Just to poke a stick at my own misanthropy, I downloaded SketchFactor, the "totally not-racist" crowdsourced navigation app that tells you what places are best avoided. I am delighted to report that as of this relatively early date, it’s already polluted with anti-Google bus rants, absurd remarks about avoiding a particular intersection because “there’s a guy walking a cat,” and people of color reporting suspicious treatment at the hands of restaurant hostesses.

I understand the impetus for wanting to help people be street smart. (I too have been approached by creepy drunks while walking home in heels.) But with all due deference to any woman who’s been assaulted, accosted or otherwise freaked out by San Francisco’s nocturnal reptilians, SketchFactor isn’t terribly sensible for this city, because an arc of sketchiness – which can be defined any number of ways –basically extends from 24th Street BART all the way to Mason and Pine, and other neighborhoods are certain to disturb someone. Racism aside, this app is just not practical. Even the simplest trips can be thrown way off course in this city.

If you want to get from, say, 17th and Valencia to Union Square without encountering a “sketchy” block, you might have to walk up Buchanan as far as Pine and then east. Meanwhile, the plaza at 17th-Market-Castro that’s full of penis sheaths on sunny afternoons is definitely going to strike a lot of people as a dubious place to be. And if you’re easily discomfited and also trying to get to the Metreon from City Hall, your best bet might be to just circumnavigate the entire earth and approach from the other side.

Plus, it’s not like property crimes never transpire in Laurel Heights. While trading a little bit of certainty about one’s personal safety is just a fact of urban living, it probably makes the most sense to build your instincts without farming them out to an app that’s already full of sarcastic graffiti.

Photo by Keoki Seu via Flickr

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