Spatial predictive properties of built environment characteristics assessed by drop-and-spin virtual neighborhood auditing

Int J Health Geogr. 2020 May 29;19(1):21. doi: 10.1186/s12942-020-00213-5.


Background: Virtual neighborhood audits have been used to visually assess characteristics of the built environment for health research. Few studies have investigated spatial predictive properties of audit item responses patterns, which are important for sampling efficiency and audit item selection. We investigated the spatial properties, with a focus on predictive accuracy, of 31 individual audit items related to built environment in a major Metropolitan region of the Northeast United States.

Methods: Approximately 8000 Google Street View (GSV) scenes were assessed using the CANVAS virtual audit tool. Eleven trained raters audited the 360° view of each GSV scene for 10 sidewalk-, 10 intersection-, and 11 neighborhood physical disorder-related characteristics. Nested semivariograms and regression Kriging were used to investigate the presence and influence of both large- and small-spatial scale relationships as well as the role of rater variability on audit item spatial properties (measurement error, spatial autocorrelation, prediction accuracy). Receiver Operator Curve (ROC) Area Under the Curve (AUC) based on cross-validated spatial models summarized overall predictive accuracy. Correlations between predicted audit item responses and select demographic, economic, and housing characteristics were investigated.

Results: Prediction accuracy was better within spatial models of all items accounting for both small-scale and large- spatial scale variation (vs large-scale only), and further improved with additional adjustment for rater in a majority of modeled items. Spatial predictive accuracy was considered 'Excellent' (0.8 ≤ ROC AUC < 0.9) for full models of all but four items. Predictive accuracy was highest and improved the most with rater adjustment for neighborhood physical disorder-related items. The largest gains in predictive accuracy comparing large- + small-scale to large-scale only models were among intersection- and sidewalk-items. Predicted responses to neighborhood physical disorder-related items correlated strongly with one another and were also strongly correlated with racial-ethnic composition, socioeconomic indicators, and residential mobility.

Conclusions: Audits of sidewalk and intersection characteristics exhibit pronounced variability, requiring more spatially dense samples than neighborhood physical disorder audits do for equivalent accuracy. Incorporating rater effects into spatial models improves predictive accuracy especially among neighborhood physical disorder-related items.

Keywords: Built environment; Kriging; Spatial autocorrelation; Spatial prediction; Virtual neighborhood audit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Built Environment*
  • Environment Design
  • Humans
  • New England
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spatial Analysis