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Los Angeles Turns to Mapping to Break Data Silos, Improve Efficiency

Mayor Eric Garcetti met with the press Friday to announce the launch of GeoHub, which he described as one of the most complete municipal open mapping platforms in the country.

Los Angeles wants to tear down the walls between all its departments' data, and it wants to use maps as the tool to do it.

On Friday, Mayor Eric Garcetti held a press conference with Esri founder Jack Dangermond to announce the launch of GeoHub, a multifaceted geographic information system platform that incorporates a number of existing ideas into one place. The goal is to share data between departments and create applications that allow users — both those in and outside of government — to get information about systems that interact with one another.

In a city the size of Los Angeles, that can mean a lot of things.

“Maps and geographic information are sort of central to operations in the police department and public works and planning — almost every agency,” Dangermond said during the press conference.

Taking a page from municipal open mapping platforms that have sprung up in cities such as Boston and Chicago, GeoHub hosts a catalog of more than 500 data sets — for now. Dangermond said the city and all its various departments and agencies will be able to update, supplement and add new data in the future.

“These maps are dynamic maps, and they reflect the dynamic operations behind the firewall in the city.”

Users can pull data on topics both widely relevant and highly specific such as the locations of wineries, the boundaries of U.S. Census tracts, vehicle collisions, streets that have been withdrawn from public use and places where stormwater runs off into sewers. The maps has an open application programming interface (API), so users can pull any and all of that data to use as they see fit.

It could have quite a few uses for the government, the public and the private sector, Dangermond said.

“(Southern California) Edison has expressed interest, the gas companies have expressed interest, utilities — the (the U.S. Geological Survey) was in my office this week … and they said, ‘Wow, this is really interesting. We could put our base maps and our science stuff into this for things like earthquakes’ … and suddenly we’ve got geographic knowledge coming together through an open and accessible portal for everybody,” he said.

From a city perspective Garcetti and Dangermond hope the platform allows for efficiency — that is, helping agencies to target their work more effectively, at times that make sense, in the places that need it the most.

“If the city’s about to pave a street, maybe we don’t pave it because we see that it’s about to be torn up by the cable company or somebody else to lay some lines down, and we can delay it a month or two,” Garcetti said during the event.

Having access to data from across the city’s operations could mean better long-term planning with a clearer idea of what results government work is doing.

“Animal services (might want) to start looking at what sort of animals are in what part of town — are more cats being picked up in certain areas of town? Do we need to have an educational campaign in a certain neighborhood that we should spay and neuter your cats instead of your dogs?” Garcetti suggested.

It’s been something of a trend among cities, counties and states lately to turn to GIS as a means of creating data tools that helps both government and the public in various ways. Dangermond connected GeoHub with the open data movement — as cities and other forms of sub-federal government continue to release data to the public, it makes sense to find ways to express it in terms that the public can understand. Since much of government work is geographic in nature, maps make logical sense.

Los Angeles in particular has been turning to mapping applications lately with several headline-grabbing projects such as its El Niño weather map that lets users find sandbag pickup locations, get the latest information on power outages and see where traffic is snarled due to a collision. The University of California, Los Angeles, recently published an “energy atlas” map plotting out which parts of the city and county are the most energy-efficient.

With GeoHub, the city is largely turning first to traffic-related projects. Its first four applications released through the platform are:

  • “Streetwize,” which maps all current and planned permitted work on public rights of way;
  • “The Road to 2,400,” which tracks progress toward the mayor’s goal of having the Bureau of Street Services pave 2,400 lane-miles of roadway per year;
  • “Vision Zero High Injury Network,” a story-map application laying out where the city’s pedestrian fatalities occur and how the city plans to reduce them;
  • “LA’s Growing Tech Industry,” which lays out where the city’s technology-focused businesses are.
Garcetti touted GeoHub as being one of the most comprehensive municipal mapping platforms in the country, and tied it back to his 2014 directive that launched the city’s open data portal.

“My data is your data,” he said.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.