Help! We're trying to make sense of Philly neighborhoods

Without question, Hoodmaps is a product of the millennial-driven 21st century.

Search for the service online, and the site is described as the “love child” of Google Maps and Urban Dictionary. Click on the website itself, and the homepage will reveal a list of city names and blotches of bright colors, organized haphazardly across the screen.

To the amateur eye, the website could be passed over as some muddled idea — a project that has been started, yet not finished.

In reality, that’s exactly what the website is. And from the beginning, that was its creator’s intention.

Launched in July, Hoodmaps is a crowd-sourced, color-coded map created by a Dutch developer whose idea was to let users in cities across the world define the boundaries of their neighborhoods. In theory, the project works by allowing anyone to contribute, and accuracy will improve over time.

Yet like many popular start-ups today, Hoodmaps has faced backlash. That’s because rather than allowing contributors to draw the boundaries of a neighborhood’s actual name, it asks users to label the city based on the population that lives there. Specifically, Hoodmaps asks users to designate which parts are dominated by “tourists,” the “rich,” “hipsters,” “suits” (business people), “uni” (for university students), and “normies” (for, well, everyone else.) Each category is designated a color, creating a heat-map of sorts.

Users may also submit their own, more specific labels for an area, which contributors approve or decline.

As one could imagine, the process has created some troublesome and entertaining results. In New York City, for example, users have labeled Times Square as “infinite tourists.” Central Park, meanwhile, has been labeled as “runners all over.”

Hoodmaps also has been criticized for some not-so-entertaining or non-charitable labels. In Los Angeles, some users earlier this year labeled sections of the city as “ghettos.” And Manhattan’s Alphabet City neighborhood is currently labeled on the site as “the projects.”

No specific labels have been submitted for Philadelphia.

Developer Pieter Levels, who created the project, wrote in a blog post earlier this year that he created the crowd-source site after he grew frustrated trying to figure out where to go while visiting cities.

“I very often end up in the tourist center,” Levels wrote. “I’m originally from Amsterdam, and I know 90 percent of tourists will never get any idea about the ‘real’ Amsterdam because they just stay in the tourist center.”

“It’s a fake area that has nothing to do with Dutch culture,” he continued.

In theory, Hoodmaps is a smart idea — even with the sometimes out-of-control and offensive labels that have popped up. No one knows a city better than the people who live there, and working together to define boundaries can give the most accurate results.

Which is why I’m asking you to help me with a crowd-sourced version of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. This time, however, I’m talking about real neighborhood names. Not arbitrary or offensive labels. And not for Hoodmaps.

I’m part of a project at the Inquirer, Daily News, and that’s working to better define Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. The goal is to rid from our internal resources neighborhood names that are outdated or no longer exist, while adding to our list the newer neighborhoods that have emerged in recent years.

It’s an important — and sensitive — topic.

Earlier this summer, I wrote about the fickleness of Philadelphia’s neighborhood names. Rich Boardman, the former head of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Maps Collection, told me at the time that the city has recorded 685 different neighborhood names since 1778. Among some of the oddest: Beggarstown, in today’s Mount Airy section, and Pumpkintown, once located around the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Bells Mill Road.

After my piece was published, dozens of you called, emailed, and, yes, even offered up quite a bit of criticism. I knew Philadelphia had a fierce pride about its neighborhood names; your vehement reactions only better helped me understand that.

So, as my colleagues and I begin our project, email me thoughts and definitions of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods to The neighborhoods can be big or small. The names new or old.

As we try to define this ever-changing city, we’re excited to work together on this.

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