there is little traffic.

        However, having been chased by patients on the grounds of a huge old mental hospital, almost run over by inner city drivers who could not care less about a bicyclist, and approached by drug addicts and a couple groups of menacing characters, I have learned to be a very careful. Don’t do urban exploring much after noon (most of the bad apples are still sleeping), don’t stop moving, don’t wear a helmet (you’ll stand out like a sore thumb), always wear sunglasses (no eye contact), and ride an older mountain bike (no pawn value).

    • 0 avatar

      Tell that to the tourists in rental cars who were targeted and even murdered in Miami during the 1990s (German tourists seemed to be particularly vulnerable). A policeman once told me that people would pass out neatly-printed flyers in German at the Miami airport about the wonderful nightlife in downtown Opa-Locka. The police would see tourists in rental convertibles cruising seriously dangerous neighborhoods at night on advice from the flyers. It got so bad that the rental car companies removed anything that would visually identify a car as a rental.

      My environmental work requires that I go into really bad, crime-infested areas on occasion. While most of the time I have no issues, there have been times when I have requested a co-worker to go along – safety in numbers. I was once taking nighttime traffic noise readings in a bad neighborhood adjacent to an interstate. The firm insisted on hiring an off-duty cop in uniform with a cruiser to keep watch as I was doing my work. I did not complain.

  • avatar

    Hmmm, Jack – since this article is going to make me say something that will get me in trouble; let me just get it over with. The people who are saying that a software program that helps you avoid areas with high crime rates is racist are themselves the racists.

    A computer script doesn’t know or care WHO commits the crimes, it only creates a statistical analysis to determine the route with the lowest percentages. If that happens to be a Finnish or Swedish area, so be it.

    I’ll also suggest that if anyone besides Jack (who by legend at least enjoys a walk on the wild side) were to suggest that increasing your statistical odds of being carjacked, robbed, or raped is a culturally broadening experience in any good sense is being disingenous at best. I’ll agree that every young man of 25 or less should probably spend some time in the areas under discussion, but only after pointing out that such youth don’t have any money, cars worth carjacking, or desirability as rape-objects (much to their general disappointment) and are therefore comparately safe if they can just keep avoid saying something stupid. However anybody who can afford a nice car, nice watch, or would look good naked on a silk sheet – not so much.

    Ok go ahead and chastize me

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to say this exactly. It’s one thing to hear people talking about “the other side of the tracks”, but this app is not getting it’s data from heresay, or demographics, it’s crime statistics. There no racist thought involved, it’s “if you go down this street, your chances of being jacked are 5%, whereas if you take this other street, your chances are .001%”. I can then decide for myself if the “cultural experience” is worth the risk.

      I can actually see a well-to-do neighborhood, or shopping area complaining more loudly if there was a spike in crime 6 months ago that was addressed by law enforcement, but that the stats, or the app hadn’t updated yet to reflect that.

      • 0 avatar

        What kind of cultural experience is there going to the ghetto?

        Flashy rented 22″rims? Lots of bass? Chicks with really long and tacky fake fingernails? Dudes with their pants hanging down around their knees? Cracked out crack heads hanging out in front of convenience stores? Houses and businesses in disrepair?

        Evidence of 50 years of affirmative action as a complete failure?

        Hmm. Sounds like the ghetto cultural experience is something most people would want to avoid.

        Then again, if you have any street smarts how hard could it really be to avoid these areas without ‘technology’? It doesnt take much to tell when you’ve crossed the wrong side of the tracks.

      • 0 avatar


        There’s a difference between a true slum, and gentrifying area or simply older, more established area. Too often the Stepford-McMansion residents or rural dwellers can’t tell the difference. Seeing actual crime statistics should help in that regard.

        I can’t imagine anyone would want to visit the neighborhood that’s all rusty Trans Ams, maltreated Pit Bulls, rebel flags, and wife beaters.

        I’ve heard lots of horror stories about East LA. I stayed with a friend who lives there (just off Cesar Chavez Blvd). I was surprised to find it full of warm, friendly people, kids playing baseball in the park, ice cream trucks meandering down the streets. It was not what I expected. It was like Mayberry en Espanol.

