Tag Archives: Beauty

What makes a Street Beautiful?

What makes a street beautiful?  The folks over at OpenPlans are trying to figure that out.  The project asks website visitors to choose from pairs of randomly selected streets in Philadelphia to decide which is more beautiful.  It’s a neat idea, but has some major flaws:

Firstly, the project uses images from Google Street View.  Anyone who has used street view knows that images are distorted, and quality varies greatly.  When clicking through the “beautiful streets” survey, I found myself clicking the better quality image almost every time…even when I was trying not to.  Something that was fish-eyed and hazy was hard to identify as “beautiful.”

Secondly, the angles of the photographs vary and have a big impact on the viewer.  You can rotate the images (as in google street view), but will people actually?  I didn’t much.  Thus, if the first view is that of a concrete wall, it’s not going to look beautiful,  though the street may in fact be.

Improving the project would take a lot of additional work, and I’m not sure it’d be worth it.  But perhaps the organizers could go out and take their own 200 pictures.  How to avoid bias by the photographers is an immediate issue here.  There’d also be a loss of “3D” capabilities, but I’m not sure that’s an issue.

You can decide for yourself, though.  Check out the project HERE. And let me know what you think.  Is the project going to get any useful data?  Are there any easy fixes the organizers could have taken to improve on the project?

And for good measure, one of my favourite beautiful streets, Newberry Blvd in Milwaukee, WI.  Google Street View doesn’t really do it justice.

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Be it Resolved

UPDATE: A full BlogTO review here provides a little more context


Wednesday night at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) , journalists, architects, writers, and academics gathered to debate the topic: Be it resolved that Toronto will never be beautiful. Put on by the Walrus Magazine, the debate expanded on the contents of this article which is lengthy but worth a read. (A brief synopsis of the debate is available here).

The topic itself gets to the heart of the inferiority complex of Torontonians, and perhaps Toronto itself. As the city has grown into Canada’s financial capital, and as it forged through the financial crisis better than most, questions about Toronto’s place among global cities have grown also. Part of this, is a certain self consciousness over appearance. Much like an adolescent worrying about body image as their voice changes, Toronto too wonders how it looks as it grows older, and bigger.

A favorite quotation that I’ve heard from the debate is from CBC’s Matt Galloway (of Metro Morning). He says that he’s had some of my most beautiful moments in this city in lineups in strip malls, which is about equivalent to telling someone who’s feeling ugly that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. It might be true, but it certainly doesn’t help in the moment. Over the last few years, though, I’ve come to better understand what he means living in the often vilified St. James Town.The Soviet aesthetic doesn’t prevent beautiful moments from happening, though let’s not pretend for one minute that it’s aesthetically pleasing.

As the city moves forward in the face of budget cuts, will Toronto become more beautiful, or less? And what does that mean anyway? What makes any city beautiful?

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