Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google Maps’ Influence on Neighbourhood Names

Jack Nicas, New York Times:

For decades, the district south of downtown and alongside San Francisco Bay here was known as either Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market. This spring, it was suddenly rebranded on Google Maps to a name few had heard: the East Cut.

[…]

The swift rebranding of the roughly 170-year-old district is just one example of how Google Maps has now become the primary arbiter of place names. With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town or neighborhood can be reshaped, illustrating the outsize influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world.

[…]

The service has also disseminated place names that are just plain puzzling. In New York, Vinegar Hill Heights, Midtown South Central (now NoMad), BoCoCa (for the area between Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens), and Rambo (Right Around the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) have appeared on and off in Google Maps.

I wanted to know if this was widespread, so I opened Google Maps and found one straight away: apparently, Calgary has a community called Grandview which, so far as I can tell, doesn’t actually exist — the area Google Maps designates as Grandview is entirely in Ramsay. Even the area I grew up in, West Hillhurst, is called Upper Hillhurst in Google Maps, which is just north of Westmount, another neighbourhood that doesn’t exist. It’s easy to verify all of this because the municipal government publishes a list (PDF) of every neighbourhood in the city, and none of these areas are on it.