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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers: Study Examines New Virtual Neighborhood Audit Technique for Large-Scale Built Environment Assessments

A recent multi-institution study, led by Rutgers School of Public Health assistant prrofessor, Dr. Jesse Plascak, tested whether a new virtual neighborhood audit technique, known as Drop-and-Spin auditing, was quicker but just as reliable as prevailing methods.

The researchers assessed 32 built environment indicators at roughly 8,000 locations in Essex County, NJ. The commonly used virtual audit tool, CANVAS, allowed researchers to drop into a Google Street View scene and collect data by spinning 360° around each location.

Built environment factors such as physical disorder, walkability, and pedestrian infrastructure are associated with health behaviors and outcomes. Conventional virtual audits have been adapted from in-person audit tools – collecting information along street segments as opposed to point locations. The Drop-and-Spin technique allowed audits taking half the time of comparable segment-based audits. Moreover, test-retest and inter-rater agreement reliability were similar to prior virtual audit studies.

The study’s findings suggest that Drop-and-Spin audits of walkability/pedestrian safety and physical disorder/aesthetics are reliable, accurate, and resource efficient, and could be an alternative method to assess these environmental characteristics across large geographic regions.

“Future studies should also seek to formally test the spatial characteristics of audit results,” said Dr. Stephen Mooney, senior study author and an assistant professor in epidemiology at the at University of Washington School of Public Health. “Audits are much more efficient if we interpolate between audited locations.  But we’ll need to validate interpolation models before we can unequivocally recommend Drop-and-Spin

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