Which of These Neighborhoods Feel Safe to You?

Quick: which neighboorhoods above feel safe to you? How about iffy?

Paul Salesses, Katja Schechtner, and César A. Hidalgo built an online survey using images from Google Street View and ask study participants to select which neighborhood feels safe just by looking at the picture. They found that little things like trash on the street could act as subconscious cue that people use to gauge the perceived safety of a place:

Have enough people compare paired images of streets in New York or Boston, for instance, for the scenes that look more "safe" or "upper-class," and eventually some patterns start to emerge.

"We found images with trash in it, and took the trash out, and we noticed a 30 percent increase in perception of safety," Salesses says. "It's surprising that something that easy had that large an effect."

This also means some fairly cost-effective government interventions – collecting trash – could have a significant impact on how safe people feel in a neighborhood."It’s like bringing a data source to something that’s always been subjective," Salesses says.

When Salesses compare the neighborhoods that people perceived as safe against crime data, it turns out that these places are actually safer compared to the rest of the city. Emily Badger of The Atlantic Cities has the post: Link | The paper over at PLOS ONE


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Feeling safe in a neighborhood is not necessarily the same thing as being safe in a neighborhood. If local governments were to spend the money to clean up gang territory or other less savory areas it would give people a false sense of security in those regions. Not to mention the fact that the government would go broke trying to keep up with all the trash and graffiti.
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It's not clear from the article, but did they mention the word "crime" when they asked about the feeling of safety? I automatically feel safer in places with fewer cars. Being injured or killed by a car is much more likely than being a victim of a violent crime, and knowing that has colored the way I worry about my kids. And it's one of the reasons I moved to a neighborhood with sidewalks and a big "no outlet" sign (even though there is an alley outlet known to residents).

Come to think of it, there is far less trash on the road here than in my old neighborhood, because there are fewer cars speeding through, and speeding cars mean people throwing trash out of the windows.
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