Seven Open Data Projects Encouraging Active Community Engagement

Data is believed to be the lifeblood of smart cities. But open data is something more than that, especially for the residents of a smart city. You gain access to smart apps. And you know how the traffic or the air quality is in a particular area so that you can avoid it.

Similar or more complex open data initiatives are springing in different parts of the world. For instance, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, A US-based non-profit has invested $1 million in seven data projects across the country. These seven initiatives will leverage the potential of open data to create more informed and engaged communities.

The projects are built with the focus being on creating data that is applicable, accessible and easy-to-understand. Read on to explore these interesting projects one by one!

1. Transforming Charlotte With Immersive Visual Data

An immersive visual data platform in Charlotte will help residents know the impact of urban design on their lives. The people will be able to visualize what they may see in the next 20 years in their neighbourhood.

This project is led by Associate Professor of Urban Design Ming-Chun Lee at the University of North Carolina. He used VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) technology, 3D visualisations and GIS data sets to build an open data platform.

The work was first demonstrated in an interactive installation at the Projective Eye Gallery at The Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City in March 2018. Through an app, visitors could view huge floor maps of Charlotte’s Cherry neighbourhood. They could see the demographic changes to the area over time and even increases in the property values.

This project aims at encouraging community participation in the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The citizens can participate in “scenario planning”. They can provide suggestions, ask questions and comment on factors including amenities, job creation etc.

2. OpenDataPhilly

A Philadelphia-based Start-up For An Innovative Mission

A Philadelphia-based start-up Azavea developed a platform called “OpenDataPhilly” providing over 300 data sets, applications and APIs to the region. This project aims at informing neighbours regarding things happening in the city through both municipal and non-municipal data.

The portal enables residents to locate data sets using keywords or category searches. For a single data set, application or API, the startup has included supplementing information about the origins, update frequency and other specifics.

Azavea is a geospatial data software firm that is contributing to The City of Philadelphia Office of Innovation & Technology mission. It envisions enhancing IT infrastructure that is advanced, optimised and responsive to the needs of residents and visitors.

Making free and easily accessible data to the people will encourage better and more transparent government. It will create a community that is more engaged and better informed.

3. Data-Driven Storytelling

Wichita-based Envision and Voice and Analytics company Sonify announced a collaborative effort to help the visually impaired or blind (VIB). The team has received $140,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. The funding will be used to explore audio components that can make open data more accessible to the VIB.

The team will find out the best use of audio so that data reaches VIB in an appealing storytelling manner. Eventually, it will enable them to be active participants in their communities. They will train a group of community journalists in the use of data platforms and advancing audio technologies.

More importantly, the VIB community will be actively involved in the experimentation and findings of the work. As a result, they will achieve data-driven audio solutions that can benefit all.

Currently, Envision and Sonify are working on testing new approaches for communicating data with sound.

4. Asthma Heat Map And Alert

SmartAirLA in partnership with Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma (LBACA) and Advancement Project California (APCA) introduces a community data initiative. The project intends to prevent asthma attacks and exposure to highly polluted regions. This entire project is focusing on the underprivileged populations in the Long Beach-LA Harbor region. The area is one of the most polluted places in the US with the highest asthma rates.

An Asthma Heat Map and Alert pilot will be conducted as a wellness and support tool for residents. SmartAirLA will develop data analytics to assist LBACA to provide real-time health education to children having asthma. It will also help families to improve asthma self-management. APCA will visualise the Heat Map to exactly locate asthmatic hotspots for mitigating air pollution.

With real-time alerts, people in the region will be able to make informed decisions about their daily outdoor activities. It will also help them in avoiding pollution exposure to prevent asthma emergencies. This is as per Sylvia Betancourt, Program Manager for LBACA.

5. Urban Periscope

Design and architecture firm Gensler is leading an initiative called ‘Urban Periscope’ in the city of San Jose. The firm is using AR to develop data visualisations that can inform residents about different locations to promote civic participation.

Urban Periscope is actually an app that uses the city’s affordable housing data to expand its reach. The app enables residents to point their phones at a development site. Or, an AR illustration allows to see what will be built there and how many housing units will be constructed.

All this data will be available in a three-dimensional arrangement. It will give real-world experience to the real-world and help change how people perceive data and gather knowledge.

6. Edit The City

THINK.urban, Connect the Dots and State is working in collaboration to address the main street economic and social challenges. This includes the urgent call for racial justice in public space to the recovery of small retail business during the COVID-19 crises.

This initiative called “Edit the City” is concentrating on the South Street Headhouse District in Philadelphia. It will involve and allow small business owners and residents to provide their input. The input will be for the transformation of the streets and sidewalks of the future.

To achieve this goal, the collaboration will expedite a stakeholder-led process. It will involve the collection of community data, crowdsourced project ideation and participatory small-scaled “edits” to the public realm.

The end result will be a publicly accessible open data set of district needs and project ideas. Ultimately, it will inform the people in the region.

7. SimCity-Style Urban Planning Game

Game designers from Drexel University are transforming Philadelphia’s open data into an exciting gaming platform for urban planning. This SimCity-style game aims at helping more people understand the political, economic, and sociological forces that shape urban communities. The project is set in the Mantua neighbourhood of the city. It is part of a national initiative to support and revive marginalized communities.

The game is developed on a database of real property values, zoning maps and incident reports in Philadelphia. It leverages public data to inform residents about how real estate development impacts a number of factors that shape the urban neighbourhood.  These include rental rates, food distribution, crime, political struggle, gentrification etc.

It involves residents in a fun and engaging manner where users can explore intricate, local sociological issues through play. As per reports, designers will launch the SIM-PHL game for Android and iOS in 2021.These seven data projects show how urban leaders can help build all-inclusive cities with citizen participation. Local government, in specific, has a bigger role to play and connect with residents in a better way.

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Within this program, we can deliver to governments and cities the possibility of implementing Smart City projects from idea (vision) to the final stage of implementation.

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