To Racketeer among Friends: Spatial Features of Criminal Collaboration in the American Mafia

The American Mafia is known as a violent network of criminals engaged in drug trafficking, violence, and illegal activities. We analyzed a spatial social network (SSN) of 680 Mafia members where connections represent `known associates’ found through a 1960s federal crime investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Members are geolocated to a known home address, and span across 15 major U.S. cities, concentrated in New York City. We ask four different research questions related to family, power, and coordination strategies.

Q1: Do families tend to live in clusters or distributed locations?
Q2: Do criminal associates tend to live near one another and are nearby members likelier to be associates?
Q3: Are high-degree members found near their family centers, high-income areas, or near strategic physical features?
Q4: Does the network exhibit efficiency in geographic space?

The methods we used include:

Method (Research Question) Question
Cluster/Cluster Matrix (1) (new!) Do tight-knit networks cluster?
Network Density Hotspot (2) (new!) Are spatial neighbors connected?
Node Role GIS Analysis (3) Are high-degree nodes in special locations?
Route Factor Diagram (4) Are network-distant ties dispersed?
Network Flattening Ratio (4) Is the network spatially efficient?

Paper forthcoming in International Journal of Geographical Information Science, Special Issue on Spatial Social Networks.

Measuring McCities: Chain and Independent Restaurant Location in the United States

In this research, we explored which (types of) places have an independent food culture and which resemble McCities: foodscapes where the food offerings in the landscape can be found just as easily in one place as in many other (often distant) places. We used a dataset of nearly 800,000 independent and chain restaurants for the contiguous United States and defined a chain restaurant using multiple methods. We performed a descriptive analysis of chainness prevalence at the urban area and metropolitan area level. We also identified socioeconomic and infrastructural factors that correlate with high or low “chainness” (a value indicating the likelihood of finding the same venue elsewhere) by combining a random forest model and linear regression. We then examined chainness variation across census tracts with similar sociodemographic values. Using common GIS operations, we evaluated the likelihood of finding chain restaurants of nearby water bodies, coastlines, and highway ramps.

We found that car-dependent small towns, low walkability, a high percentage of African American residents or Trump voters, college towns, and close distance to highways were associated with high chainness. These places tended to be prevalent in the Midwestern and the Southeastern U.S. Independent restaurants were associated with high pedestrian walkability, high population density, Asian, Hispanic and majority-White neighborhoods, tourist areas, areas with urban professionals, and retirement communities. They were also found in coastal cities and waterfronts. These findings, paired with the contribution of a method that quantifies ‘chainness’, opens new pathways for studying landscapes through the lens of commercialism and the service economy. See Draft Manuscript.

Romance in State College, PA: An Urban Planning Approach

We investigated what romantic relationships need from the built environment and how these relate to urbanism principles. Our research questions were threefold: (a) Where do couples spend their quality time and what are the characteristics of these places? (b) Does distance between these places and the couples’ residences affect usage? (c) How does State College, PA support romantic ties and how can it be improved? We conducted an online survey of 124 couples in the State College, PA area, and analyzed these data using frequency statistics, OLS regression, and qualitative coding. We also created maps of the relationships’ approximate locations and measured how their locations affected their activities.

We found that restaurants and the outdoors/recreation were most important for sustaining relationships. Couples frequently emphasized activities involving nature and sports/leisure time and rarely mentioned dinner parties, nightclubs, country clubs, or religious facilities. Couples reported that the town satisfied their relationship needs, especially in terms of safety (i.e. well-lit areas and pedestrian-friendly environments). We think this research can be useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, as cities try to support social ties amidst the closure of third places and social activities. Post COVID-19, it may also help inform which facilities to prioritize in terms of opening decisions post-pandemic. See Draft Manuscript.

Savannah Blight, Civic Data Science for Equitable Development

Friendly Cities has a new collaboration with the City of Savannah to strategize decisions to address vacant and blighted properties in the community. Neighborhoods experiencing blight suffer from safety concerns and lower housing values, leading to suboptimal living conditions for already marginalized residents. Savannah’s Housing & Neighborhood Services Department also estimated that every blighted property bleeds $1300 of public funds annually. These funds are used to cover the unrecoverable costs of overgrown grass, litter, illegal dumping, securing open structures, and demolishing properties. In 2019, local voters approved the use of 10 million dollars to acquire and redevelop of at least 1,000 abandoned, blighted residential properties over the next 10 years to effect meaningful change in neighborhoods long neglected or exploited by profit-driven investors. However, strategizing which properties to intervene first and what kinds of interventions can be best applied for equitable development remains a challenge.

Our research revolves around understanding the spatio-temporal impacts of variables that contribute to neighborhood growth and decline at the parcel levels and derive if-then rules to classify and match properties with appropriate interventions. We also attempt to mitigate the “algorithmic bias” (as defined as applying rules differently to minority populations) in code enforcement. Additionally, we will also collect social capital data to benchmark measures of neighborhood vitality. This project is funded by the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge 2020 jointly with Brian Brainerd of the City of Savannah. Graduate Research Assistant Xiaofan Liang is leading the analysis. The links attach media reports from Savannah government and Georgia Tech.

The Built Environment and Syrian Refugee Integration in Turkey: An Analysis of Mobile Phone Data

We use a large call detail record (CDR) dataset from mobile operator Türk Telekom to examine how refugees from the Syrian Refugee Crisis are integrating into Turkish society. We extract different types of callers from the social network: refugees who often call Turkish nationals, refugees who do not call Turks; Turks who often call refugees, and Turks who do not call refugees. We consider frequent phone calls between refugees and Turks to indicate high levels of bridging social capital for these users, and that refugees tied to Turkish nationals through calls have integrated into the Turkish society, economically and/or socially. We also assume that Turks who often call refugees are investing in creating these relationships (although these comprise a relatively small set of users).

We found few significant geographic patterns for refugees who were calling Turks often. However, bridging Turks were found to be located near infrastructural variables such as places of worship, schools, community centers, and social centers/facilities, more often than their non-bridging counterparts. These differences were strongest in locales with Muslim and Sunni Muslim places of worship. In these locales, presumably, refugees and Turkish nationals share common values and beliefs. Our results provide quantitative evidence suggesting the significance of social amenities and meeting places for face-to-face connection and social support for the livelihoods of refugees and refugee integration