Using Google Street View to collect large-scale neighborhood data

One sociologist has plans to use a new Google Street View app to study neighborhoods:

Michael Bader, a professor of sociology at the American University, revealed the app developed is called Computer Assisted Neighborhood Visual Assessment System (CANVAS). The app rated 150 dissimilar features of neighborhoods in some main metropolitan cities in the U.S. The researchers claim the latest app reduces the cost and time in research.

With the help of Google Street View, the new app connects images and creates panoramic views of the required rural areas as well as cities. Bader explains that without the Google app researchers would have to cover many square miles for data collection, which is a painstaking job…

The app has already received funding of around $250,000 and s also supposed to be the first app that examines the scope and reliability of Google Street View when it comes to rating the neighborhoods in the U.S.

Bader reveals he is currently using CANVAS for a research on the Washington D.C. area. He revealed the population of people who have reached 65 and over in the region will be 15.3 percent by 2030. Bader hopes to understand why elderly people leave their community and what stops them from spending the remainder of the lives in the region. Bader’s research wants to understand the challenges elders face in Washington D.C.

As an urban sociologist, I think this has a lot of potential: Google Street View has an incredible amount of data and offers a lot of potential for visual sociology. While tradition in urban sociology might involve long-term study of a neighborhood (or perhaps a lot of walking within a single city), this offers a way to easily compare street scenes within and across cities.

The modern world: the real, significant moments in life are captured by cameras

Looking at a range of events including Ferguson, Missouri, the Ray Rice case, and the release of celebrities’ nude selfies, one writer raises two important questions:

And above all these questions, there’s an ultimate one: What happens when you change a camera into a networked lens?

And: What happens when you add a networked lens to a situation?

Who gains power: the people holding the camera or the people being filmed? (Some argue that cop bodycams would in fact empower the police. After all, who has time to review all that footage?) Whose behavior changes, and how much? What can we expect will happen to the images that result? (Will they disappear into a database forever? If so, what can be done to them there? How will that affect us?)

We don’t know the answer to these twinned questions—but we’re learning a little more every day.

We are sorting through the coming together of two powerful forces: the rise of the visual image (decades in the making) and the Internet enabled and social media fueled interconnections between people. And sometimes, the results are not pretty.

Mixing PhD work in sociology with photography of struggling cities

I would think it could be a huge asset if you could match your graduate work in sociology with good photography of your research subject. Here is a PhD student in sociology who also does photography in struggling cities:

You don’t often come across a photographer who’s also a Ph.D student in sociology, but it makes sense when you look at David Schalliol’s work, especially his images of Detroit’s dilapidated housing and Chicago’s struggle to rebuild its housing projects, a series made in conjunction with the Chicago Housing Authority’s ongoing “Plan for Transformation.” The plan has been in effect since 2000 and Schalliol has been documenting the unending cycle of demolition, construction and reoccupation since 2003. Instead of reusing existing public housing projects, Chicago has been tearing everything down and starting fresh, which sounds good until you consider how wasteful and environmentally irresponsible that tear down/build up method of construction really is. You can see a selection of those images on his site or, for a more up-to-date steam, check out his Flckr, where you can also see photos from his other series…

This series seeks to address this discourse by acknowledging the city’s problems but then complicating them through close examination of the urban landscape. I approached the project as a sociologist and photographer who principally works on Chicago’s South and West Sides in order to use previous experience as a foil to the dominant discourse. My expectation was that an understanding of the discursive processes by which much of Chicago is oversimplified would help illuminate the even more misrepresented Motor City.

I’m glad these photographs are taken, if just for the fact that these images will be unknown to the younger generations and their vision of Chicago and/or Detroit could be quiet different.

I still wonder how much professional opportunity sociologists have for pairing scholarly writing with visual images (photos, documentaries, recordings). Many journals are very limited in this way though you might think with the easy access to the Internet, journals could include more interactive and on-the-ground elements or that sociologists themselves might make this work available with their writing. I know some documentaries are screened at ASA meetings but many of these are not made by sociologists plus these sessions are more diversionary than part of the core of the meetings. Without incentives for including such elements, many sociologists may not even think about it.

The sociology of cleaning out your closet

A wardrobe consultant with a PhD in visual sociology discusses how cleaning out a closet can lead to catharsis:

Akbari explains that we are emotionally attached to items of clothing and their history. Sorting out our clothes is a therapeutic process that goes beyond aesthetics. Her focus is on the relationship between the visual appearance and self-presentation and how this affects one’s ability to claim power. Clothing allows people to play with the different facets of their identity.

The people that reach out to wardrobe consultants are generally going through some form of transition. They could be wanting a new job or dating new people. It’s an identity construction, the shedding of an old self and embracing of something new…

“Our clothes are an extension of our bodies and our identity and our social success depends on our ability to communicate, our intelligence, and our appearance — we come as a package.”

This seems a Goffmanian take on closets and clothes.

Perhaps this also explains why people are unwilling to clean out a closet full of clothes – they are not just clothes but rather symbolic objects that say something about the individual and making decisions about such symbols can be difficult. Having a full closet implies that one has a lot of options about one’s identity while removing some of those clothes might close off some of those identities.