Category Archives: Organizations

Low-cost technology for emergency managers

My friend Shahrzad Rizvi, along with co-author Joshua Kelly, recently published an article in Public Management Magazine titled “Communicating Emergency Information on a Budget.” The article covers low-cost ways for emergency managers to connect with their communities. It highlights social media, new types of alert systems, and free online mapping of public safety concerns. The article includes links to some of these new tools, so I encourage you to check it out.

The Daily Show on MERS

Jon Stewart took on MERS on Tuesday night’s episode of the Daily Show; watch it below. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, there is a good deal of recent ongoing litigation against MERS, and it’s not only in the mortgage-registration business; it also markets tools to local governments for vacant property registration.

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Interactive Map of Chicago Crime, Ward by Ward

As a follow up to yesterday’s post about the SimCity zoning map of Chicago, I’d like to point out that the map is a collection of interactive apps developed by Open City based largely on information from Chicago’s data portal. A couple of other apps by this project that I think are really interesting are the Crime in Chicago app, which lets you compare crime ward by ward, and breaks down the most frequent crime and even the time of day it was committed, and the How’s Business app,  which gives a snapshot view of economic indicators pulled from various sources. These are the types of innovative apps that show the powerful potential for open data.

Statistics on Crime in Chicago Wards

MIT’s SENSEable City Lab’s TED talk – Video Wednesday

This video is from March 2011. It features Carlo Ratti from the MIT SENSEable City Lab discussing how they track real-time data from cities, particularly cellphone data. I like the video because it moves beyond visualizations to some useful analysis. It also covers some of their cool projects, such as trash_track. The lab is also doing some other great stuff, I encourage you to check it out. Here’s an article covering some of their older projects. One of their latest projects, United Cities of America, tracks how far commuters travel in US cities, again using cellphone data. The results are surprising and have real implications on how we run our cities. Continue reading

Featured Websites: Crowdsourcing disease surveillance

Today I’m spotlighting a few websites that track real-time health information.

One neat site is Healthmap.org, a site that scans news reports and gives an hourly update about health concerns worldwide, pinpointing the location on a map. It says it’s a go-to place for disease-surveillance experts, and I can see why: The site does a good job of consolidating information about outbreaks and quickly showing where they are concentrated. Here’s its promo video:

Another new website, sickweather.com, is focused on collecting information from social networks. Users can (1) input their health symptoms or (2) let sickweather’s algorithm crawl their Facebook and Twitter feeds for reports of illiness. Then, that data is used to show where in the US certain symptoms are cropping up most often. As reported in Fast Company, it’s named “sickweather” because, “just as Doppler radar scans the skies for indicators of bad weather, Sickweather scans social networks for indicators of illness.” Yet as John Metcalfe at Atlantic Cities points out, it looks like some cities have a bulk of the users so far, so until it catches on, it’s more just for fun. And since it relies on user self-reports and has no fact-checker, it may be less accurate than healthmap, which relies on articles that have are vetted in some way. Sickweather, however. has the potential to catch outbreaks much earlier in their lifecycle than healthmap; it’d be great if the two services could be integrated.

One final project that has the potential to catch diseases early on is Google’s Flu Trends, which uses search terms that, Google says, “are good indicators of flu activity” to provide a visualization of which countries have the worst flu activity. Google also has a tool for tracking Dengue fever.

These technologies are an important leap forward. And the more people who know about it, the better the technology gets, at least in regard to sickweather.com. So, check it out.

Urbanflow’s view of a touchscreen-filled data-driven city – Video Wednesday

This week’s video is a fun one; it’s a concept video about Urbanflow, a collaboration between a NYC-based design company Urbanscale and Finnish designers Nordkapp. They want touchscreens everywhere in Helsinki, so the public can access maps and transit info, interact with each other, and report municipal concerns like potholes. John Pavlus has raised some concerns about their plan—you can read his view here—but for now, just enjoy their beautiful visualization of the data-driven city of the future (after the jump).

