Validity of an ecometric neighborhood physical disorder measure constructed by virtual street audit

Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Sep 15;180(6):626-35. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwu180. Epub 2014 Aug 13.


Neighborhood physical disorder is thought to affect mental and physical health, but it has been difficult to measure objectively and reliably across large geographical areas or multiple locales. Virtual street audits are a novel method for assessing neighborhood characteristics. We evaluated the ecometric properties of a neighborhood physical disorder measure constructed from virtual street audit data. Eleven trained auditors assessed 9 previously validated items developed to capture physical disorder (e.g., litter, graffiti, and abandoned buildings) on 1,826 block faces using Google Street View imagery (Google, Inc., Mountain View, California) dating from 2007-2011 in 4 US cities (San Jose, California; Detroit, Michigan; New York, New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). We constructed a 2-parameter item response theory scale to estimate latent levels of disorder on each block face and defined a function using kriging to estimate physical disorder levels, with confidence estimates, for any point in each city. The internal consistency reliability of the resulting scale was 0.93. The final measure of disorder was positively correlated with US Census data on unemployment and housing vacancy and negatively correlated with data on owner-occupied housing. These results suggest that neighborhood physical disorder can be measured reliably and validly using virtual audits, facilitating research on possible associations between physical disorder and health.

Keywords: cities; data collection; epidemiologic methods; psychometrics; residence characteristics; social environment; spatial analysis; urban health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Cities / classification*
  • Cities / statistics & numerical data
  • Data Collection
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Monitoring / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Residence Characteristics / classification*
  • Social Environment
  • Spatial Analysis
  • United States
  • Urban Health / classification
  • User-Computer Interface*