Honolulu is, somewhat surprisingly, the 10th largest municipality in the United States. IBM is working with the local government to update its technology—to “build a smarter Honolulu,” as they would say. Here is an interesting video on efforts to provide data to citizens, and the results from those efforts, namely, citizen-created apps. A bus-tracker app is mentioned, and similar apps have been developed in other cities (there are enough apps tracking the CTA in Chicago that it has created, as Jacqui Cheng put it, a “battle of the CTA bus trackers“). The tsunami app is, however, more unique.
This TED Talk is a good reminder why big data, as David Brooks recently put it, is “good at some things and not at others.” In this talk, Edi Rama, mayor of Tirana, Albania, discusses how residents started to take responsibility for their city after he initiated beautification projects, and how he attributes decreases in corruption, littering, and tax deficiency to this new-found city pride. I don’t agree with everything he says, and it’s a long video, but I think that his point about civic pride is a good example of something data doesn’t always do well. It reminds me of Mayor Daley’s efforts to create beautiful public spaces (see here and here), such as Millennium Park, which is often hailed as a major success. A mayor looking only to hard data might not have pursued those projects.
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 →
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.
The State of Michigan recently appointed an emergency manager for my hometown of Flint, ousting the mayor and other public officials. The manager, Michael Brown, held his first public meeting last week and defended the legality of his position against residents questioning whether it was constitutional, perhaps because of high-profile criticism of Michigan’s emergency managers by Rachel Maddow, including this clip:
Michigan enabled emergency managers last year through Public Act 4, which allows the state to appoint emergency managers who can dissolve local governments, fire public employees, cancel union contracts, and pass local ordinances. (It’s important to note, as some have, that this “new” law is really an expansion of a longer-standing Michigan emergency-manager statute.) The law has sustained significant criticism, even evoking claims of racism, since usually there are white managers appointed to govern cities where a majority of the residents are black. So far, there are four cities with emergency managers (Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and Ecorse), reports Michigan Radio, and two school districts—Detroit and Highland Park. The city of Detroit may be next.
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).
Here’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.