Blog by Joanna Hecht, Pitch and Pilot Fellow, Office of Innovation and Technology

This blog post is part of a series that covers the first two years of the SmartCityPHL program.

A snapshot of a Philadelphia street might have thousands of details. From storefronts to crosswalks, studying an image can reveal a lot about a location. Are there wide sidewalks? Welcoming storefronts? Bus shelters or parked cars? Studying a few still images of a street corner might give you a sense of what that place is like. 

Every year, street-level images of Philadelphia are captured for use by the City. License plates and faces are blurred, but the rest of the city is available in vivid detail.  

SmartCityPHL teamed up with State of Place to put those images to use in a new way. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, State of Place’s software evaluates more than 150 micro-scale features of the public realm. These features fall into categories like pedestrian infrastructure, density, traffic safety, recreational facilities, and even aesthetics.  

State of Place’s software can then help city agencies and community members understand and quantify where improvements to the public realm can help a community better its quality of life. On a city-wide level, it can also help pinpoint where the built environment has been neglected over time 

The data analyzed by State of Place will also be evaluated alongside demographic and health data. Differences in the quality of sidewalks, streets, parks, and commercial corridors can have an impact on residents’ physical health and overall wellness. State of Place’s analysis will use data from across Philadelphia to quantify this impact. This tool will provide an evidence-based approach to help policymakers identify and prioritize parts of the city that are most in need to support equitable and resilient communities. SmartCityPHL will work with departments across city government to apply State of Place’s insights. Their platform will help direct resources where they will help protect residents against natural disasters—like flooding and heat waves—and chronic disease.  

As the City renews its commitment to equity in budgeting, SmartCityPHL is working with State of Place to develop a tool that can foster transparency and trust between city government, advocates, and residents. Ultimately, the goal is for this tool to help support a more equitable future for Philadelphia.