For a paper released earlier this month, adorably entitled “The Shortest Path to Happiness,” [researchers from the University of Turin and Yahoo] asked over 3,000 online users of their site Urbangems.org to decide which of two street scenes from Google Earth was the most beautiful. The researchers then used this data to put together four different routes between London’s Tate Modern and Euston station, and asked 30 people to test and rate them. Each route was chosen by the researchers to display a different quality: one was “beautiful,” another “happy,” a third “quiet” and the last was “short.” …
In each of these experiments, the team found that the shortest route was often ranked the lowest by users: the quickest path between their two destinations in London, for example, took walkers down busy, car-clogged roads, and crossed Blackfriars Bridge. Much better, many felt, to take a quieter and more scenic path across the pedestrianized Millennium Bridge. If a route is attractive, walkers often don’t even notice that it’s longer.
The plan is to turn all these findings into an app for cities in the US and Europe. It wouldn’t be the first app to take users off the beaten path – Dérive gets you “lost in the city,” while Serendipitor uses the philosophy of, among others, Yoko Ono to “introduce small slippages and minor displacements within an otherwise optimized and efficient route” (oooohkay). But this would be the first app to generate routes based on “quiet, happiness and beauty.”
(Photo of a Berlin street by Steffi Reichert)