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Urban Streetscapes: “Hot or Not”?

By: Eric Mo

“We use Street Score to create high-resolution maps of perception of safety for different cities in the US. This data can be very useful for urban planners or economists who are trying to compare the perception of visual appearance of cities to the behavior and health of the people who live there,” said Nikhil Naik, a current MIT Media Lab student and keynote speaker at Boston Properties University (BPU). Nikhil developed an algorithm to aggregate hundreds of thousands of Google Street View images and rank their perception of safety based on users’ collective preferences (from a “Hot or Not” type game that compares urban streetscapes). If you’ve heard of Walk Score , which applies a score to any given property based on its proximity to amenities and transit, then you’re already familiar with how Street Score works. The applications are real. Commercial real estate development companies like Boston Properties are excited to put Street Score into practice by comparing scores before and after project completion, to gauge the effects of their projects on the overall perception of safety in an urban landscape.

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In the real world, it’s less common to witness the fusion of theoretical research and corporate practice. Unsurprisingly, that isn’t the case at MIT. It’s the norm. The events that transpired at BPU confirmed this for me. Nikhil didn’t simply present groundbreaking research that will push the level of sophistication for developers to make informed decisions at BPU. Nikhil, alongside other distinguished and informative speakers, shared his knowledge to the real estate industry-at-large, the surrounding Kendall Square community, and students like me. Events like BPU are unique in that it attracts a variety of people with a common goal of building better “spaces and places.” ┬áIt’s networking on steroids. As students at the Center for Real Estate, you’re shaking hands with the most successful industry veterans along with emerging movers and shakers. Their shared passion for transforming real estate development, once considered a conventional vocation, into a more sophisticated one is palpable. The event both encouraged and inspired those of us lucky enough to attend to raise our own expectations for finding ways to contribute towards the evolution of our practice.

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