Neighborhood Security: Feeling vs. Reality
Research on why some neighborhoods feel safer:
Salesses and collaborators Katja Schechtner and César A. Hidalgo built an online comparison tool using Google Street View images to identify these often unseen triggers of our perception of 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.
I’ve written about the feeling and reality of security, and how they’re different. (That’s also the subject of this TEDx talk.) Yes, it’s security theater: things that make a neighborhood feel safer rather than actually safer. But when the neighborhood is actually safer than people think it is, this sort of security theater has value.