App Helps You Avoid “Sketchy” Areas…and Everything Cool

Aug 08, 2014 at 12:27 PM ET

Most urban explorers know that some of the best spots are way off the beaten path. But for folks nervous about crossing some invisible line—and landing on the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks”—discovering those hidden gems can be daunting.

Enter SketchFactor, an iPhone app that launched Friday. It builds composite maps of urban sketchiness by crowdsourcing the creepiest neighborhoods in cities via so-called “sketch stories”—mostly tales of weird encounters on the street.

This is all well and good (helpful, even), except for a major catch: If you rely on the app for your urban travels, you’re probably not going to get anywhere fast. As to be expected, nearly every neighborhood in a given city is marked by sketchiness.

Forget off the beaten path. According to SketchFactor, New York residents should probably just stay home and avoid the dangerous outdoors altogether. A look at the app’s map of sketch stories in the Big Apple, from red bubbles meaning the most sketchy to green meaning the least, reveals that no neighborhood is safe from the sketch:

If SketchFactor is correct, users should keep their distance from Washington Square Park, with all the terrible New York University students and iconic marble arch:

They should also avoid all Broadway shows in midtown and, you know, Times Square:

God forbid they’d go near the West Village shops, restaurants (Papaya Dog!) and subway lines:

Or Prospect Park’s extremely dangerous dog beach (those French bulldogs can kill you with cuteness) and historical boathouse:

Of course, SketchFactor’s suggestion that all New York is effectively off-limits to the urban walker would at least suggest that the app isn’t inherently racist or classist. “Even though Dan and I are admittedly both young, white people, the app is not built for us as young, white people,” promises Allison McGuire, one of the app’s co-founders. However, it’s difficult to believe that the sketch stories aren’t fueled (at least in part) by personal prejudices.

By design, the app allows users to vote on the credibility of crowdsourced encounters, meaning users can collectively decide whether a neighborhood is worth its creepy rating. And hopefully that means in the future entire patches of the city won’t be plagued by red markers of sketch. Until then, we’ll find out when SketchFactor says it’s OK to go outside.