Crowdsourcing and cellphone data could help guide urban revitalization

Science Magazine: “For years, researchers at the MIT Media Lab have been developing a database of images captured at regular distances around several major cities. The images are scored according to different visual characteristics — how safe the depicted areas look, how affluent, how lively, and the like….Adjusted for factors such as population density and distance from city centers, the correlation between perceived safety and visitation rates was strong, but it was particularly strong for women and people over 50. The correlation was negative for people under 30, which means that males in their 20s were actually more likely to visit neighborhoods generally perceived to be unsafe than to visit neighborhoods perceived to be safe.

In the same paper, the researchers also identified several visual features that are highly correlated with judgments that a particular area is safe or unsafe. Consequently, the work could help guide city planners in decisions about how to revitalize declining neighborhoods.,,,

Jacobs’ theory, Hidalgo says, is that neighborhoods in which residents can continuously keep track of street activity tend to be safer; a corollary is that buildings with street-facing windows tend to create a sense of safety, since they imply the possibility of surveillance. Newman’s theory is an elaboration on Jacobs’, suggesting that architectural features that demarcate public and private spaces, such as flights of stairs leading up to apartment entryways or archways separating plazas from the surrounding streets, foster the sense that crossing a threshold will bring on closer scrutiny….(More)”