Saturday, September 20, 2014

Boots on the ground in studying cities: Street View or data analysis are never enough.

When I wrote you about using a close-up aerial view, I was making a suggestion. Not a demand. I thought it helped me understand where I was. And the birdseye view in Bing is even more helpful.

My goal is to give you the knowledge and skills to understand places in context. Maps, frontal views and other views you make by being there (over a fence, adjacent places,...), Street View, aerial and birdseye views, all help. What you are trying to do is to become fluent in all these media and methods.

I always have other professors asking me why I send you to places, since Street View has done it. But in fact Street View is partial, has no sense of the life of a place, may well be outdated, etc. More generally, you really have to go look and be there, in the city, if you want to understand what to do--whether you are a developer, a planner, etc. The deluge of visual data we now have is no substitute for boots on the ground, so to speak. Similarly, when you learn to do statistical analysis of a data set as in the Census or a survey, you still have to ask if it makes sense in terms of the people you are studying, and it is vital to do fieldwork and interviews to see if your analysis has ground truth (as they say in aerial surveillance). Good regression coefficients may be statistically nice, but your model may have missed important stuff. A good R-squared is no substitute.  As someone once said to me, about rats in psychology, you've got to talk to your rats.

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