Expanding Tools for Investigating Neighborhood Indicators of Drug Use and Violence: Validation of the NIfETy for Virtual Street Observation

Prev Sci. 2020 Feb;21(2):203-210. doi: 10.1007/s11121-019-01062-w.


A growing body of evidence suggests that characteristics of the neighborhood environment in urban areas significantly impact risk for drug use behavior and exposure to violent crime. Identifying areas of community need, prioritizing planning projects, and developing strategies for community improvement require inexpensive, easy to use, evidence-based tools to assess neighborhood disorder that can be used for a variety of research, urban planning, and community needs with an environmental justice frame. This study describes validation of the Neighborhood Inventory for Environmental Typology (NIfETy), a neighborhood environmental observational assessment tool designed to assess characteristics of the neighborhood environment related to violence, alcohol, and other drugs, for use with Google Street View (GSV). GSV data collection took place on a random sample of 350 blocks located throughout Baltimore City, Maryland, which had previously been assessed through in-person data collection. Inter-rater reliability metrics were strong for the majority of items (ICC ≥ 0.7), and items were highly correlated with in-person observations (r ≥ 0.6). Exploratory factor analysis and constrained factor analysis resulted in one, 14-item disorder scale with high internal consistency (alpha = 0.825) and acceptable fit indices (CFI = 0.982; RMSEA = 0.051). We further validated this disorder scale against locations of violent crimes, and we found that disorder score was significantly and positively associated with neighborhood crime (IRR = 1.221, 95% CI = (1.157, 1.288), p < 0.001). The NIfETy provides a valid, economical, and efficient tool for assessing modifiable neighborhood risk factors for drug use and violence prevention that can be employed for a variety of research, urban planning, and community needs.

Keywords: Disorder; Drug use; Google Street View; Neighborhood; Violent crime.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Baltimore
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Forecasting
  • Geographic Mapping
  • Humans
  • Observation*
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Search Engine*
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • Violence*