Mapping Gated Communities: An Empirical Assessment of Wikimapia Data Quality

Mapping Gated Communities: An Empirical Assessment of Wikimapia Data Quality

Zia Salim (California State University, Fullerton, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/IJAGR.2020070104


The widespread proliferation of different types of volunteered geographic information (VGI) is noteworthy as is its potential application to urban studies. However, questions of data quality still remain. In some parts of the Middle East, gated communities have proliferated rapidly, but relatively little is known about their extent or spatial distribution. This case study of gated communities in the state of Bahrain assesses the quality of Wikimapia, a form of VGI, in accurately identifying elements of urban structure (e.g., gated communities) in an urban context from the Global South. Wikimapia demonstrated high levels of positional accuracy and relatively high levels of attribute accuracy. Identifying the locations of gated communities provides a foundation from which other research questions about segregated housing, fragmentation, and socioeconomic polarization can be addressed. These results highlight Wikimapia's potential as a data source for urban research, particularly in data-poor and non-Western/Northern contexts.
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Socioeconomic polarization and residential segregation are two trends affecting cities around the world (Daskalova and Slaev, 2015; Michelini and Pintos, 2016; Glebbeek and Koonings, 2016; Fahlberg and Vicino, 2016; Ma, Li, & Zhang, 2018). Cities in both the Global North and the Global South are impacted by socioeconomic inequality and uneven development, but the ways in which these dimensions manifest themselves is contextually dependent. The growth of particular forms of housing (e.g., slums, gated communities, social housing, affordable housing) is one of several indicators that can be monitored to shed light on processes of urban fragmentation and socio-economic polarization. Within the urban studies literature on these topics, smaller cities, particularly in the Global South, have been relatively overlooked; larger cities tend to receive a disproportionate amount of attention.

The Arab Gulf states have some of the world’s highest urbanization rates; socioeconomic polarization and stratification are major trends in Gulf cities (Glasze, 2006; Khalaf, 2006; Elsheshtawy, 2008; Smith, 2010). The morphology of Gulf cities has evolved in a variety of ways (Ben Hamouche, 2004); one notable change is the increasing prevalence of gated communities for white-collar professionals as part of the spectrum of residential options. However, precise information about their number or spatial distribution of these types of gated communities is publicly unavailable. Understanding the number and location of these types of housing is a critical step toward further studies of socioeconomic polarization and residential segregation in the Gulf city.

The emergence of new data sources, such as Big Data and Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI), provides novel opportunities and challenges for the study of these trends in contemporary cities worldwide (Arribas-Bel, 2014; Batty, 2016), but significant questions remain regarding the quality of VGI (Fonte et al., 2017; see also the special section edited by Basiri, et al. (2019) in the International Journal of Geographical Information Science).

The aim of this paper is to test the utility of Wikimapia, a form of VGI, as a data source for research in urban studies, by assessing its quality in identifying particular elements of urban structure. Specifically, this paper assesses Wikimapia’s data quality by analyzing its accuracy in mapping the locations of gated communities in the Bahraini case, which involves a smaller city and a relatively data-poor context. This paper addresses three interlinked research questions:

  • 1.

    What is the positional accuracy of Wikimapia in identifying specific elements of the built environment?

  • 2.

    What is the attribute accuracy of Wikimapia in identifying specific elements of the built environment?

  • 3.

    What types of errors are most prevalent in Wikimapia in this specific context?

The practical question addressed in this case study is whether the locations and spatiality of gated communities in a data-poor context can be accurately determined using VGI. This case study focuses on gated communities, but the results have broad implications in other contexts. This paper contributes to a larger awareness of the accuracy of Wikimapia, and thus the utility of various forms of VGI for urban research, in other data-poor contexts. Given the preponderance of research on VGI in North American and European contexts, empirical work from less studied places (e.g., smaller cities and countries that are understudied) provides a valuable insight into how VGI can be of value in urban research.

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