Posted on 03/04/2011 by OpenSanDiego


IBM Unveils Data Site for Urban Planners

Source: Wall St. Journal

IBM on Wednesday introduced, a new free website intended to provide more complete data to city planners, as well as community groups and individuals. The site doesn’t actually create data, but aggregates data sets from various agencies in more than 50 cities around the world, with data from another 30 cities being added soon.

According to John Tolva, IBM’s director of citizenship and technology, city data such as traffic patterns, crime statistics, or consumer spending are already available to planners, but “fairly opaque” and difficult to access because it’s published in PDFs and spreadsheets, and often requires even government employees to navigate complex inter-agency bureaucracies. Tolva said that putting the data online makes it easier to read, chart, and correlate with data from other agencies or localities.

For example, he told Digits, a researcher in San Francisco was able to compare calls from a given neighborhood to the city’s 311 hot line with 911 calls from the same neighborhood, and then correlate vagrancy with a particular type of drug use. “It’s a more nuanced version of the broken window theory” (which posits that vandalism leads to additional criminal behavior), he said.

Tolva said he hopes that the site will contribute to a “renaissance in the profession of urban planning,” which has often had to rely more on anecdotes than data. He pointed to a chart evaluating the impact on traffic of increased tolls on bridges and tunnels in New York City as an example of how this kind of data could be used to influence public debate on topics like congestion pricing — a failed 2008 proposal to limit automobile traffic in Manhattan during the week. “The discussion [in 2008] wasn’t exactly data-driven,” Tolva noted.

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