The Friendly Cities Lab is an active research group within the Department of Geography at Penn State. FCL is a Smart Cities initiative that studies interpersonal relationships in geographic space. We create a new measures of geographical nearness called ‘social distance’ to measure how ‘close’ places based on their connections instead of how close they are on a map.  We use innovative data sets ranging from chocolate, online dating, phone calls, and photos of living rooms to learn just a little bit more about the planet and its people.

Developments: Social flow theory, social distance measurements, GIS + social networks, metrics for dyadic interaction in geography.
geographic information systems (GIS), social networks, complexity, social capital,  urban planning.
Data used: Telecommunications, migration, transportation, commutes, interior images, consumer behavior, mentorships, real estate, online social media, political data, college admissions and sports, online reviews, restaurants and third places, personal interviews and surveys.
Team: Geographers, architects, engineers, sociologists, statisticians & information scientists
Director: Clio Andris, PhD (MIT 2011)
Founded: 2015 as part of the Penn State GeoVISTA Center


Watch Videos of Us in the Lab!

(1) Sohrab Rahimi is a trained architect who is using Yelp restaurant reviews to find out which kinds of couples choose which kinds of restaurants in the city, and what they value in those restaurants. Families with children (keyword: family, kids, children) tend to go to areas with more parking lots, and like restaurants with good value and food. Dating couples (keywords: boyfriend/girlfriend/date) tend to choose areas in the downtown and focus on great ambiance and cozy spaces. Married couples (keywords: husband, wife, anniversary) also prefer good value and high rated food.

(2) Xi Liu is trained in GIScience and network analysis, and has created a network of migrants traveling between U.S. cities. These data are from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and track those who moved between tax years between 2012 and 2013. High-income tax filers tend to flock to hub cities that are attractive to retirees such as Naples, Florida and Cape Coral, Florida. Lower-income tax filers create a network that resembles a chain, where people move to a nearby towns. Popular metropolitan areas include Chicago, Miami and Dallas. Migrants form a network of college towns, preferring these cities to more proximal, highly populated cities.

(3) One definition of geographic social capital (GSC) is the spatial distribution of our social ties. In this video, we talk about our friend Steve, who has contacts all over the U.S., which shape his movement, telecommunications patterns, thinking and influences. Thanks to Sara Cavallo and Maggie Logan for design and input. As GIS analysts, we are interested in mapping interpersonal relationships. This example shows how complicated the geo-story of a single person can be–and yet, we still imagine repeating this process for an entire population. These individual actions add up to networks of travel and information transfer that we can use to understand globalization and human settlement patterns.


For an exclusive look at Sohrab and Clio’s research on romance in the city, click here for the article published by Katie Bohn in Penn State News. (Image by: Tom Klimek)



Penn State Department of Geography
Walker Building
University Park, PA 16802
Rooms 212-213
Phone: (814) 865-1175
Email: clio@psu.edu