Using the Google Vision and Streetview API to Explore Hotspots

So previously I have shown how to automate the process of downloading google street view imagery (for individual addresses & running down a street). One interesting application is to then code those streetview images. There are many applications in criminology of coding these images for disorder. So Rob Sampson initially had the idea of ecometrics, in which he used systematic social observations via taking a video going down various streets to code physical disorder, such as garbage on the street (Raudenbush & Sampson, 1999). Others than leveraged Google streetview imagery to do those same audits instead of collecting their own footage (Bader et al., 2017).

Those are all someone looks at the images and a human says, there is XYZ in this photo and ABC in this photo. I was interested in testing out the Google Vision API to automate identifying parts of the images. So instead of a human manually reviewing, you build a score automatically. See for example work on identifying the percieved safety of streets (Naik et al., 2014).

Here I was motivated by some recent work of a colleague, Nate Connealy, in which he used this imagery to identify the differences in hot spots vs not hot spots (Connealy, 2020). Also I am pretty sure I saw George Mohler present on this at some ASC before I had the idea (it was similar to this paper, Khorshidi et al., 2019, not 100% sure it was the same one though). For an overview of crim applications using streetview and google maps, which also span CPTED type analyses, check out Vandeviver (2014).

So with Google’s automated vision API, if I submit this photo of a parking garage (this is actually the image I get if I submit the address Bad Address, Dallas, TX to the streetview API, so take in mind errors like that in my subsequent analysis).

You get back these labels, where the first item is the description and the second is the ‘score’ for whether the item is in the image:

('Architecture', 0.817379355430603),
('Floor', 0.7577666640281677),
('Room', 0.7444316148757935),
('Building', 0.7440816164016724),
('Parking', 0.7051371335983276),
('Ceiling', 0.6624311208724976),
('Flooring', 0.6004095673561096),
('Wood', 0.5958532094955444),
('House', 0.5928719639778137),
('Metal', 0.5114516019821167)

So I don’t tell Google what to look for, it just gives me back a ton of different labels depending on what it detects in the image. So what I do here is based on my hotspot work (Wheeler & Reuter, 2020), I grab a sample of 300 addresses inside my Dallas based hot spot areas, and 300 addresses outside of hot spots. (These addresses are based on crime data themselves, so similar to Nate’s work I only sample locations that at least have 1 crime).

So this isn’t a way to do predictions, but I think it is potentially interesting application of exploratory data analysis for hot spots or high crime areas.

Python Code Snippet

I am just going to paste the python code-snippet in its entirety.

Grabbing streetview images and detecting
labels using the google vision API

from import vision
import pandas as pd
import io
import os
import urllib
import time


add_dat = pd.read_csv('Sampled_Adds.csv')
add_dat['FullAdd'] = add_dat['IncidentAddress'] + ", DALLAS, TX"

# Code to download image based on address 

myloc = r"./Images" #replace with your own location
key = "&key=????YourKeyHere????" 

def GetStreet(Add,SaveLoc,Name):
  base = ""
  MyUrl = base + urllib.parse.quote_plus(Add) + key #added url encoding
  fi = Name + ".jpg"
  loc_tosav = os.path.join(SaveLoc,fi)
  urllib.request.urlretrieve(MyUrl, loc_tosav)

# Code to get the google vision API labels
# for the image

client = vision.ImageAnnotatorClient.from_service_account_json('Geo Dallas-b5543ff0bb6d.json')

def LabelImage(ImageLoc):
    # Loads the image into memory
    with, 'rb') as image_file:
        content =
    image = vision.types.Image(content=content)
    response = client.label_detection(image=image)
    labels = response.label_annotations
    res = []
    if response.error.message:
        print(f'Error for image {ImageLoc}')
        print(f'Error Message {response.error.message}')
        res.append( ('Error', 1.0 ) )
        res = []
        for l in labels:
            res.append( (l.description , l.score) )
    return res

#A random parking garage!
GetStreet('Bad Address, Dallas, TX',myloc,'Bad_Address')    
long_tup = []
for index, row in add_dat.iterrows():
    #Name of the image
    nm = str(index) + "_" + str(row['Inside'])
    #Download the image    
    #Get the labels
    labs = LabelImage(os.path.join(myloc,nm + '.jpg'))
    #Build the new data tuples
    for l in labs:
        long_dat = (index, nm +'.jpg', row['Inside'], row['FullAdd'], l[0], l[1])
    #Sleep for a second to not spam the servers
    print(f'Done with index {index}')

long_dat = pd.DataFrame(long_tup, 

To get this to work you need a few things. First, you need to enable both the Vision API and the Streetview API in your Google API console. The streetview API has a key you can get directly from the API console (as described in my prior posts). But the vision API is different, and you can download a json file with all the necessary info and feed it into the client call. Once that is all done, you have it set up to query both API’s to get the images and then get the labels. But this is quick and dirty, it does not check for errors in either.

