Thursday, December 14, 2017

People Mapping With Street View

In a recent article in Places Journal, geographer Richard Campanella used Google's Street View images to document the rebounding population of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. He created a grid throughout the city and counted the number of people visible on Google's images in 2007 and 2016.
The legends on these maps are hard to read at this size but darker colors means more - in this case people. Here are bicycles.
What these maps show is not so much population as "public space occupancy"-people are walking down the street, sitting on their front steps, sitting at outdoor parks and cafes, and riding bikes. The percentage increases here are quite a bit higher than the population and tourist increases in the city. This suggests a more vibrant city where improvements to infrastructure have encouraged more people to occupy the public space. Campanella takes care to point out that not all of this occupation of public space is from happy gentrifiers. There is a cost in the displacement of:
"lower-income residents-who, we should remember, occupied streetscapes in their own way, with elders on stoops and children playing in the streets. (Rare is the sight of either in the French Quarter today.) It’s also important to note that some of the patterns in these maps do not represent people contentedly occupying the public space, but rather relegated there."
A by product of gentrification is an increase in graffiti, as seen proliferating in the same neighborhoods.

The article suggests that public space occupancy is an important and overlooked consideration in urban planning. It also shows that Street View data, while very imperfect can and should be used, possibly with automated processes to enumerate these phenomena.

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