Social Connectedness / 2013
Connecting Angelenos Through Smart Engaging Neighborhood Maps
We are living in a golden age of cartography. Google, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), location-based services, and the explosion of so-called big data have combined to create a wellspring of information that — if utilized with ethics, intelligence, and vision — can provide customized, actionable intelligence for local communities in real time. If Los Angeles really is just a “patchwork of disparate communities,” then the goal should be to bind these communities as one. For thousands of years, maps have served as a unifying tool and as a cornerstone of a knowledge-based society born from the Enlightenment.
Our idea is to create the most information-rich, dynamic, and engaging digital map of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods that has ever existed. This map would be platform agnostic, primarily Web-based but also customized for mobile phones and e-readers, and built in an open-source coding language such as Django, a high-level Python Web framework.
We would start by promoting a request for proposal that calls for local artists to submit designs of a large, comprehensive map of Los Angeles. An online, crowd-sourced competition would select the winning design. Hyperlinks embedded within the actual map would connect users to dozens of specific community pages representing and supporting the unique features of individual neighborhoods and communities.
The depth, texture, and relevance of the information provided on each community page is limitless, but the goal is simple: Provide local citizens with an invaluable resource to learn more about their immediate communities while engaging one another, the city at large, and their elected officials.
Imagine a single destination where you could find out how much green space is available to your kids, what the teacher-to-student ratio is at your local high school, what building permits have been issued for construction, where you could find opportunities to volunteer, what the agenda is for the upcoming school board meeting, or whether the crime rate in your neighborhood is rising or falling, Then imagine a way to complement that information in a dynamic forum where you could exchange ideas, comments, goods, even your best recipes.
Companies like Google, Esri, and Fwix have created a powerful technological foundation for these smart maps, but a vital, localized service requires customization, collaboration with local entities (both public and private), and a deeply nuanced understanding of the neighborhoods and communities targeted. That is the complementary value that L.A. Currents can provide to this project.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
L.A. Currents is a digital news publication about life in Los Angeles. Our aim is to to chart the changing face of Los Angeles by melding technology and storytelling. We report on important local people, institutions, and trends. Since our beta launch in November, we have seen our traffic double every month.
We recently announced a content-and-community partnership with USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and together we are coordinating our local L.A. coverage. This type of collaboration — in which a journalism program serves as an anchor institution for a local, upstart media company — is an innovative way for graduate students to get real-world experience and hands-on training while allowing a media company to get its sea legs in a rather unstable media marketplace.
Additionally, L.A. Currents is currently the only West Coast partner of The Guardian’s n0tice technology, which allows us to engage our readers in new and innovative ways. We have cast a wide net to our area’s creative community, and our stable of professional writers includes traditional reporters, bloggers, screenwriters, essayists, and fiction writers.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
L.A. City Council and the Information Technology and General Services Committee
USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Brian Addison, former CEO of EveryBlock (recently shuttered by NBC)
The Guardian Newspaper
Beth Noveck, author of Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger and Citizens More Powerful
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Success will be measured by interactivity and revenue. Analytical metrics embedded into the map will measure where, when, and how it is being utilized. We would also reserve editorial space for individual bloggers in each neighborhood to focus on news and commentary about hyper local issues to stimulate further discussion. In addition to online engagement activated by this map, we would provide instructions that users could employ to organize and produce live events in their neighborhoods, events such as discussions, block parties, and cleanups. Success in activating face-to-face engagement among neighbors and across communities would be another measure.
Furthermore, by its very nature, this map would be an obvious platform on which local retailers could advertise. Another measure of success would be the creation of a revenue-positive product built around a web-based, auction marketplace for local retailers. The goal is a sustainable, if not profitable, product.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Coming on the heels of the extremely low voter turnout in the recent local election (20 percent), it is clear that Los Angeles is grappling with widespread apathy and low civic engagement. Part of the problem has to do with the lack of a sense of community and connectivity among residents.
The geography of the city is partially to blame for this. The vastness of the region and the varying municipalities are such that a sense of a unified city does not resonate. A beautifully rendered map displaying how we are all connected, which is enriched with real time information and the tools necessary to engage local residents in each individual neighborhood, will bring about a new level of awareness, activity, and involvement.
The project would serve as a case study for public/private collaboration in Los Angeles. This week the L.A. City Council is strategizing about how to create the city’s first open-data initiative, which would include the coordination and participation of multiple departments. Data from city agencies would be openly shared with the public and between city departments with an eye towards launching a pilot program in June 2013. The timing for a potential coordination between L.A. Currents’ smart map, served by a virtual treasure trove of pertinent, unreleased public data, is serendipitous.
We live in the most information-rich period in human history, but many people in Los Angeles are not getting the right information in the right format to help increase their civic awareness. For centuries, maps have provided structure, guidance, and helped activate new ways of seeing the world. Today is no different.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Success in 2050 would reveal Los Angeles residents who are ardently aware of local issues and comfortable in their connection to their city. There are many positive transformative forces at work that, if recognized and harnessed, could drastically improve social connectedness in Los Angeles by 2050. Transit-oriented development, viable public-transportation alternatives, open-data initiatives by the local government, greater awareness of local politics and cultural offerings, honest discussions about the importance of public education and our relationship to the natural environment are all current topics that if cultivated could result in creating a higher, local consciousness. Technology is a tool to further us along this path.