Here is a screenshot of some of the images downloaded, you can see that the streetview API doesn’t fail when their is no image available, it just does a mostly blank gray screenshot.

Analyzing the Results

I am not above just piping the results into an Excel document and doing some quick pivot tables. (I like doing that when there are many categories I want to explore quickly.) So here is a pivot table of the sum of the scores across the 300 outside hotspot (column 0) and 300 inside (column 1) images. So you can see the label of property is in more than half of the images for each (since the score value is never above 1). But property is more common outside hot spots than it is inside hot spots.

Here are contrast coded sums, so these identify the different labels that are more common in either hotspots or outside of hotspots. So outside of hotspots trees and plants appear more common (see Kondo et al., 2017 and Kondo’s other work on the topic). Inside hotspots we have more cars & asphault for examples.

This is just a quick and dirty analysis though. I do not take into account here missing images. The Screenshot label shows missing images are more common inside hotspots. And here since I use the addresses sometimes it gives me a shot of the street instead of the view perpendicular to the street. (I am not 100% sure the best way to do it, if you geocode and then use the lat/lon, you may not have the right view of the property either depending on the geocoding engine, so maybe going with the address directly is better?)

Future Work

In terms of predictive applications, I think using the streetview imagery is not likely to improve crime forecasts, that it is really only worthwhile for EDA or theory testing. In terms of predictive analysis, I actually think using the satellite imagery has more potential (see Jay, 2020 for an example, although that isn’t predictive but causal analysis).

So prior work has used 311 calls for service to identify high disorder areas (Magee, 2020; O’Brien & Winship, 2017; Wheeler, 2018), so I wonder if you can specifically build an image detector to identify particular disorder aspects that are not redundant with 311 calls. And also perhaps scales directly relevant to CPTED. The Google Vision labels are a bit superficial to really use for many theory crim applications I am afraid, but is an interesting exploratory data analysis to check them out.


Drawing Google Streetview images down an entire street using python

I’ve previously written about grabbing Google Streetview images given a particular address. For a different project I sampled images running along an entire street, so figured I would share that code. It is a bit more complicated though, because when you base it off an address you do not need to worry about drawing the same image twice. So I will walk through an example.

So first we will import the necessary libraries we are using, then will globally define your user key and the download folder you want to save the streetview images into.

#Upfront stuff you need
import urllib, os, json
key = "&key=" + "!!!!!!!!!!!!!YourAPIHere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
DownLoc = r'!!!!!!!!!!!YourFileLocationHere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'  

Second are a few functions. The first, MetaParse, grabs the date (Month and Year) and pano_id from a particular street view image. Because if you submit just a slightly different set of lat-lon, google will just download the same image again. To prevent that, we do a sort of memoization, where we grab the meta-data first, stuff it in a global list PrevImage. Then if you have already downloaded that image once, the second GetStreetLL function will not download it again, as it checks the PrevImage list. If you are doing a ton of images you may limit the size of PrevImage to a certain amount, but it is no problem doing a few thousand images as is. (With a free account you can IIRC get 25,000 images in a day, but the meta-queries count against that as well.)

def MetaParse(MetaUrl):
    response = urllib.urlopen(MetaUrl)
    jsonRaw =
    jsonData = json.loads(jsonRaw)
    #return jsonData
    if jsonData['status'] == "OK":
        if 'date' in jsonData:
            return (jsonData['date'],jsonData['pano_id']) #sometimes it does not have a date!
            return (None,jsonData['pano_id'])
        return (None,None)

PrevImage = [] #Global list that has previous images sampled, memoization kindof        
def GetStreetLL(Lat,Lon,Head,File,SaveLoc):
    base = r""
    size = r"?size=1200x800&fov=60&location="
    end = str(Lat) + "," + str(Lon) + "&heading=" + str(Head) + key
    MyUrl = base + size + end
    fi = File + ".jpg"
    MetaUrl = base + r"/metadata" + size + end
    #print MyUrl, MetaUrl #can check out image in browser to adjust size, fov to needs
    met_lis = list(MetaParse(MetaUrl))                           #does not grab image if no date
    if (met_lis[1],Head) not in PrevImage and met_lis[0] is not None:   #PrevImage is global list
        urllib.urlretrieve(MyUrl, os.path.join(SaveLoc,fi))
        PrevImage.append((met_lis[1],Head)) #append new Pano ID to list of images
    return met_lis  

Now we are ready to download images running along an entire street. To get the necessary coordinates and header information I worked it out in a GIS. Using a street centerline file I regularly sampled along the streets. Based on those sample points then you can calculate a local trajectory of the street, and then based on that trajectory turn the camera how you want it. Most social science folks I imagine want it to look at the sidewalk, so then you will calculate 90 degrees to the orientation of the street.

