City Forensics: Using Visual Elements to Predict Non-Visual City Attributes
We present a method for automatically identifying and validating predictive relationships between the visual appearance of a city and its non-visual attributes (e.g. crime statistics, housing prices, population density etc.). Given a set of street-level images and (location, city-attribute-value) pairs of measurements, we first identify visual elements in the images that are discriminative of the attribute. We then train a predictor by learning a set of weights over these elements using non-linear Support Vector Regression. To perform these operations efficiently, we implement a scalable distributed processing framework that speeds up the main computational bottleneck (extracting visual elements) by an order of magnitude. This speedup allows us to investigate a variety of city attributes across 6 different American cities. We find that indeed there is a predictive relationship between visual elements and a number of city attributes including violent crime rates, theft rates, housing prices, population density, tree presence, graffiti presence, and the perception of danger. We also test human performance for predicting theft based on street-level images and show that our predictor outperforms this baseline with 33% higher accuracy on average. Finally, we present three prototype applications that use our system to (1) define the visual boundary of city neighborhoods, (2) generate walking directions that avoid or seek out exposure to city attributes, and (3) validate user-specified visual elements for prediction.