Much of our work involves the conceptualization of measures of the built and social environment that can be derived from Census, administrative, regulatory, licensing, inspection and/or commercial data sets. Until recently much of this data was either sequestered away and largely inaccessible or was ambient and difficult to tap into. Innovations in information technology, OPEN.GOV initiatives, the availability of online geographic information systems tools, the rise of social-media and the advent of crowd sourcing/Mechanical Turk applications make possible the concept of ‘urban-informatics’ – the tapping into, organization and analysis of the massive data effluent produced by urban centers. These data and tools provide us with an unprecedented opportunity to characterize the built and social environments of urban spaces and to study urban health.
Sometimes however, information about the physical and social conditions in a neighborhood cannot be derived from large extant datasets, in these instances field studies may be required. We have experience conducting neighborhood audits (also known as Systematic Social Observation) using the Pedestrian Environment Data Scan (PEDS), Irvine Minnesota Inventory walkability measure, the University of Maryland Measurement Instrument for Urban Design Quantities, and Physical and Social Disorder audit tools from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods.
Several of these audit tools have also been adapted for use in “virtual audits” using our CANVAS system (also see here). CANVAS provides a suite of tools to use Google Street View to conduct neighborhood virtual audits. We are currently working to make the CANVAS tool publicly available as a platform upon which researchers can run their own virtual audit studies.
We also have experience using retail food environment audit tools, the Nutrition Environment Measures Survey for Stores (NEMS-S) and Restaurants (NEMS-R), and have created a modified version of the NEMS-R for measuring the retail food environment in Bodegas and other corner stores that have deli counters, hot food counters, salad bars or serve other food to-go.