Using trial and error I found that spacing the samples around 40 feet apart tended to get a new image. I have the pixel size and fov parameters to the streetview api hard set in the function, but you could easily amend the function to take those as arguments as well.

So next I have an example list of tuples with lat-lon’s and orientation. Then I just loop over those sample locations and draw the images. Here I also have another list image_list, that contains what I save the images too, as well as saves the pano-id and the date meta data.

DataList = [(40.7036043470179800,-74.0143908501053400,97.00),

image_list = [] #to stuff the resulting meta-data for images
ct = 0
for i in DataList:
    ct += 1
    fi = "Image_" + str(ct)
    temp = GetStreetLL(Lat=i[0],Lon=i[1],Head=i[2],File=fi,SaveLoc=DownLoc)
    if temp[2] is not None:

I have posted the entire python code snippet here. If you want to see the end result, you can check out the photo album. Below is one example image out of the 8 in that street segment, but when viewing the whole album you can see how it runs along the entire street.

Still one of the limitations of this is that there is no easy way to draw older images that I can tell — doing this approach you just get the most recent image. You need to know the pano-id to query older images. Preferably the meta data json should contain multiple entries, but that is not the case. Let me know if there is a way to amend this to grab older imagery or imagery over time. Here is a great example from Kyle Walker showing changes over time in Detroit.

Using Python to grab Google Street View imagery

I am at it again with using Google data. For a few projects I was interested in downloading street view imagery data. It has been used in criminal justice applications as a free source for second hand systematic social observation by having people code aspects of disorder from the imagery (instead of going in person) (Quinn et al., 2014), as estimates of the ambient walking around population (Yin et al., 2015), and examining criminogenic aspects of the built environment (Vandeviver, 2014).

I think it is just a cool source of data though to be honest. See for example Phil Cohen’s Family Inequality post in which he shows examples of auctioned houses in Detroit over time.

Using the Google Street View image API you can submit either a set of coordinates or an address and have the latest street view image returned locally. This ends up being abit simpler than my prior examples (such as the street distance API or the places API) because it just returns the image blob, no need to parse JSON.

Below is a simple example in python, using a set of addresses in Detroit that are part of a land bank. This function takes an address and a location to download the file, then saves the resulting jpeg to your folder of choice. I defaulted for the image to be 1200×800 pixels.

import urllib, os

myloc = r"C:\Users\andrew.wheeler\Dropbox\Public\ExampleStreetView" #replace with your own location
key = "&key=" + "" #got banned after ~100 requests with no key

def GetStreet(Add,SaveLoc):
  base = ""
  MyUrl = base + urllib.quote_plus(Add) + key #added url encoding
  fi = Add + ".jpg"
  urllib.urlretrieve(MyUrl, os.path.join(SaveLoc,fi))

Tests = ["457 West Robinwood Street, Detroit, Michigan 48203",
         "1520 West Philadelphia, Detroit, Michigan 48206",
         "2292 Grand, Detroit, Michigan 48238",
         "15414 Wabash Street, Detroit, Michigan 48238",
         "15867 Log Cabin, Detroit, Michigan 48238",
         "3317 Cody Street, Detroit, Michigan 48212",
         "14214 Arlington Street, Detroit, Michigan 48212"]

for i in Tests:

Dropbox has a nice mosaic view for a folder of pictures, you can view all seven photos here. Here is the 457 West Robinwood Street picture:

In my tests my IP got banned after around 100 images, but you can get a verified google account which allows 25,000 image downloads per day. Unfortunately the automatic API only returns the most recent image – there is no way to return older imagery nor know the date-stamp of the current image. (You technically could download the historical data if you know the pano id for the image. I don’t see any way though to know the available pano id’s though.) Update — as of 2018 there is now a Date associated with the image, specifically a Year-Month, but no more specific than that. Not being able to figure out historical pano id’s is still a problem as far as I can tell as well.

But this is definitely easier for social scientists wishing to code images as opposed to going into the online maps. Hopefully the API gets extended to have dates and a second API to return info. on what image dates are available. I’m not sure if Mike Bader’s software app is actually in the works, but for computer scientists there is a potential overlap with social scientists to do feature extraction of various social characteristics, in addition to manual coding of the images.