What's New in Civic Tech: A Look at How Mapping Data Makes It Useful

Plus, the DATA Act is set to evolve, and the District of Columbia establishes a comprehensive data policy.

by / May 4, 2017
Robin Scheswohl/San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

What's New in Civic Tech takes a look at highlights and recent happenings in the world of civic technology.

How Mapping Data Makes It Useful

What do San Francisco, Santa Monica, Calif., Seattle and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have in common? Recently released maps detailing various data sets are shedding light on information that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Let's start with San Francisco, where as far back as the late 1800s, subterranean vats of water were created as an emergency response to "the city being repeatedly and savagely burned to the ground," CityLab reported.

Anywhere from 170 to 200 of these tanks (numbers from the city vary) in many locations underground function as emergency water sources — they are separate from the water mains and the suction stations that pump saltwater from the Bay.

And after pulling data from a previous cistern project, Mapzen’s John Oram plotted 170 buried cisterns, and zooming in "reveals their cross-streets and volumes, ranging from less than 10,000 gallons to a supersized 243,000-gallon one under downtown’s Civic Center," according to CityLab.

Down in Santa Monica, the city's planning team created an interactive map to show where its downtown area may grow over the next 13 years and to visually display possible future development.


Santa Monica, Calif.'s See Downtown 2030 map shows all sites — but the only sites that are considered as having potential for change are orange and yellow.

The Planning and Community Development Department, which relies on numerous data sources to analyze land-use trends and possibilities, released a Build-Out Analysis that serves as a tool to estimate and describe the amount and location of future development within the downtown area. It serves not as a prediction of the future, according to the analysis, but as a reasonable forecast of expected growth, which is 3.2 million square feet.

And in working toward the Vision Zero initiative, Seattle has mapped its collisions data set, which pinpoints the locations and attributes of all collisions that occur within the city — and multiple collisions can be seen on every block. All collisions data is provided by the Seattle Police Department and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

At the federal level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released neighborhood-level data on 27 chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, kidney and heart disease, and cholesterol as part of its 500 Cities initiative. And it's created an interactive map to make the data for the country's 500 largest cities easy to digest.

Now, policymakers, researchers and public health professionals can zoom in to a specific census tract and look at local data compared with data for the entire city, and use that information to address and target interventions to specific areas where they're needed most.

DATA Act 2022: Changing Technology, Changing Culture

On May 4 — five days before the deadline when the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget must publish all spending data on USASpending.gov — the Data Foundation and Deloitte co-published a report that describes how the nation’s first open data law, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) of 2014, is set to evolve beyond its statutory implementation deadline of November 2021.

The report, DATA Act 2022: Changing Technology, Changing Culture, details a comprehensive, long-term vision for the DATA Act, including seven technical and cultural challenges and solutions: Data+Act+reportThe report also includes five case studies that illustrate how the DATA Act allows federal agencies to gain new enterprisewide visibility into their accounts, obligations and awards, and helps inspectors general to deploy anti-fraud analytics more cheaply.

Those interviewed for the report — 30 officials from federal and state government, tech and the private sector — had a consistent message, according to the Data Foundation: While expectations should be high for May 2017, not everything will be perfect right away.

D.C. Goes Open by Default

On May 4, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the district's data policy, which open government advocate the Sunlight Foundation touts as a solid balance of openness, security and privacy.

The policy, which went into effect April 27, notes that "the greatest value from the District’s investment in data can only be realized when enterprise datasets are freely shared among District agencies, with federal and regional governments, and with the public to the fullest extent consistent with safety, privacy, and security."

As for where D.C.'s policy fits with other cities that have open data policies, such as Seattle, New York City and San Diego, the Sunlight Foundation said the district's policy "builds on the good work of other American cities working through how to balance competing interests with its strong commitment to open by default and strong commitments to data protection and privacy."

Jessica Mulholland Former Web Editor/Photographer

Jessica Mulholland served as the Web editor of Government Technology magazine from October 2012 through September 2017. She worked for the Government Technology editorial team for nearly 10 years.