One poster child for the idea that art can transform a neighborhood is Greenwich Village in New York. Once a bohemian enclave, its hip reputation attracted luxury condos and triggered extensive gentrification that jacked up rent prices and drove out many of the artists and others that helped make the neighborhood cool in the first place.

Still, there was little solid evidence that art really helps transform neighborhoods, since researchers did not have a proper way to quantify the amount of art in an area. The advent of Flickr—and the way its users could tag images with descriptions and location data — has now helped scientists overcome that problem.

Street Art
Street Art Ungry Young Man via Flickr

In a recent study published in the journal Open Science, researchers found that art could be linked with rising property prices.

The researchers investigated photos labeled “art” from areas within Inner London uploaded to Flickr between 2004 and 2013. They focused on images that had geotags, which helped to ensure the accuracy of the photo’s location. They also looked at how the average residential property prices in Inner London neighborhoods changed over time.

The scientists found that neighborhoods with more art photos did indeed see relatively greater rises in property prices.

“It is amazing to see how the digital footprints we leave behind on social media can be used to understand what is happening in the real world,” says study lead author Chanuki Seresinhe, a data scientist at the University of Warwick in England.

Street Art
Street Art in London. Fred Bigio via Flickr

However, the scientists say future research will be needed to explore the nature of the link between art and property prices, which will help them better understand the strength of the art’s impact, and whether or not other factors are also involved. For example, this phenomenon might occur because art is beautifying neighborhoods, but another possibility is that artists and others attract cafes and restaurants that in turn lure others to move into their neighborhoods, the researchers say. “It would be interesting to explore why art-led economic change may not take place in certain neighborhoods, and if we can quantify all the aspects that lead to successful economic change,” Seresinhe says.