When turning onto a street, you tend to either speed up or slow down. If your surroundings look safe, you continue strolling along at a leisurely pace. The minute you feel unsafe, however, you quicken your stride, hoping to race out of there before anything bad happens to you. Although it makes sense, no one can measure their instincts very well. You can tell you’re scared of an area, you can note you feel uncomfortable, but why? Thanks to researchers at the MIT Media Lab, you can now discern not only what makes you feel unsafe, but what others deem unsafe themselves.
Place Pulse, a website developed by the Macro Connections group, went live a couple of weeks ago and asks users three questions: “Which place looks safer?” “Which place looks more unique?” And, “Which place looks more upper-class?” Viewers can answer these questions by looking at two geotagged images side by side and then click on which they feel looks more safe. By creating the site this way, researchers can measure something they could never measure before, which is aesthetic capital. They can ascertain what it is that makes a community look drab, original, unsafe or rich. Does graffiti on the side of a building make you feel like you’re in the slums, or is it something you believe adds flavor and color to a city?
Place Pulse is striving to determine that through crowdsourcing, and they’re working hard to get to one-million votes. “Think of the site as ‘hot or not’ for cities,” said designer and Media Lab graduate student Anthony DeVincenzi to Fast Company’s Co. Design. This website could help cities decide what to invest in, in the future. The long-term goal is to actually allow others to develop more studies based off the site. This could be just the beginning. Soon, users could compare cities and decide where they’d like to live based on the Place Pulse data.
Obviously, there are a few snags the researchers have hit. Photographs don’t capture everything. Sounds and nearby people have the ability to make others feel unsafe, both of which are things that can’t be shown in geotagged images. Photography is also something one can easily tweak via lighting and positioning. A bustling street could be made to look barren depending on where the photographer is standing.
In time, researchers plan to clear up those problems, but one of the few tidbits that have emerged is that of the 10 perceived as least safe-seeming images, seven were taken in Boston and three in New York. Although New York is, undoubtedly, brighter at night than our fair city — blame Time Square — let’s hope we can conjure up homier feelings in the hub soon.