While residents worry about what the Street View photos will do to property values, if Google's Staten Island project looks anything like what it did for New Orleans following Katrina, it will raise the kind of awareness the "forgotten borough" will need as it continues to rebuild. Like the awareness (via a huge outcry) that reminded legislators about all the damage that still exists on Staten Island and the New Jersey coast, which helped bring the Sandy relief bill back to a vote, for example. When Google took photos of post-hurricane New Orleans, it didn't just put the pictures up, it also tracked the progress, adding accountability to the situation. And it sounds like Google intends to do something similar with these post-Sandy images. "We hope this accurate, updated imagery that will soon be available in Google Maps 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," a spokesperson told the New York Post.
The people of coastal neighborhood like New Dorp Beach, Staten Island (pictured above), of course, have legitimate concerns. "They’re going to call it a wasteland! I don’t like Google driving around my property. What are they doing it for? To drop the property value?" Damian Malandro told the Post. Once up on Google Maps, the images will connect right up to specific addresses. Someone looking to buy a house in the neighborhood might not want to pay somewhere around $400,000, the going rate for houses in the according to various real-estate sites, for property right on the water. That might hurt property value. Plus, we can't imagine what it's like having some fancy Google computer car drive through our still-broken neighborhoods.
But, as far as property values go, Sandy is ultimately to blame for any decreases that happen, not Google. Someone looking to buy a house in the "Forgotten Borough" likely already knows that Sandy ravaged the area and that some of the hardest hit residents are still living in trailers in Connecticut. Keeping the photos off Google Maps Street View won't change that. The Internet offers plenty of other places to find accurate photos of how these places look.
At this point, Staten Island has more than an image problem, it has a damage problem. Fixing things will have a more positive effect than keeping pictures off Google Maps. For the minor negative effects it has, the Street View project will remind people the area still needs fixing. And as things (hopefully) get better, and Google updates their database, the project will provide a more accurate portrayal of the neighborhood than a Google Search of "Staten Island houses", which will likely pull up Sandy images for a very long time.
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic Wire.