Yesterday Amy noticed a story come across the wire about a new Microsoft patent. One of the main benefits, which appears in the abstract of the actual filing, is that it will allow walking directions to be provided that take into account “unsafe” neighborhoods.
The story caught our attention because as real estate agents we are not allowed to talk about neighborhoods as “safe” or “unsafe.” An area’s level of safety is a personal perception and by expressing our opinions we could be steering our clients to areas we like and away from areas we don’t like, which might not be right for them. Instead, we have to allow our buyers to make their own decisions. We can point people in the direction of crime statistics. And we can encourage them to visit an area during different times of the day. But we cannot characterize a neighborhood as good or bad.
So how will this new patent be implemented? What factors will be used to determine if a particular area should be avoided by pedestrians? How granular will the data be – if crimes occur in one part of town, will the entire town be declared unsafe? Will factors related to the built environment, like a lack of sidewalks, factor into the algorithm? At this point there are obviously far more questions than answers. It will be interesting to see what kind of information Microsoft, or any potential licensee, is able to incorporate into their maps.
Taking a step back, I would love to see a block by block map for crime, perhaps in the form of a heat map. Since crime statistics sound like an input to the pedestrian route algorithm, this should be a relatively easy task. The primary challenge would be getting programmatic access to the crime statistics from each community. If it were possible, and if the resulting maps were intuitive and sufficiently granular, then they would be a huge help for home buyers trying to understand a new region, town, neighborhood, and block. (Perhaps a good one already exists? I know of a couple sites that show crime stats, but they seem user unfriendly in their interface and overburdened by advertising.)
Everyone has an opinion about which areas are safe and which are unsafe. Those opinions are often strongly held in the Greater Hartford area. They are also often based on what “everyone knows” rather than data or even personal experiences. Presenting factual data in an accessible format would definitely be helpful, and could surprise a lot of people.