Streetonomics: Quantifying Culture Using Street Names

Melanie Bancilhon, Marios Constantinides, Edyta Paulina Bogucka, Luca Maria Aiello, Daniele Quercia

Quantifying a society's value system is important because it suggests what people deeply care about -- it reflects who they actually are and, more importantly, who they will like to be. This cultural quantification has been typically done by studying literary production. However, a society's value system might well be implicitly quantified based on the decisions that people took in the past and that were mediated by what they care about. It turns out that one class of these decisions is visible in ordinary settings: it is visible in street names. We studied the names of 4,932 honorific streets in the cities of Paris, Vienna, London and New York. We chose these four cities because they were important centers of cultural influence for the Western world in the 20th century. We found that street names greatly reflect the extent to which a society is gender biased, which professions are considered elite ones, and the extent to which a city is influenced by the rest of the world. This way of quantifying a society's value system promises to inform new methodologies in Digital Humanities; makes it possible for municipalities to reflect on their past to inform their future; and informs the design of everyday's educational tools that promote historical awareness in a playful way.

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