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Won't You Be My Neighborhood?

When Yahoo Maps recently started displaying neighborhood boundaries in a few hundred North American cities, I had to check out the mapping site's take on D.C. neighborhood boundaries.

And I wasn't surprised to see that it got many of them wrong. Some of these errors are the sort of exaggerations you might see in a too-optimistic real-estate ad; for example, Yahoo stretches Capitol Hill all the way to the Anacostia, then extends Logan Circle east to New Jersey Avenue NW.

But others suggest that Yahoo's cartographers need to get out of Sunnyvale more often--they've wiped Adams-Morgan off the map entirely to lump it under Kalorama Heights. The same fate has befallen neighborhoods across the District, such as Palisades (merged into Spring Valley), Burleith (annexed by Georgetown), Petworth (now part of Columbia Heights) and Kingman Park (engulfed by an inexplicably large "Union Station" neighborhood). East of the Anacostia, Hillcrest simply vanishes after you zoom in.

(For a more accurate picture of the District's neighborhoods, see Wikipedia's map.)

Further glitches surface across the Potomac, where Yahoo renames Arlington's Nauck neighborhood "Green Valley" and labels Alexandria's Del Ray "Potomac West."

I wondered how long it would take D.C.-area bloggers to start making fun of these errors. Between the opportunity to poke fun at a large, faraway corporation's lack of street cred and the chance to indulge in a favorite hobby of many city bloggers--talking smack about other people's 'hoods--I figured this was a natural topic for the local blogosphere.

I didn't have to wait long: bloomingdale (for now) jumped on it last week, noting how that Northeastwest neighborhood, along with several adjacent areas, had been lumped into a single region labeled "Edgewood." Commenters noted other inaccuracies, as did the chatters on a DCist post pointing to this entry.

True, Yahoo's updates go beyond providing neighborhood-centric blog fodder. Its maps now also feature the locations of transit stops (though that's something Google and Microsoft had on their mapping sites over a year ago). Zooming out will reveal new topographic shading for mountains and valleys. And these maps look a little cleaner overall. But I wouldn't rely too heavily on them when picking out a new apartment or house.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 14, 2008; 11:52 AM ET
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I can't figure out how to access the neighborhood information on Yahoo maps. I clicked on Bob's first link to Yahoo and followed the link in that story to but that's just a map of the U.S. I tried typing in various neighborhoods and towns but could find no neighborhoods.

Can someone help me out so that I can become appropriately outraged by these neighborhood boundaries.?

Posted by: Jose23 | April 14, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Jose23, you just need to zoom in more. At street level, the somewhat absurd boundaries are visible. At city level, the neighborhoods are labelled, but there are more of them and their boundaries are not shown. For example, at city level, my neighborhood (St. Elmo) is correct. At street level, I'm lumped in with an overly broad "Potomac West".

Posted by: slar | April 14, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and Rob, Potomac West is an accurate name for the area that includes Del Ray, St. Elmo, etc. You see that description in real estate guides, etc. but no one really calls it that.

Posted by: slar | April 14, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

rob: i'm the writer who blogs at bloomingdale (for now). a couple points: first, the link to my blog is broken, and secondly, bloomingdale is in northwest, not northeast, DC. if you're going to rip on yahoo! for not getting out of sunnyvale and getting things wrong, then you better make sure you've got your own house in order.

thanks for giving this a greater audience, though, i appreciate it!

Posted by: IMGoph | April 14, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I can't speak for DC neighborhoods, but I checked out Chicago on Yahoo maps... sometimes it's accurate, sometimes not so much. (In one bizarre case, a neighborhood changes name when you start to zoom out -- from the correct name to something I've never heard before. This is probably a bug, though, as opposed to their defining the boundaries of the Lincoln Square neighborhood to leave out Lincoln Square itself.)

A lot of these neighborhoods don't have generally accepted boundaries, so it can be hard to map properly. A while back the city of Chicago defined a number of neighborhoods, for the purpose of keeping statistics (in order to compare, for example, the racial makeup of Lakeview and Lincoln Park, you have to define the boundary between the two; I think most cities have done this same thing). Some neighborhood names were left out of the official roster, but those names are still very much in use. The result can be a bizarre mishmash when you try to map these neighborhoods, with their overlapping, fuzzy boundaries -- especially when you try to map it from an office in California.

I wonder where they got their data?

Posted by: Tony | April 14, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

IMGoph: Thanks for the attentive reading. Serves me right to have used a taxi-zone map to locate your neighborhood!

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | April 14, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the help. I can see the neighborhood names now but still no boundaries. Most of the neighborhood names (including mine) simply disappear as I zoom in. (Silver Spring, inside the beltway)

Posted by: Jose23 | April 15, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

If you send mail to people that live in Del Ray zip code 22301 and address it to Potomac, VA 22301, it will arrive. The Post Office is named Potomac Station, derived from the historic Town of Potomac that existed in what is now the Del Ray neighborhood from 1908 to 1929.

Posted by: Larry A. | April 24, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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