There are an ample amount of laudable tech projects created through private-public partnerships, but not so many cities that do it completely by themselves.
That’s where Pittsburgh excels with a new open source app called Burgh’s Eye View that takes open data and maps it into a colorful array of police incidents, 311 service requests and building inspections. In a press conference Monday morning, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto touted the benefits of the app — that took nearly a year to build — as a window into city neighborhoods.
“Transparency and openness are essential to ensuring a responsive city government and thriving neighborhoods,” Peduto said. “Burgh’s Eye View brings that transparency directly to the citizens of Pittsburgh, and more importantly transforms the experience of open government, by making it truly accessible to everyone.”
On the map, residents can track 311 requests by type or by responding department, and nestled within those are sets of pins noting arrests and non-traffic citations captured from Pittsburgh’s police blotter. The map’s information even extends to building inspection data, which plots the status of permits, building violations and city facilities. Everything is easily searchable and understandable, and the city’s Department of Innovation & Performance, which is the entity behind the map, pledged to expand the service with more data as it gains users.
Laura Meixell, the department’s analytics and strategy manager, said her team arrived on the solution after hearing the needs of city staff and residents. People wanted to know where things were happening and when. These requests could deal with property, or crime, or a service request to fill a pothole, but the underlying solution was a map that regularly updated itself with latest details. So instead of building a handful of maps for a handful of different departments, Meixell’s team dared to combine it into one open source project.
“With technology today there were just so many open source resources that we were able to pull together a bunch of different libraries to create this.” she said. “And now that we’ve sort of built the skill set internally, we’re able to move backward and forward on these kinds of projects.”
Using RStudio — a free and open source editor that simplifies data visualizations — her team first went to work on a version for law enforcement. Pittsburgh’s police department was in the market for a web and mobile app that could show what happened between officers’ shifts, the idea being better placement of officers and resources. The other demand was for collaboration between police departments.
“Previously, each division only had insight into what was going on in their area,” Meixell said. “But with this map, they have a lot more opportunities to coordinate between areas of the city.”
With input and iteration, the app eventually forked into a few versions, and before long, it was decided one public map could answer a laundry list of inquiries from departments. Now, the team has a one-stop shop for residents and community groups to learn where crimes are occurring and the location of city repairs. Filters and a search bar target exactly the types of information they’re looking for and it can all be condensed into a mobile layout for smartphones and tablets.
“We’re definitely proud of it,” Meixell said. “The big thing for us is that this was totally built internally by my team and therefore we really had the ability to go into different directions with it and really become an agile product shop.”