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Scoring for Livability: How Place I Live Wants to Empower Homebuyers and Renters

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, February 25 2015

Screenshot of Place I Live ratings for a house in Bedford-Stuyvesant

Nobody ever says “I want to live somewhere with lots of pollution, crime and a high unemployment rate.” That, at least, is the assumption behind Place I Live, a website that aggregates, parses and creates visualizations with open data so potential homebuyers and renters can better understand different neighborhoods. Place I Live relaunched on Open Data Day, February 21, with new data and improved functionality.

The beta version of the website has neighborhood information for five major cities: Berlin, Chicago, London, New York and San Francisco. It rates addresses in those cities in the following areas: transportation, daily life, safety, health, sports and leisure, entertainment and demographics, in addition to an overall “Life Quality Index” score.

A year or so ago Place I Live launched a Lithuanian version that covers the six biggest cities. After getting favorable press coverage the team was able to raise seed capital and began building the new iteration.

One of the investors described the concept as “like IMDB for cities,” Place I Live co-founder and CEO Sarunas Legeckas tells techPresident. Just as has a page for every movie, the creators of Place I Live hope to eventually have a page for every house in the world.

To clarify, Place I Live has (or tries to have) a page for every address in each of the cities in which it is currently active. However, houses on the same block are likely going to score exactly the same, unless users provide enough additional information to begin having an effect on the scores.

Although it shares some elements with Trulia, a real estate portal that also provides information on things like crime and transportation, Legeckas argues that they are more objective. “We don't sell or rent apartments, but what we try to do is to provide objective information about the area,” Legeckas says. “What we believe is that people have a right to know all information whether it is positive or negative and it's up for them to decide.”

Anthony Townsend, a technology researcher and advisor to Place I Live, says the platform has in ways picked up where the company Walk Score leaves off. “[Place I Live] builds on the success Walk Score has had in boiling down a very complex set of data about a particular address into a single easily comparable score,” Townsend wrote in an email to techPresident. “There's a status to having a high Walk Score that is reflected in property values, and it's done a lot to promote sustainable mobility.”

He adds:

My hope is that Place I Live's scores become something that individuals and governments use to measure the impact of their investments not just in transportation but education, the environment and other things that affect livability.

In addition to the scores, Place I Live has interactive maps that show potential dwellers their proximity to things like convenience stores, places of worship, bars and restaurants, schools and public transportation, as well as the average age, household income, and unemployment rate in the vicinity.

Contrary to the understanding that smart cities need expensive solutions from mega-corporations, Legeckas says, “We believe that smart cities are those with smart citizens, and smart citizens are the ones that make smart decisions based on data.”

Place I Live also scores areas based on demographics, taking into account income levels, education and poverty levels. “So if there are more educated people, if the average income of the area is higher and poverty index is smaller then it scores higher,” Legeckas says. “We understand this is a sensitive part, but we believe that genuinely if you are surrounded with more educated people it is nicer hence it scores better.”

If users want to contribute to the ratings, they can, which the founders hope will ensure accuracy. Legeckas says they have found (unsurprisingly) that people “like to contribute more when data is show the real picture” of their neighborhood.

The current site is just the tip of the iceberg. Legeckas says they hope to add a social media component, featuring aggregated geotagged tweets, even reporting whether the tweets are mostly negative or mostly positive. And eventually users will be able to customize the scoring criteria to their own needs. For example, a recent college graduate might prioritize bars and nightlife over proximity to schools; a new parent would not.

At some point, Place I Live will have to figure out how to monetize their service. That, Legeckas says, is still very much up in the air. First and foremost they want to put out a useful product. That said, they have already been approached by marketing companies looking for insights into neighborhoods.

Other tools have provided similar information for neighborhoods, but have failed to take off or remain sustainable. A popular app from the Sunlight Foundation called Sitegeist parsed open data into factoids based on your current location or a location you enter. Initially funded by the Knight Foundation, once the app and the data it relied on became outdated the Sunlight Foundation scrambled together a Kickstarter campaign to try to reboot the tool. The last-ditch effort failed.

The hyperlocal news site EveryBlock has also had a bumpy ride: after getting shut down by the owner, NBC News, in 2013, it was eventually relaunched by Comcast in several cities in 2014, and currently operates in Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Boston and Denver.

Legeckas says Place I Live will succeed where others have not because the Life Quality Index is exactly what people moving to a new place need:

Yes they are very sensitive about them and like to argue a lot, but in the end most of the people follow them and take into consideration. We all know and look for a score at IMDB on a movie before watching a movie; we look at the or trip advisor score for hotels; and we look to Walk Score for walkability. So we want to build a score for livability.

This, Sarunas says, is the best way to use the available data in a way useful for the target users.