Pittsburgh is taking its Burgh’s Eye View application, a map that displays municipal data sets ranging from police incident reports to 311 service requests, on tour, having its developers visit 14 neighborhoods throughout the city to simultaneously solicit feedback while spreading awareness of the program’s functionality.
Burgh’s Eye View, which was built in-house, uses open source technology and data sets that were already available via Pittsburgh’s website. The app provides a centralized location for users to see information mapped out, ideally making it simpler for residents, neighborhood groups and activists to learn about the blocks where they work and live.
Laura Meixell, assistant director of performance improvement for the city's Department of Innovation and Performance, said the purpose of the neighborhood events is threefold. First, her team of five developers hopes to spread awareness of Burgh’s Eye View and encourage more residents to use it.
The second goal is for the five developers and analysts who created the app to spend more time in the field, meeting real users and hearing about how regular people use the program. The third goal is to collect feedback to ultimately enhance Burgh’s Eye View by adding new features.
“Moving forward, we’re really excited about where this could go from here,” Meixell said. “We’re in a place where we can go in a couple different directions, frankly, in terms of building new content, or building new applications, or helping to facilitate community practice around civil applications or use of data.”
The first of the 14 neighborhood sessions took place Monday, Feb. 6, in Pittsburgh’s Morningside neighborhood on the city’s east end. Meixell described the residents of Morningside as “very, very well informed and sort of tech-savvy.” The folks at that event were knowledgeable about the app, suggesting the team make it so they could eventually embed the map on their own websites, having it then automatically update as data became available. This functionality would make it so a neighborhood watch group, for example, could create a site with a map of crimes on its streets over the past 30 days and then have that map add new incidents as they were reported.
“That’s a great idea, and definitely something we hadn’t thought of,” Meixell said. “Just a good little example of how we’re taking some cues from them.”
Burgh’s Eye View first debuted in November 2016. It has a simple, catch-all search bar and date range, and users can toggle data sets, filter by area (neighborhood, police zone, City Council district or Public Works division), or choose other options for more specified information. The available data sets are 311 service requests, building permits and code violations, and crime and public safety incidents.
The data used for Burgh’s Eye View always existed, the app simply aggregates it. For example, the city was previously publishing a police blotter each day as a PDF and then taking it down every week. The information from that blotter is now available on the map, in perpetuity. And such data goes back 10 years.
“The way you make data matter for people who aren’t data scientists is through visualization, and probably the most successful kind of visualization that exists is a map,” said Nick Hall, open data services engineer for Pittsburgh, not long after the app debuted. “So much of Pittsburgh’s data — because we’re a city — lives in space. It’s geographic. By building one map that can contain lots of different data sets within it, we’re getting the most ‘bang for our buck’ in terms of making this information accessible to residents.”
Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.