        And no, I did not blend in there in any way, shape, or form (the 6’1 blond guy hanging out with the 6’5 blond guy and the Italian chick stand out in East LA).

  • avatar

    “The isolated life is fundamentally poorer in thought, experience, personal growth, and all the things which come to define us as human beings.”

    This is very well put, and should be repeated daily to everyone until the behavior of isolation changes. In any public situation, the default reaction to any moment of uncertainty is to take out your phone. We use them as a comfort blanket, like a kid hugging their mom or dad when they see a stranger. We hide in our phone because we know what we will get out of it, and it provides a distraction that prevents us from having to interact with people and (god forbid) have a possibly awkward human moment. I am who I am from learning to navigate awkwardness, interactions with strangers or simply observing the world around me. People are surrounding themselves in bubbles of the familiar, isolating themselves. I imagine this would really piss of someone like Ray Charles. “You have eyes, but you stare at a glowing brick instead of looking at the world?! Let’s see if my glasses fit in your ass.”

    • 0 avatar

      Great applause for all these sentiments. One can exercise reasonable prudence without closing oneself to the great richness of life based on lizard-brained fear. One of my most wonderful experiences in a bar was in a terrible neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Strictly a neighborhood joint because nobody who didn’t live there would travel to the area. My friends and I were quite obviously the only white people to set foot in it for a long time. We had great conversations with people we would otherwise be isolated from (Chicago being a city of tremendous racial and economic segregation). The bartender hugged us all at the end of the evening, declaring that we were welcome anytime and that we were now “part of the family.” One couldn’t help but feel the great rewards we get when we take that risk to reach out, and that if more people did it, took the risk to live and love, there wouldn’t BE bad neighborhoods. A year and change later, I read in the paper that bar had been shot up and several people killed. Without a doubt, it was not the safest place to be in the city, and no doubt I would have been far safer barricaded in my apartment in the safe rich white people neighborhood. I don’t even know if I would go back and do it again. But I’m glad I did.

  • avatar

    Whenever some member of productive society takes a wrong turn and gets car-jacked, shot, raped, robbed, and/or carved; people like Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter blame them, saying they should have known better and had no business in the hood. The only people that should be upset about this product are predators.

    • 0 avatar

      When did Mayor Nutter say that? There were specific incidents of gangs of youths attacking pedestrians in Philadelphia last year, and Mayor Nutter quickly condemned the attackers.

      I don’t recall him ever telling the victims that they had no business walking down that particular street.

  • avatar

    We still have enough freedom to choose our own route – all this GPS is doing is providing more data for the traveler to make a choice. If that choice is discriminatory then that is a reflection on the owners choices not the GPS.

  • avatar

    I have no problem with this because it is based on statistical data, not skin color.

    As far as cultural insights are concerned, there is very little that I want to learn from street thugs. On the off chance that I do go into the “rough” part of town, I certainly won’t be going anywhere I need a GPS.

    Whats to say that by using this feature, the GPS won’t take you into some other, unexplored area that you previously had never been in?

  • avatar

    Can you use the program to direct you to the high crime areas? You know, in case you want to expand your intellectual bubble, or if you’re looking for hookers and blow.

  • avatar

    “Ghetto” is arbitrary.

    Firstly, you have to accept the definition of the software designer, since there is no universal set of criteria that distinguishes what is a ghetto from what isn’t. Your idea of a ghetto might be my idea of a gentrifying neighborhood. You may stigmatize a place because its residents are poor, even if it happens to have average crime rates. Ultimately, it’s somewhat arbitrary.

    Secondly, you have to define its boundaries. Is it ZIP Code? Census tract? City council district? Police precinct? School district? Some arbitrary criteria created by the software designer?

    This thing could become what amounts to an exercise in legal electronic libel. I have a house that I’m trying to sell, but now the Ghetto software folks come along, label my home as being undesirable, and it loses thousands of dollars in value. If I am in this situation, I may not have anyone to sue, but I’m going to be understandably unhappy about it.

  • avatar

    As we all know that “it’s so cold in tha D”, presumably during the winter this app will keep journalists away from the NAIAS for at least two reasons.

    Actually (ironically?), if the app is based on crime stats, it shouldn’t keep journalists away from the NAIAS. According to FBI crime stats, downtown Detroit, where the NAIAS takes place, has 37% less serious crime than the national average.

