City Desk

Here’s What That App That Helps You Avoid “Sketchy” Areas Says About D.C.

18th and I NW A new iPhone app co-founded by former District residents called SketchFactor launched Friday. It's the latest attempt to crowdsource the entirely subjective impressions a lot of people have of the cities they live in, in the name of public safety. Ostensibly, the idea is to help people avoid "sketchy" areas, but even the app's creators acknowledged before they launched Friday that it could easily devolve into racial profiling (only, you know, DISRUPTED).

"We understand that people will see this issue," co-founder and ex-Washingtonian Allison McGuire told Crain's New York Business on Thursday. "And even though [co-founder Dan Herrington] and I are admittedly both young, white people, the app is not built for us as young, white people. As far as we're concerned, racial profiling is 'sketchy' and we are trying to empower users to report incidents of racism against them and define their own experience of the streets."

So far, though, the app's reports from the District don't seem to be doing much empowering of anyone except those of us who logged in to see what nonsense other users had posted. And as of about 4 p.m. today, most posts seem concentrated in Northwest near where users presumably work; there were only a handful outside downtown areas, and only one report from east of the Anacostia River at all. Here are some early highlights.

"Man with beard is acting rude @ Starbucks" — posted by SketchFactor App at 18th and I streets NW (pictured above)

12th and Pennsylvania NW
"I was coming out of the metro and an African American was playing the saxophone. He saw me and abruptly started playing Sesame Street's theme song, then he yelled at me "I hate white people!" — posted by Virginia at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW

14th and L NW
"Homeless man threw a drink at me" — posted by SketchFactor Online at 14th and L streets NW

Georgia Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue NW
"Lots of crime around here, mostly robberies, stabbing a, and some gun violence. Walk in groups, especially at night, and don't have an iPhone out." — posted by Ben at Georgia Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue NW (which happens to be a few blocks from where I live and walk around safely day or night, rarely in a group, sometimes with an iPhone)

3rd and L SW
"It's a ghetto area, avoid!" — posted at 3rd and L streets SW by Joe, who was using the app exactly as the whole Internet predicted he would

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  • cminus

    I live less than two blocks from 3rd and L SW and go by there when going about my business in the neighborhood, so I'm torn.

    On one hand, I think it's important to point out that I've lived there for over a decade with no complaints about that intersection or the surrounding area. On the other hand, it's clear that "Joe" is human pond scum, so I should probably be grateful that people who think like him are being discouraged from coming to my neighborhood.

  • Sadie

    I wish someone would make an app where you can note all the amazing things you see in the city. Tonight in a single walk, I saw kids fishing, someone fire dancing to reggae music, the inside of a 100 year old tower, new public art, a median full of gurrila-gardened zinneas, free doughnuts & a military parade.

  • Kevin

    Right on, Sadie!

    This stupid app will die a slow it should.

  • Mrs. D

    I like your game, Sadie. The street performers are actually getting to be pretty entertaining. Walking through Chinatown tonight we saw the brass group who always kills, and then some breakdancing/aerobatics kids who were pretty good and definitely knew how to put on a good show with some witty commentary and solid beats! Beats the pants off the Sesame Street theme song sax guy, who has never said anything to me, but has an extremely limited repertoire. Also, I thought as we approached 7th and H it was going to be the Black Israelites, and was pleasantly surprised that someone MUCH more interesting had usurped their perch. I just wish we had decent public spaces for groups like this to perform without having to take up the whole sidewalk (it wasn't a huge issue, both the performers and the observers were polite to those trying to get through).

    I also have to agree with cminus that I really don't want the people who think my neighborhood (which is not Chinatown, but would probably win some kind of sketchy award from the likes of these commenters) is sketchy coming here. More space for me to have a nice conversation with my neighbors when we meet walking the dogs and enjoy our fabulous restaurants and shops minus douchebags! Which reminds me of another good night moment...met a new cute dog tonight (his servants were pretty nice, too)!

  • walford

    I just saw a story on WUSA 9 how they sent camera crew to the Petworth section of Washington DC to cover this story [likely to show how racist that app is] and their van was broken into and burglarized of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. One of the camera crew was quick to say "we're not saying this neighborhood is sketchy..." LOLLERSKATES

  • GoldCoastKid

    These sketch reports are of everyday city life. If people dont like it, then GO LIVE SOMEWHERE ELSE!

  • john smith

    Let's be brutally honest folks for a city of this size the crime level is notoriously high. I have seen Southeast D.C.improve in that respect. Other areas have started to decline like Northern Va. and Prince George's county. Let's be honest folks D.C. is pretty sketchy from the President on down.

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