In contrast to static neighborhood boundaries and dated census figures, computer scientists say, these "Livehoods," as they've dubbed them, reflect the ever-changing patterns of city life.
Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed an algorithm that takes the check-ins generated when Foursquare members visit participating businesses or venues and clusters them based on the location of the venues and the groups of people who visit them most often.
This information is then mapped to reveal a city's "Livehoods."
"Our goal is to understand how cities work through the lens of social media," said Justin Cranshaw, a doctoral student in the university's School of Computer Science.
Livehood maps for New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh are available on the project website, http://livehoods.org/, a university release reported Tuesday.
Such maps could be a powerful new tool that could be used to address a wide variety of urban problems and opportunities, the researchers said, including city planning, transportation and real estate development.
"In urban studies, researchers have always had to interview lots of people to get a sense of a community's character and, even then, they must extrapolate from only a small sample of the community," said Raz Schwartz, a visiting scholar Carnegie Mellon.
"Now, by using Foursquare data, we're able to tap a large database that can be continually updated."