How Google Maps Typos Grow Into Real Neighborhood Names

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iStock

The borders and names of city neighborhoods have long been a source of contention. But for most of history, the bickering has been limited to the residents, real estate agents, and shop owners working and living in the actual areas in question. Now, there's a much less personal—and more powerful—force that's revising urban landscapes around the world: Google Maps.

If you've recently come across a neighborhood you've never heard of in the city you've lived in for years, Google may be to blame. According to The New York Times, the digital navigation service is responsible for popularizing names like the East Cut, the now-default title of the San Francisco neighborhood previously known as Rincon Hill, South Beach, or South of Market.

The app is also responsible for the neighborhoods Midtown South Central, Vinegar Hill Heights, and Rambo—names which would likely get you stares if you said them to a life-long New Yorker. Los Angeles is now home to Silver Lake Heights, a name that first appeared on real estate listings as a joke, and in Detroit there's Fishkorn, Google's misspelled version of the neighborhood once known as Fiskhorn.

The engineers at Google Maps don't make up new neighborhood names on a whim. According to the company, the maps are based on third-party data, public sources, satellites, and user submissions. But sometimes these sources contain typos or are just plain wrong. And the information is usually reviewed by someone with no connection to the cities whose maps they're programming, making it easy for glaring errors to slip into the code.

Even the most seasoned cartographers make mistakes, but when Google messes up, the impact reaches far. More than 63 percent of people who opened a navigation app on their phone or tablet in May 2018 used Google Maps. And even if people don't use Google Maps directly, they've likely seen information from the app secondhand on real-estate listings, food-delivery websites, and elsewhere.

If you spot a neighborhood in Google's app that you feel is totally made up, you can tell them about it. Just head over to Google Support to report the error.

[h/t The New York Times]

Can You Name the Original Capitals of These States?

Why Alaska is Home to America's Easternmost Point

Semisopochnoi Island, top right, is the easternmost point of the United States.
Semisopochnoi Island, top right, is the easternmost point of the United States.
Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon (NASA Earth Observatory) using Landsat data provided by the United States Geological Survey, via Wikimedia Commons. // Public Domain

In the contiguous United States, the farthest east anyone can travel without tripping into the ocean is the lighthouse at West Quoddy Head, Maine (coordinates: 44.815ºN 66.951ºW). But this beautiful spot at the northeastern tip of the Pine Tree State is not actually the easternmost point of the United States. That designation belongs, curiously, to a state that is considered part of America's west—Alaska.

While most of the United States is firmly planted in the globe's western hemisphere, America happens to possess plenty of islands and territories on the eastern half of the planet: Saipan, Guam, and Wake Island to name a few. All of these Pacific islands sit on the other side of the 180th meridian, which separates the eastern hemisphere from west, and are technically east of the mainland United States.

(Guam, an American territory with more than 150,000 American citizens, likes to boast about its eastern location, billing itself as the place where "America's Day Begins"—though, technically, that distinction goes to Wake Island. Located on the opposite side of the International Date Line, Guam sees sunrise 15 hours before New York City.)

Yet Guam (coordinates: 13.444°N, 144.793°E) is not the easternmost point of the United States either. That honor resides with an uninhabited Aleutian Island called Semisopochnoi.

Translated from Russian, Semisopochnoi means "having seven hills." It sits about 10 miles from the 180th meridian, making it America's most eastern piece of real estate in the eastern hemisphere (coordinates: 51.960°N, 179.772°E). "In other words," Ken Jennings writes for CN Traveler, "Semisopochnoi and the dozen or so Aleutian islands lying beyond it are so far west that they're actually east!" Of those, Semisopochnoi is the closest to the 180th degree longitude.

Today, this volcanic island in Alaska is home to millions of seabirds, mainly a penguin-like critter called the auklet. It's also heavily monitored by volcanologists, "likely due to its location under prominent trans-Pacific flight route," WIRED reports.

And the pedantic geography fun facts don't stop there! Since the Aleutian Islands cross the 180th meridian, they happen to contain the easternmost and westernmost spots in the United States: the latter honor belongs to the small island of Amatignak (coordinates: 51.270°N, 179.119°W), which is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

All told, the distance between the easternmost and westernmost points in the United States is just 71 miles.

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