Tuscaloosa, AL and University of Alabama Technology Can Detect Blighted Properties

Tuscaloosa, Alabama has teamed up with researchers at the University of Alabama to develop technology that can automatically detect blighted properties. The system uses cameras mounted on city vehicles – such as garbage trucks – to gather images of properties throughout the city.

“Efforts to address blight are not new or distinct to Tuscaloosa but it is a constant problem that is difficult to appropriately staff and address. This technology allows us to create early, equitable interventions that can enhance communities, prevent neighborhood decline, and connect underserved populations to social services to generate long-lasting change,” said Brendan Moore, executive director of Tuscaloosa’s urban development office.

The researchers used a computer model that was trained using photos of blighted properties and code violations that had been collected by the city over the last ten years. The system is then able to identify “nuisances” such as “overgrown grass, abandoned vehicles, litter, illegal parking, and appliances or furniture left outside.”  It uses a scoring system to provide an assessment and information on potential remedies, as well as determining the issue that is driving the score. It takes one week to scan the entire city.

“Early notification can allow the city to connect residents and property owners who need assistance to community service organizations at the onset of a problem before a cheap fix becomes a contentious and expensive compliance challenge,” the university stated.

The patent-pending system, was created by Dr. Erik Johnson, Assistant Professor of Economics at UA, and Brendan Moore, Executive Director of Urban Development for the City of Tuscaloosa. They expect that the solution could be made available to other cities facing similar problems. “It has the ability to be commercially scaled,” Moore said.