Kinder Institute to Roll Out Houston Urban Data Platform

The idea is to bring together hundreds of different datasets about urban Houston on the same computer platform so that researchers and others can conduct research projects across these datasets to provide new insights.

by Bill Fulton, Kinder Institute / January 27, 2017

In a couple of weeks, the Kinder Institute will host an important event on the campus of Rice University: The public rollout of the Houston Urban Data Platform.

As I’ve written before, we at the Kinder Institute have had a lot of successes in the last year, including 19 written reports, a high-impact analysis of the city’s pensions, convening of the Next City Vanguard conference and several high-profile speakers including the noted urbanist Richard Florida.

But the Urban Data Platform may be the most important, enduring effort we undertake this year — because we are creating an important piece of urban infrastructure that doesn’t currently exist.

As a former mayor and municipal department head, I can tell you that the information we have about cities is moving way, way faster than our ability to use it in order to make good decisions. For hundreds of years, urban systems managers and policymakers had to make decisions by the seat of their pants — because they had almost no information on what was going on. Now, they have the opposite problem — there’s too much information, and it’s almost impossible to use it all constructively to make better decisions.

In Houston, the Urban Data Platform — an effort led by Kathy Ensor, a Rice University statistics professor and Kinder Fellow — represents a big step in changing that situation. The idea is to bring together hundreds of different datasets about urban Houston on the same computer platform — covering demographics, housing, health, education, transportation, you name it — so that researchers and others can conduct research projects across these datasets to provide new insights.

We’ve loaded nearly 30 datasets on the platform so far. We have no idea what specifically will come out this effort, but we know that it will make Houston a better place.

One thing we do know is that the Urban Data Platform will help form the basis for our Houston Community Data Connections, which was recently approved by the Urban Institute as part of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership effort. Using the Urban Data Platform and other sources, HCDC — led by Jie Wu, our Director of Research Management — will roll data up to the neighborhood level and make it available on the web, while at the same time providing research services to community development organizations and other non-profits who need research done for them to accomplish their mission.

The Urban Data Platform rollout is an invitation-only event designed primarily for the research and data community. We’ll do a separate event about HCDC when the data portal is complete, but in the meantime you can learn more about HCDC’s research services here.

The Urban Data Platform and HCDC would not be possible without the support of Houston Endowment Inc. It’s a wonderful thing that Houston Endowment, Rice, and the Kinder Institute can partner on creating permanent assets that will help everybody work on making Houston a better place for all.

This article was originally published on Urban Edge.