    People might find out that their perceptions about what areas are crime ridden and which are safe might actually change due to this app.

    I drive in “tha D” frequently. I’ll shoot pics for car reviews in those parts of Detroit that are still nice. I remember when I was researching a series on the Arsenal of Democracy, one site, I think it was, said that the former AMC/Jeep engineering bldg which built helicopters during WWII when it was a Nash Kelvinator plant was in one of the worst parts of Detroit. Actually, it sits in the middle of one of the thriving neighborhoods in the city (much of Detroit is empty). On the street immediately adjacent to the plant, all the homes are occupied, nothing is boarded up or abandoned.

    So, like I said, maybe this app might dispel some misconceptions.

  • avatar

    This feature is a start, but what I need is a jacka$$ alert system in the car.

    Light up a little red dot on the GPS when I get within 500 feet of criteria that I can toggle…

    – Person without car insurance
    – Person with a DUI
    – Sex offender
    – Felon
    – Anyone who just got really bad news

  • avatar

    This app will help some of us FIND the ghetto so it’s really a wash. Realistically though, no one there is going to miss the traffic diverted around. I hope they designate my neighborhood a ghetto, really. No way is anybody in the ghetto is even remotely agitated. It has to be real estate agents calling themselves concerned ‘minority rights groups’

    • 0 avatar

      It would be kind of cool if the actual type of crime concentrated in a neighborhood was being pointed out, rather than simply aggregated into “crime.”

      That way, people might get help navigating past the murderers, on their way to the crackhouses and bordellos.

  • avatar

    Lampoon’s vacation:

    Griswald: “Excuse me, can you tell me which direction the freeway is?”
    Man on street in rough St. Louis neighborhood: “Hey, fuck yo mama!”
    Griswald: “Thank you very much.”

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Jack, I’m with you on Maher, a smug and sanctimonious creep. But I’m in the middle of reading Hitchins’ last book, “Arguably”, and he’s not as easily pigeonholed as you might like to believe. In fact, he’s quite an original thinker (and all over the place philosophically and politically). And a graceful writer too. Try his “Hitch 22” and you’ll quickly see what I mean. I wish he were still around.

  • avatar

    Does it also identify rural areas that are bad risks? I know some rural areas that have way more violent crimes per person than bad neighborhoods of the city, but because the roads are lined with fields and woods people driving through think they’re safe.

    I also wonder how small the regions are. There’s a lot of places where a single block makes a big difference.

    • 0 avatar

      An interesting point. I suppose the counterpoint is that when you decrease population density, your odds of being the victim of a random violent crime go down. That is, even if violent crime per capita is high, these tend to be even more of a “personal” rather than “stranger” nature because the opportunity for random encounters with anyone is just lower. (i.e. no people=no crime).

    • 0 avatar

      Rural murders tend to be intra-familial. So do urban ones, honestly, but not to the same degree.

      Also, if you have a gun in the house, you’re more likely to get shot, and rural households (in Canada, at least) tend to have those as well.

      Make of that what you will.

      • 0 avatar

        All that it study ultimately proved was that people who live in high-crime areas have a great chance of being shot. Therefore, don’t live in a high-crime area, which is hardly news to most people. If I recall correctly, it also failed to control for those who possess a gun and also have some sort of criminal record, and therefore are not legally entitled to own one.

        Both Washington, D.C., and Chicago essentially banned ownership of handguns by individuals, and both have had murder rates among the highest in the nation. Banning handgun ownership by law abiding citizens fails to reduce crime. (Interestingly, even the Clinton Administration, which initially supported gun-control efforts, found the same thing in the 1990s.) Since 1991, more states have made it easier to obtain a concealed carry permit. Meanwhile, crime rates have dropped by 50 percent over the same time period, and the murder rate is now down to 1964 levels, even with a much greater number of people.

        I’m willing to bet that those “rural areas” with the supposedly high murder rates are also home to a fair amount of illegal drug activity. Hardly proves that keeping a hand gun around the home is a danger. Also, anyone who spends time in a rural area quickly discovers that there are plenty of residents who aren’t straight out of Little House on the Prairie. There are a fair amount of poor people from very dysfunctional families that display the same problems as their urban counterparts, but since they aren’t concentrated in one relatively small area, as they are in the city, they don’t get as much attention, and they don’t “feed” off of each other.

