Street-level: Google Street View, Geovisuality, and the Broken Windows Theory

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - 9:30am
Urban Studies Office: Room 130 McNeil Building
Presenter: Aaron Shapiro, PhD candidate Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Discussant: Jessica Lingel, Assistant Professor of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania


In studies of the geoweb, platforms for street-level imagery like Google Street View have received less attention than their aerial counterparts. One key difference is that where aerial photography is associated with vertical objectivity and the production of abstract space, street-level imagery is closer to the ground, appearing more situated and oriented to the particularities of place. In this paper, I review two case studies in which the aggregation of street-level imagery into ‘big datasets’ allows for the algorithmic sorting of places by their street-level visual qualities. This form of sorting prompts questions about objectivity and cultural authority that are not usually considered in regard to street-level imagery. I elaborate on the informational logics at play in algorithmic place-sorting, which I describe as a geovisual modality. I then provide some historical context to the geovisual modality, identifying links between algorithmic geovisual place-sorting and older, place-based criminological theories, focusing in particular on the Broken Windows theory. I conclude by offering alternative theoretical directions for algorithm construction.