This steady population loss has left many homes abandoned and neglected. These blighted properties have an extremely negative effect on the surrounding community by attracting crime and lowering neighboring property values, which has motivated citizens to get involved in the fight against blight. However, to have a real impact, citizens need to know what the City is currently doing to fight blight, to help them identify opportunities to get involved.
The tool we ’ ve created this year is called BlightStatus, and it presents citizens with a simple interface that allows them to search for problem properties they care about by address or on a map...
Users can also get a birds-eye view of blight across the city by browsing the map, and using filters to hone in on the specific area or topic that is most important to them. We anticipate this feature being useful not just for citizens, but for city planning purposes as well.
The point of the talk is that the digital is less this new thing we’re bringing in, it’s just there. It’s a tool for experimenting with the status quo, rather than a product that solves a problem. As the British architect Cedric Price said in the mid-1960s: “Technology is the answer. But what is the question?”
Story about all the fellows at CfA introducing themselves to the board as urban planners. Use this as a way to lightly introduce the fellowship program. Punchline: John says didn’t you get any programmers this year? They’re all programmers, they just assume that part. They’re only telling you the part they think is interesting.
Theresa tells me that many of you have seen the video of a talk I gave a TED, so I’ll tell this story very briefly. But we had this experiment last year with a team of Code for America fellows in the City of Boston that was driven by a snow emergency, when they realized that the fire hydrants were covered…
And they wrote little mobile app that lets you adopt a hydrant, agree to dig it out, you get to name it, if you don’t someone can steal it from you, got some game dynamics
And now Honoulu is using it to get people to adopt tsunami sirens, bloomington storm drains
There’s also data analysis. For this project, CfA fellows analyzed the search logs of honoulu.gov to see what citizens were searching for, and then rebuilt a clean, simple interface around those needs.
Another quick example from this year’s cohort…. Fellows were asked to help with the Philadelphia 2035 plan. This is how they ask for citizen input. But the process doesn’t allow for true representation from the community.
Question: how to get better input from citizens
And it turns out this decision matters A LOT. You’re 5 times more likely to be convicted if you were held pre-trial than if you were released. Now that may have to do with a lot of things, but they’ve studied this and there’s just a big difference in how you appear to a jury if you’ve just been in jail, often for months. And what about that bail that judges generally set if they release you? Small bail for petty crimes, large bail for bigger crimes, right? Well it turns out that most people who are charged with $500 bail can’t afford it… they simply don’t have it. And bailbondsmen don’t like to deal with $500 bail; there’s a lot more profit in $50,000 bail. So our jails are full of people being held for very minor crimes, and while they are being held, they lose their jobs, they can’t support their families, and they learn to become criminals. Now these are all essentially problems of data, so Anne asked if we could get a few cities to implement some risk assessment models that Anne’s foundation had developed. I was a bit scared to tackle a problem like this, but I sent a note out to the city governments who follow our work and asked if anyone would be interested in a project like this. And within a day I had about twenty cities raising their hands, because what I had not realized is that pre-trial incarceration is an enormous cost to cities, most of whom are in serious debt. In some cases it’s the second biggest cost behind pensions. So this isn’t just a problem for defendants, it’s a problem for tax-payers.
So Anne and I eventually chose two of those cities to work with: NYC and Louisville, KY and there’s a team of 3 fellows in those cities right now, finding out all they can about how data is used – or not used – pre-trial. This is a tweet from one of those fellows Marcin, who until January was a developer and designer at Google, and is now doing things like ride-alongs with the LMPD and in fact being processed and in fact last week he and his team were processed and admitted to jail and held for a few hours to have the experience and see what actually happens and of course to understand what data is generated by that process. I should note that the fellows get to do a lot of really fun things in addition to things like being held in jail, and that every single person who’s been through the program has said that it changed their llves, and that they’d do it again. Its very hard work, but it’s meaningful.
Because we live in troubled times. We have the tools we need to tackle these difficult problems, but we have to apply them where they are desperately needed. I don’t know what Alex Graveley meant when he tweeted this, WHO is not we, When if not now? But I know what I want it to mean, which is