        Now, if I were manufacturing crystal meth in the backyard shed, I’m sure that I would be more likely to get shot, but I don’t think that is because I would also most likely own a gun. People in that business tend not to be Rotarians or members of the Junior League, nor are their customers, competitors or business associates…

  • avatar

    I avoid such areas mainly because the scenery is so depressing. Seeing the detrius and down-and-outs in society isn’t necessary for me. I know they exist. It’s the same reason I avoid the Mexican border towns.

  • avatar

    I appreciate how the article aims to balance a defense of the right for people to have this app/info with a lament for the society that we make by pursuing that right. I also appreciate how Jack acknowledges that his own choices are liable to depend on the situation, not on a hard and fast belief about what’s right.

    The thing that bugged me started with the throwaway comment about self-appointed community leaders. That’s a wink to the readership that implicitly says, ‘let’s agree to a quick smearing of the complainers, whether they merit that smear or not. (It would take some actual investigation to see whether that casual swipe holds water). Therefore, no time need be spent on what self-promoting BS slingers actually say– we’ve already discredited them. We can talk about it only from our standpoint– freedom of info/choice vs broadening experience.’

  • avatar

    I think this is a brilliant idea. Obviously not every person on the planet will download this app, just those who seek to avoid these areas. And really, what sane person wouldn’t? I’m from Maryland so I frequent the Baltimore/D.C. area, and both the Nation’s Capital and Charm City can become not so glorious or charming in an instant. I have firm memories of being eyeballed intensely as a mature-looking twelve year old girl riding shotgun through a bad part of D.C. in a BMW with my WASP grandfather, at night no less. Not fun. However, my best girlfriend and I got lost in one of Baltimore’s most dangerous zip codes (4th riskiest in the nation) in her old beat-up Pontiac Bonneville at 2 PM, and we actually got some smiles and waves from the older folk. :) While sometimes driving through bad areas is “interesting,” eye-opening, and sometimes hilarious when you’re feeling brave, it’s obvious that most tourists wouldn’t want to invade on a gang’s turf.

  • avatar

    Funny at first thought as one who can tell the neighborhood on in by the surroundings. But a visit to Cleveland’s Tremont area this summer changed that. Even my social worker friend had to ask if we were in the ‘hood. Nicely, new sided condo/rentals with no chain link fences but one clue gave it all away on this 90F day when no one was outside. No grass. It was worn away.

    So this app interests me for sure.

  • avatar

    This is a rather interesting time to develop this “avoid the ghetto” app, considering that, at least on the politics side, the “isolation bubble” is about to be burst. With consequences that are going to touch many people who depend on web traffic hits to keep that isolated audience, TTAC possibly included.

  • avatar

    This thing would be great to hack. I could direct people into a desolate dead end…..and rob them.

  • avatar

    I’ve had three attempted robberies and one attempted carjacking, all in bad parts of town where I go to hear the kind of live music I like.
    I’m a big guy, I have boxing and martial arts training, and a concealed carry permit and I accept the risk. My wife is 5’2″, no fighting training, and doesn’t like weapons. I’d like her to have this app.

  • avatar

    I had thought about writing an application like this. When I was looking at government created GIS databases for a specialized nav system, I ran across crime data with the locations encoded. It would have been pretty simple, load up the data and create an overlay for (in this case) Google maps on the phone. Probably would have taken less than a week to create the app. In the end I had better things to do and passed on it.

  • avatar

    I’d use this, only because the family joke is that when we go on vacation, and drive through a new city, we will ALWAYS find the worst area of that city, totally by random happenstance.

    Sometimes it has a great Brewpub, but more frequently you think “ok, this is a crack area, I’m on vacation with kids in the family hauler with out of state plates, and did I hit the door lock button ?”

    I’d not mind avoiding that part of the day.

  • avatar

    Would much prefer an option to route me away from boring straight Interstates, dull Stepford subdivisions, typical highway strip developments. I need a mapping app with an “excitement” option that will route me along twisty (“dangerous”) empty 2-lane country roads and toward food and drink establishments with some local color. Totally get the need of you guys with kids to stick to the safe interstates and boring white-bread shopping strips. Good on you for looking out for the next generation.

