Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
On the heels of Bloomberg's $42 million open data initiative, here's a few programs already boosting civic reform.
Bloomberg Philanthropies has launched a $42 million initiative to help cities use open data better. The What Works Cities initiative partners with the Harvard Kennedy School, Johns Hopkins University, Results for America, and the Sunlight Foundation, to provide technical training to 100 mid-sized cities (with population between 100,000 to 1,000,000) chosen from the ones that apply.
Open data is "a muscle that every city is trying to beef up," says Jim Anderson, head of government innovation programs at the charitable organization of New York's former mayor, Michael Bloomberg. "What cities tell us ... they really need is tools, tips, and techniques for creating a culture to better use the data they've already got."
The idea is not just to teach city governments new techniques on harvesting open data to tackle urban problems and measure performance, but to replicate successful approaches that are already out there, says Anderson. This peer-to-peer idea-sharing can help participating city governments get "a bigger bang for every buck they're spending," he says.
Here are three cities currently using open data in creative ways, as highlighted by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which can be great models for others with similar problems:
In 2010, New Orleans launched its BlightSTAT program, through which city officials as well as citizens can evaluate the city's progress in confronting urban blight. Using this data, NOLA also created "BlightStatus"—a nifty map where residents can pull up blight-related information on any address (below). These data-driven elements guided the ongoing decisions of the mayor's fight against blight—which, according to Governing, the city is winning. In 2014, New Orleans announced that it reached a milestone by cutting down blight by roughly 30 percent since 2010.
To better inform restaurant-goers about unsanitary venues, San Francisco successfully piloted a collaboration with Yelp—fusing the city's restaurant health inspection data onto the site's restaurant review pages. If you open up the page of restaurant Tacos El Primo, for example, it shows a health score of 98 out of 100 (below). Yelp ratings are pretty powerful. Apart from serving as a mouthpiece for the city to tell residents about food hazards, the collaboration is potentially a way to shame repeat-offender restaurants into complying with health standards.
In partnership with medical service provider Propeller Health, Louisville has planted GPS trackers inside inhalers to measure when and where in the city people use them most. The city isn't the best for people suffering from allergies or asthma, so this project helps match hotspots of inhaler-use with air quality data. That way, public health officials can know where to target their interventions.