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How cities (like Fort Worth) can use Google Street View to measure change

Posted March 29, 2019

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Zadeh at a table, smiling
Councilmember Ann Zadeh, center, joined a panel at SXSW earlier this month to discuss how city planners can gauge urban change with Google Street View.

A new effort to track street-level changes in cities is using a widely available tool to gather information: Google Street View.

Taking the time to view online maps and click on specific areas or blocks to trigger 360-degree views — and then compare those views to snapshots taken in previous years — can teach a lot about year-over-year changes to a street, without requiring the user to actually visit in person. This effort was showcased at a SXSW 2019 session in Austin featuring the coauthor of a major study on the subject, as well as Fort Worth City Councilmember Ann Zadeh, who represents District 9. She is putting these ideas into action at the local level.

Zadeh is an urban planner and 30-year Fort Worth resident who started her civic career as a leader in the historic Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood, then as a zoning commissioner, before being elected to the City Council in 2014. She uses Google Street View to see how her district is changing — and to help foster deeper engagement with constituents.

“My use of Google Street View started when I was on the zoning commission,” Zadeh said. “I used it to look at cases when I couldn’t make it out to every single one in person.”

Zadeh said she talks regularly with city planners, who still largely rely on census data – which, while generally accurate, dates quickly in the decade between each collection. She has encouraged the city to find additional ways to collect data about neighborhoods to track incremental change, particularly about gentrification in areas close to the city’s urban core.

“As an elected official, this kind of data helps me say to people, ‘I understand the curb in front of your house is a little cracked, and that’s not aesthetically pleasing, but there are actual streets in Fort Worth that don’t have a curb or a gutter,’” she said.

Zadeh said educating her constituents about the need for greater income diversity and opportunity remains a priority.

“Everyone says they’re for affordable housing, but then when you want to put it in a specific place, people say, ‘I’m for it, but not right there,’” she said. “We need to inform people better so they understand that it’s not the old ‘housing projects’ idea they may have in their head. … Our goal is to make our city more equitable for everyone who lives there.”

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