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    Can social media coverage predict urban health?

    A new research study has tied the prosperity and wellbeing of urban neighbourhoods to the presence of a vibrant arts, music and science culture, rather than merely economic capital.

    Dr. Daniele Quercia, department head Nokia Bell Labs, Cambridge, UK who conducted the study along with colleagues Dr. Desislava Hristova from the University of Cambridge, and Dr. Luca M. Aiello, also from Nokia Bell Labs, based these findings on millions of social media images taken by people attending cultural events in London and New York City over 10 years.

    According to the research, the rise and prosperity of a city neighbourhood is not predicated on economic capital alone.

    The researchers accessed these images to create a model that could predict neighbourhoods where residents enjoyed a high level of wellbeing.

    Given the highly urbanised world, this study can help city planners and policymakers ensure human wellbeing in dense urban settings.

    Quercia observes that culture opens the mind to new emotional experiences, thereby enriching the person’s life. Similar to how this 'cultural capital' plays a huge role in a person's success, the new model created by the research team shows how neighbourhoods experiencing the greatest growth have high cultural capital.

    A term first coined by French sociologist Dr. Pierre Bourdieu, ‘cultural capital’ represents the sum total of a person's knowledge, cultural interests, degrees and exposure to creative pursuits such as travel, art and technological innovation – these are forms of 'wealth' that individuals bring to the 'social marketplace'.

    According to Bourdieu, people with similar cultural capital tend to associate with each other, leading to the growth in neighbourhoods. Bourdieu's concept has potentially profound applications when applied to cities and neighbourhoods.

    Millions of Flickr images taken by people attending cultural events in London and New York City over ten years were accessed and analysed by the researchers.

    The events included festivals, libraries, cinema, art exhibitions, musical performances, technological demos, handicraft artisans, restaurants, museums, newspaper stands and theatre.

    The GPS-tagged images were organised into 25 categories.

    Quercia said that the pictures clearly indicated how the presence of culture was directly tied to the growth of certain neighbourhoods as well as rising incomes and residential property values.

    Observing that their model could even predict gentrification within five years, Quercia added that city planners and councils can use the model to prevent people from being displaced.

    However, this model can be applied only to certain cities such as London, New York and Tokyo, where there is high penetration of social media and the populations are tech savvy.

    Despite these limitations, the model could still generate insights into dense urban settings, especially with UN estimates indicating that the population in urban environments around the world will go up to 69 percent by 2050.

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