Rat City: Visualizing New York City’s Rat Problem

Rat City: Visualizing New York City’s Rat ProblemIs Your Neighborhood a Rat Hotspot too?Lukas FreiBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingJan 19Check out the interactive rat sighting map here: https://nbviewer.



ipynbIntroductionIf you have ever spent a significant amount of time in New York City, you have very likely come across rats.

Regardless if you are waiting for the subway or strolling through Washington Square Park, your chances of running into a rat are pretty good.

Now, if you are from New York City, none of this is new to you.

For everybody else to get a better grasp of how big of an issue this is, here is only a small collection of quick facts:There is a Wikipedia article detailing the issue.

Is there a Wikipedia article dealing with rats for your city?According to this article using statistical approaches to capture the number of rats, there are approximately 2 million rats in New York City.

New York City encourages its inhabitants to call 311 when seeing a rat.

The emphasis placed on rats for the city’s non-emergency hotline demonstrates the importance of the issue.

Rats present a significant public health hazard as they are known for spreading lethal diseases.

Besides that, they are also widely known to be responsible for cable breaks that could potentially result in fires.

Thus, if you were to live in New York City, you surely would want to avoid neighborhoods and even smaller areas with a high density of rat sightings.

Contrary to that, the city of New York would most likely want to increase its extermination efforts in these specific areas.

The question is: how do you identify these areas?Development of Rat SightingsBefore answering that question, let’s take a look at the history of this problem over the last couple of years.

For this article, I relied on this data set provided by the city of New York detailing all rat sightings from January of 2010 to September of 2017.

Over the course of this time period, there have been 101,914 reported rat sightings.

While that is a very high number already, the actual number of rat sightings is probably much higher.

During my time in NYC alone, I have witnessed several rat sightings that I did not report.

Nevertheless, we can take a look at the development of the number of rat sightings over the years to see whether the city’s extermination efforts are paying off.

As we can see, the number of rat sightings took a turn in 2013, starting to increase significantly.

While there were 10,452 rat sightings in 2010, there were 17,080 in 2017.

That is an increase of roughly 63%!.Even though it seems like there was a decrease in 2017, one has to recall that the data set for 2017 ended in September and did not include October, November, and December.

The data seems to indicate that the rat population either increased or rats are entering areas where they are able to come in touch with humans more often.

Either way, it is a worrisome development.

Let’s break this down by neighborhood to see if there is a trend in what area is the most rat-infested in all of NYC.

Apparently, Brooklyn is and has been the borough with the most rat sightings since at least 2010.

Note: New York here refers to Manhattan.

Also, for people that have not been to NYC: Jamaica does not refer to the Caribbean island of Jamaica but to Jamaica, Queens.

Before jumping to our map visualizations, it would also be interesting to know more about the location types of the sightings.

Most rats were probably only spotted in areas with lots of opportunities to hide and little human activity, such as construction sites.


Take a look:Most rat sightings were reported in 3+ family apartment buildings.

Construction sites only place seventh on this list.

Another interesting and scary statistic is that over the course of around seven years, there have been 82 reported rat sightings in hospitals.

Map VisualizationsFor my heat map visualizations, I relied on reported rat sightings from 2017 as these are the most recent indicators for potential rat activity in that area.

Lower ManhattanTo visualize the density of rat sightings, I used the Python package folium to create heat maps on top of a Leaflet map.

When taking a look at lower Manhattan, there seem to be some rat hotspots, especially in the area of East 2nd to 6th Street and Avenue B to D.

Overall, the area around Tompkins Square Park shows a very high density of rat sightings.

MidtownGenerally, Midtown seems to be a little less rat-populated than Lower Manhattan.

Hotspots here include the area between 23rd and 28th Street as well as certain parts of Hell’s Kitchen.

Upper East & Upper West SideHere, the Upper West Side seems to be clearly more rat-infested than the Upper East Side.

Specifically, the area above 100th Street and East of Columbia University show a high density of rat sightings.

HarlemHarlem, generally, does not show specific patterns of rat sightings except for the area around Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

Boulevard between West 133rd and 142nd Street.

BronxThe Bronx shows a relatively high density of rat sightings.

Interestingly, it seems like there were far more rat sightings in the west than the east of the Bronx.

BrooklynWhile there were relatively little rat sightings in Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg, parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, in particular, seem to be home to large rat populations.

QueensQueens does not show very specific patterns either.

However, the area with the highest rat sighting density, as previously shown in the bar plots, is Jamaica.

Conclusion & More Detailed ExplorationAs you can see, rats are a big problem in New York City.

Knowing where large populations are is the first step in attempting to reduce their numbers and decrease the public health risk they pose.

If you are interested in checking out your own street or the area of the hotel you are going to stay at during your next visit to NYC, see here.

I have hosted a notebook on nbviewer that allows you to use the heat map interactively.

References:[1] Auerbach, Jonathan, Does New York City really have as many rats as people?.(2014), Wiley Online Library[2] City of New York, NYC Rat Sightings (2017), Kaggle[3] Bradley, Ryan, The Rat Paths of New York; How the city’s animals get where they’re going.

(2015), The New York Times Magazine[4] Frye, M.


et al.

, Preliminary Survey of Ectoparasites and Associated Pathogens from Norway Rats in New York City, Journal of Medical Entomology.

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