Catching Patterns of Increased Difference: Gentrification and Degradation
Object Recognition in Street Patterns
Pattern and object recognition in Google Street View images can be used to qualify and quantify the unique features that makeup various neighborhood ecosystems. The appearance of: power lines, subway bridges, brick walls, glass facades, or trees can indicate locations of investment and disinvestment and can help planners understand how features of an urban environment are interlinked.
Starbucks & Family Dollar
By sampling Street View Images from the geo-coordinates of Dollar Stores and Starbucks, these 2 sets of street images gave a clear image of how investment or lack of investment in the street fabric create cyclical environments of self-fulfilling prophecies. By narrowing down the sampling of images to these two datasets, object classification could be done manually. Future methods could use machine learning, to extend object classification well beyond human capacity and potentially learn like neighborhood characteristics of gentrification and degradation.
Although it is reductive to draw a duality of high and low-income stores (neighborhood ecosystems are obviously more nuanced and complex), the intention is to be reductive enough to show ecosystems where opportunity for upward societal mobility exists and where it doesn’t.
While there is no inherent evil in a store trying to cater to their demographic, selecting sites in their target market, the outcome nonetheless defines a cyclical pattern of urban environments. As a Dollar Store moves in, so do the closed brick facades. When the city neglects neighborhoods without strong lobbies opting not to move power lines underground this in turn keeps sites affordable bringing in more dollar stores.
Interrupting the Cycle: Investing Without Gentrifying
This is not a claim for gentrification. Surely adding a Starbucks in a low-income neighborhood is not going to “save” it. Most likely the $5 coffees and higher rents would only push low-income residents out. However, stores should be cognizant of this effect when selecting sites. Furthermore, initiatives through government could support struggling store owners and invest in open store-fronts, street benches, trees, lowering power lines and other factors that make neighborhoods healthy welcoming environments. Other initiatives should encourage long-term affordability for residents to ensure a nicer environment does not simply gentrify.
Degradation Is Just Disinvesment
Keeping a neighborhood affordable should not require making the environment unpleasant. All people deserve to live in an environment that allows a healthy and happy life. Lack of resources can trap communities in poverty. Designers, policy makers, and entrepreneurs should recognize these implications in their work.