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Los Angeles Unveils Dashboard to Measure Sustainability Efforts

Chief Data Officer Abhi Nemani says the city's dashboard is connected to ambitious environmental conservation plan, and engages and impacts residents in various ways.

Many cities have a sustainability plan, but few have a dashboard to tally progress and keep tabs.

On April 8, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti released a sustainability plan and performance dashboard that’s envisioned to secure the municipality’s limited resources. The city branded the 105-page booklet as “the pLAn” and attached it to a dashboard that tracks economic and environmental goals.

Measurements heavily monitor water usage, a critical city challenge, and display imported water purchases, average per capita water usage, and the percentage of locally sourced water – currently at 15 percent and aimed to be 50 percent by 2035.

Encapsulated in the pLAn’s short-term goals, earmarked for completion by 2017, is a push to establish a 65-station bike-sharing system, create 20,000 green jobs, add 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations and more than triple the city’s solar power —  installed capacity is currently at 132 megawatts with a goal of 400 megawatts.

Long term, Los Angeles has an equally ambitious agenda with multiple deadlines. Garcetti said he believes the city can increase its solar power to provide for 400,000 homes by 2035. Likewise, the city is working to decrease rent-burdened households — households that pay 30 percent or more of income on rent — by 10 percentage points by 2025, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

“Furthermore, I intend to use the pLAn as a tool to manage the city,” Garcetti said, promising annual pLAn evaluations and budget priority. “Reviews of our department general managers will incorporate whether they are meeting the goals of the pLAn.”

In an interview with Government Technology, Los Angeles Chief Data Officer Abhi Nemani credited L.A.’s leadership and support team for the dashboard’s rollout. Here's what he has to say about the initiative.

GT: What prompted the launch of L.A.’s sustainability dashboard?

Nemani: The pLAn dashboard was created by Mayor Garcetti’s Sustainability team, which is led by our Chief Sustainability Officer Matt Peterson. In particular, Ted Bardacke [the deputy director of sustainability] and Sarah Randolph [a project coordinator] led the development of the tool. The dashboard is modeled off of the city’s broader performance dashboard that was launched in June 2014, and tracks performance city-wide on key metrics around the mayor’s Back to Basics agenda.

Both dashboards were built using Socrata’s GovStat platform — and are tied directly to open data. That means that users can not only track the metrics, but also explore the data behind, as you can see on the home page.

GT: Relative to transparency, accountability and city innovation efforts, what does the dashboard represent for you?

Nemani: As the mayor mentioned in the announcement, “This isn’t a plan you put on the shelf; this is a plan of action.” The Sustainable City pLAn includes clear, specific and important commitments the city is making to achieve our sustainability goals, which we are already starting to put into place — in fact, just today [April 9], the mayor announced our “Save the Drop” campaign for water conservation. I am a firm believer in the notion that if you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen. The dashboard gives us a platform to measure, track and assess our progress, and it does so in a way that’s transparent and accessible to the people the pLAn will serve: the residents of Los Angeles.

Beyond that, the mayor’s Executive Directive for the Sustainable City pLAn includes a expectation that all data relevant to the plan be made open and freely available. We expect to continue to publish open data that active citizens can use and collaborate with us to help achieve the plan’s goals.

GT: How do you think the dashboard engages and impacts L.A. residents?

Nemani: The L.A. Sustainability plan extends beyond other similar initiatives undertaken by other cities in that it not only covers environmental issues, but also housing, transportation and the economy. All of these issues are central to the lives of Angelenos — and in all of them, it’s not just the city that plays a role, but residents themselves. With the dashboard’s transparency into the city’s progress, we hope it empowers them to adopt the plan themselves and get involved in the effort.

GT: Does the sustainability dashboard have potential to drive sustainability metrics in other cities?

Nemani: The dashboard was built using the software-as-a-service GovStat platform for Socrata. While not open source, it is reusable for other cities. We are eager to work with and learn from other cities using such tools to promote data-driven sustainability.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.