Beautiful Streets is a new online experiment from Open Plans that uses what’s called a “pairwise survey” to compare the streets of Philadelphia. Users of the site are confronted with a pair of images randomly generated by Google Street View to make a snap judgment about which street is more attractive.
Here is how the Beautiful Streets website describes the system:
“It’s an experiment: we’re trying out a different way to evaluate places, called pairwise surveys, as popularized by the fantastic All Our Ideas. We’re also testing out some neat interface ideas, and learning about the use of Street View in evaluating places for urban planning projects.
With your help, we’ll compare 200 randomly selected streets in Philadelphia and ask which one in each pair is more beautiful. We expect this experiment will produce some neat data, which you’ll be able to download here soon.”
One compelling idea posed by the site is that the design of streets is the fundamental determinant of the success or failure of neighborhoods and buildings. Bearing in mind the limitations of simple binary comparisons, the images found on Google Street View, and the unreasoned, snap judgments that will provide the data for the experiment, the website presents a useful example of open source data collection that is ready for more nuanced application in any number of venues. Imagine a similar website for park space, multi-family residential buildings, or even brutalism. It’s a two-way street of teaching and learning opportunities for urban designers and end users.