    However, you might think about how those kids will react the first time they find themselves in unfamiliar territory without you. Important to give kids the tools they need to survive in the world rather than always to try to protect them from it. Every kid leaves the bubble eventually.

    • 0 avatar

      A “blue highways” or “car enthusiast” app that shows you the best driving roads to your destination would be cool.

    • 0 avatar

      Depending on where you live, check out Butler Motorcycle Maps. They have them for different areas and have reviewed all those hidden-away twisties and rated them according to their skill level.


      Motorcyclists are pretty adept at finding the good roads!

  • avatar

    Since most violence is due to bad drug deals and the like, I think most interesting places, even in bad areas, are relatively safe.

    I’ve visited Watts a few times to photograph the Watts Towers and never had any problems, despite being white as a sheet. The residents were generally pretty friendly, actually.

    I don’t support the “web ghettoes” where people visit only sites they agree with. I try to go everywhere and see everything, including what my political opponents say. But there is no chance of you being murdered because you visited a web site.

    Thank goodness.


  • avatar

    Works for me, if I’m in an unfamiliar city, I want to know where to stay away from. True, you *might* find a ‘cool bar’, or a ‘great restaurant’, but if your odds of being assaulted are way up, is it worth it? Not to me. I don’t care who lives there, if it’s statistically a high crime area, I want to avoid it. There are areas in Los Angeles that the police regularly announce as “DON’T GO THERE!”. Usually because of gangs residing there. There have been cases here where people have been killed for making a wrong turn a block from a freeway. So yeah, this isn’t racism, it’s safety. Unless they’re saying a specific ethnic group can’t use it? Keeping your *ss safe isn’t discrimination.

  • avatar

    A version of this existed long before smartphones came along. I did pizza delivery years ago, and we had a map of our delivery area with clearly marked no-go neighborhoods. This app is simply a digital upgrade.

  • avatar

    “Make the conscious choice to engage with people who are not identical to you in birth, growth, thought, and deed. Use technology to expand your mind, not wall your garden.”

    Another great line from Jack that nicely sums up the strength of diversity. If everyone in a group is looking the same way all the time, they won’t notice anything sneaking up behind them…

  • avatar

    I do real estate research for a living and have been in every “ghetto” in the USA from the Bronx to Watts and South Chicago to Miami, and even San Juan and Mexico border towns. I have never had a problem even though I am middle aged white guy in a shiny rental car. I have also taken my children (including the pretty, blond haired girl) in many rough neighborhoods as part of their education so they get to know about all the neighborhoods and different people.
    However, it is the law of the jungle out there don’t look like prey (lost and scared) appear confident and tough and be smart about where you stop or who you talk to and you will be fine. Finally, if the app is based on crime stats I think it is okay, as a friend of mine once said poor, desperate people scare me no matter what their color is.

    • 0 avatar

      This seems dead on to me. I look back now one some unwise choices I made, driving home from a night at the bars in Hartford, and taking shortcuts through the North End. But I never had a bad experience. First date with my wife, who lived in South Boston, I was concerned with the rep of the neighborhood, but then ended up marrying her and living there for awhile. There was trouble to be found, but it usually wasn’t looking for you, you had to find it. By the way, it definitely comes in all colors. Ignorance of the area, and what might trigger an altercation, is what makes many people nervous. You can easily wear the wrong gang colors in many major cities. Seems like a useful app for those who are out of their comfort zone.

  • avatar

    Does anyone remember Bernie X the cabbie from Nat Lamp’s early days? He knew how to cope with this inanity.

  • avatar

    Thanks Jack and Beavis and Butthead! Now I have to watch that horrible video again, just because it’s so horrible and funny.

  • avatar

    I can’t believe all the murky commenting that has occurred on this issue. This is a simple Constitutional question: you have a right to go where you want, and not go where you don’t want.

    Getting information to tell the difference is your right as well. If telling that difference is based on crime statistics, so be it. In the early days of our country, in NY, people wouldn’t go to certain areas near the upstate borders because of violence and warfare. Where they being racist or just not stupid?

  • avatar

    Can’t wait to get it!

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