Staten Island Counts: Using Data to Tell a Story
As part of the one-year anniversary of the NYC Open Data Law – Local Law 11 of 2012 – we’re profiling users of NYC Open Data.
Today we’re highlighting the work of Aileen Gemma Smith, Founder and CEO of Vizalytics Technology, an organization whose mission is to enable change with data. Vizalytics began as an R&D project called Staten Island Counts. Their goal was to use data and visualizations to tell a precise story about the opportunities and challenges for Staten Island communities and businesses.
We condensed the interview we had with Aileen below.
How are you sharing open data with your community?
In Staten Island, information is siloed and not everyone is aware of how much is available, or the potential of merged datasets to give useful insights into needs and opportunities. We’ve shared open data with elected officials and other community stakeholders like the members of Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and members of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation. People are thrilled to discover how easy it is to access open data.
What type of data does your community find useful?
Hyper-local data is really important. We have gone over 311 data reports of trees, wires, sewer overflows, and crowded drains. After Sandy hit, my partner and I worked from our hotel room (we live in Zone A and evacuated) manipulating data in Google fusion tables from gas station maps and Staten Island business maps. We looked at surge lines and looked at what businesses were within the surge lines. Specifically, we proposed the Staten Island Borough President’s office create maps using Department of Buildings’ red tags, and overlay it with property lot size and values and census info to understand the risk profiles for different neighborhoods.
The map above shows businesses in Staten Island that were within Sandy surge lines.
The map above delineates what parts of Staten Island were within Sandy surge lines.
How can open data help a small business?
Not Just Bagels is a local business that’s looking to be more competitive, especially after being hard hit by Sandy. For small business owners the focus tends to be on what they do best, for example, “How do I make a better bagel?” We help broaden the perspective to, “How do I find more customers? What are influences on my business that might lead to more or less foot traffic?” We help businesses like Not Just Bagels streamline the process about finding more customers by showing open data like bus stops for the express bus who might be coming into the store. Our goal is to show that technology does not have to be scary! It helps you to be more competitive.
How do you help people understand open data and get the information they need from it?
Those who haven’t worked with data don’t know where to begin, so it’s great to make it as simple to understand as possible – making it visual, not just a spreadsheet with thousands of cells. People like to see that information is actually find-able and searchable – I let people know they don’t need a consultant to get to these conclusions. We want to put the user in control, and that user does not have to be a business analyst.
What potential do you see for open data?
I want to see greater use of predictive analysis and trends from open data. It’d be great to understand the risk profile of a neighborhood based on its hyper-local data. I want to look at how data can tell the story of a neighborhood’s ambiance. I’m curious - where people are going, who clusters, where, how?
I’m also interested in information not just in the present, but the big picture over time. For example, I’d like to go from “Here’s the best exit on the R train at this time” to “Here’s the more meaningful picture about mass transit. And why we need more options here on Staten Island.” Or, from “What’s this restaurant’s health grade” to “What’s the health grade of restaurants over time in these areas?”
The photo above is of Aileen Gemma Smith.
To view additional data visualizations provided by Aileen, visit DoITT’s Flickr