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Featured Website: Random Hacks of Kindness and Sheltr

Today I want to highlight a great project that showcases the potential for technology to change city life for the better. Random Hacks of Kindness (or RHoK) is as an initiative started in 2009 by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, NASA, and the World Bank that hosts app contests aimed at the more social-justice side of open data. (It was originally aimed at disaster and crisis response, but as they say on their site, they’re “always looking for new problems to work on.”) So far, they’ve hosted 3 worldwide events in 31 cities, engaging more than 3,000 participants. All projects developed during their events are required to be released under an open-source license. Here’s a link to their blog.

I’ll highlight one example of an app developed at a RHoK event: Sheltr, an app developed at the December 2011 RHoK contest in Philadelphia that recently won GovFresh’s Award for “Best Social Services App” of 2011. Sheltr is a mobile app that provides information about resources for the homeless in Philadelphia, including intake centers, places to get meals, and places to sleep. Their goal is to categorize this information so that it is easily accessible to community members and service providers. The problem is outlined on the project’s website: ”Currently there is no way to gauge real-time availability of food and shelter services for these disparate groups. The Philly Sheltr Project establishes consolidated baseline information (service availability), contact for intake centers, and specific instructions to access resources.”

Hopefully, the Sheltr project will spread to new cities soon. I knew some homeless advocates in Atlanta, and this project would have been a big help to them. They gave volunteers hardcopy lists of shelters and meal sites, but the lists had to be constantly updated and redistributed to volunteers. This project would make it a lot easier not only to update the list but also to distribute it throughout the community.

Kudos to RHok, Sheltr, and all the other hackers working for the public good!

PBS highlights low-income students studying urban planning – Video Wednesday

PBS Logo.svgHere’s an inspiring video that showcases a teacher in Detroit who is coaching low-income kids from Malcolm X Acadamy competing in a regional Future City competition for city planning. They win the rookie prize. I think that teaching kids this form of civic engagement is vital to our future.

Featured Website: LOVELAND Technologies

loveland technologiesLOVELAND Technologies is a neat project out of Detroit, Michigan, that is selling micro-lots of land in “microhoods” for $1 per square inch that people can track online. They focus on making these microhoods exciting by generating artsy urban-renewal projects. According to their website, they “aim to provide a fun, game-like ownership experience while creating entertainment fundraising, community collaboration, and social mapping tools that work at any scale.” They got started a few years ago through Kickstarter.

They have a few other projects. There’s online mapping projects (in collaboration with Data Driven Detroit) and a “LoveTax” system, a creative way for people to fund projects. They also have a cool online app called “Why Don’t We Own This?” that tracks more than 40,000 vacant properties owned by the city, state, or county. The Huffington Post recently reported that this year’s Code for America fellows in Detroit will be building off the momentum that project has created. Overall, a great Detroit project to check out.

For more info, the founders gave a presentation at a TEDx conference in Detroit in 2010 that I’ve embedded after the jump.

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Featured Website: OpenPlans

OpenPlans.org is a nonprofit organization generating open-source software designed to use data to improve city transportation, among other things. It has received quite a bit of media attention recently, including this recent article by Arianna Huffington, spotlighting the organization’s efforts to equip NYC with a real-time-tracking system for city buses. But as the group points out on its website, it has been at this for a decade and has a bevy of initiatives and projects, all aimed at open data or transportation systems.

The diversity of projects is impressive; I’ll highlight three of many. First, the organization is a leader in developing and promoting standards for open 311 data. Second, the organization—working primarily with NYC agencies—is busy creating tools for cities, such as this Bike Share Map, that are all open-source, so they can be adopted by other cities at minimal expense. Finally, there is Streetfilms.org, a project that generates “short films showing how smart transportation design and policy can result in better places to live, work and play.”

It’s a great project, and I encourage you to check it out.