Last week, Google’s Street View car was spotted taking photos of Sandy-damaged neighborhoods to update the company's maps. The re-shooting of these communities was later revealed, to the ire of some residents, to be a collaborative effort between Google and NYC officials. Though it has been presented as a means to raise awareness and funds for reconstruction, some homeowners are worried about the effects that Google's documentation could have on their property values.
Since Hurricane Sandy swept through the east coast last October, residents of affected streets have had to live among visual reminders of the storm’s destruction. Burned facades, displaced boardwalk planks and oceanfront debris strewn curbside still remain months after high winds and flooding devastated the New York area. When it was reported that the Google Street View van was snapping photos in Staten Island and the Rockaways, local residents responded with angry complaints. Though these communities have shown great resilience, they nevertheless hope to put the harrowing images of Sandy’s havoc behind them. Some residents accuse Google of abusing the privacy of these homeowners during this vulnerable recovery time and think the updated maps will make resale of their properties difficult. Others believe the updated maps will work to garner support for a speedier reconstruction, as Google claims they will.
A statement released by a Google spokesperson said that the company hopes the updated maps will help with the ongoing recovery efforts: “As part of our ongoing work to provide useful information in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Street View team is currently re-driving affected areas of New York. We hope this accurate, updated imagery will help people around the world better understand the extent of the damage and the importance of coming together as a community to aid in the recovery efforts.”
After being criticized for the slow update of maps of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, Google has tried to make clear the intention to re-shoot the New York area as reconstruction continues, explaining that the company will return to document recovery efforts. Google also explained that these will only be temporary Street View images to reflect the reality of the neighborhood, but it has not been articulated how often the re-shooting of these communities will occur.
New York City Mayor’s Office Deputy Press Secretary Julie Wood issued a statement saying “When Google consulted with our administration, we agreed that gathering this visual data and sharing it prudently was an important service they should perform, as they have after other global disasters.” She continued, “Google is committed to documenting these same neighborhoods again soon to show the recovery we are confident will be made.”