Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Google Street View as a Solution to High Gas Prices?

OK, so you probably know by now that Google Street View has arrived in St Louis.

Not every street is completed yet, but large swaths of South City are done, as are pockets of North City, and most of Kirkwood and Webster Groves. In other areas, only major streets and roads have been photographed and uploaded.

This seems like it could be a great tool for a lot of uses:

  • Prospective home-buyers could use Street View to compare what a house's front facade and surroundings look like, with what they get on Realtor.com

  • City planners could use it to supplement data they already have about real estate markets and building conditions

  • Neighborhood residents and leaders could use it to highlight problem locations, because of course city neighborhoods are not two-dimensional but three! For example, it could perhaps be used (along with other supporting evidence of course) to evict one tenant in a four- or six-family building that was engaged in criminal activity, rather than shutting the whole building down (wishful thinking I realize...)

  • Aldermen could use Street View to verify the locations of problem spots about which their constituents complain, again combined with other data

  • These are just some potential uses. I am a little uneasy about the potential privacy issues, but given that faces and license plate numbers are pretty much always rendered unidentifiable, you'd really have to know exactly what somebody's car looked like or exactly what clothes a particular person owns in order to identify them precisely. Besides which, how much of a privacy expectation is there really on a public street? Anonymity, yes, that I can understand we expect anonymity when in public. But complete privacy is unrealistic; after all, you never really know when you might just happen to run into somebody you know on the street.

    The other thing that is striking about Street View is just how few people you see walking on the sidewalks in downtown St. Louis. Maybe that's because the images were taken at off-peak hours to minimize the number of car license plates and human faces that would need to be distorted. Indeed, comparing downtown Chicago with downtown St. Louis on Street View, suggests that is exactly what they are doing. It's almost as dead-looking as downtown St. Louis is on Street View!

    Now midtown Manhattan seems filled with people on Street View.... but maybe, in fact, that was the slowest period they could find in Times Square! I guess a slow period in NYC (Sunday morning?) is about the same level of pedestrian activity as at a weekday lunchtime in downtown St. Louis!

    Anyway, it does help reduce my urge to drive around and look at trains. At least, for a few days anyway. ;-) I'm still not sure how they managed to photograph all along South Wharf Street alongside the flood wall between Chouteau and Victor like they did. I didn't even think that was a public street anymore!

    I did notice they have not photographed Arsenal Street east of Broadway, nor 2nd Street from Arsenal to Cherokee. I wondered whether that was at the request of our local intelligence agency, NGA. After all, while I'm sure they have access to many other tools more sophisticated than Google Maps and Google Earth, they are probably still a potential customer for such products.

    Then again, if I really want to see what the outside walls of NGA looks like, I could just drive right by, which I did last night and saw there was still a softball game going on across the street in Lyon Park, well after dark!

    Come to think of it, that's gotta be one of the most well-secured parks in the city, with NGA on one side and A-B on the other. And yet zero houses are located within a one-block radius, although there's a few dozen homes just uphill across Broadway around St. Agatha's in the Soulard neighborhood.

    No comments: