Using computer-imaging techniques to improve the objectivity of Visual Preference Surveys(TM).

Nelessen Associates is an urban design and planning firm based in Princeton, New Jersey, which has developed a proprietary planning tool called the Visual Preference SurveyTM (VPS). Using this tool, citizens view paired images of different built environments and then indicate a preference by ranking each image. The VPS is usually administered to groups of 100 to 300 people. After respondents have made their choices, survey results are tabulated quickly and reviewed with the group by the end of a workshop session. The strong consensus that develops in such workshops informs later professional planning and helps to foster a sense of "ownership" in the community.


One criticism of the VPS process relates to possible differences between photos that could sway the selection process. Such variables include time of day, intensity of light, weather and appearance of people and cars in the foreground. Addressing this criticism, Nelessen now uses computer-imaging techniques to eliminate unwanted variables and show isolate the specific changes being evaluated. In the images to the right, the differences between the paired pictures include buildings, street detailing and transit. Using this technology, Nelessen is able to better understand the key influences in the choices made by citizens.

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