LA GeoHub: A model for ‘datafying’ communities

LA GeoHub: A model for ‘datafying’ communities

Los Angeles isn’t the first American city to open selected databases to the public.  However, the launch of GeoHub last week may be the most ambitious such effort to date. As what the city calls “one of the nation’s most complete collections of urban map data,” GeoHub is a portal of location-based open data from across city departments that empowers both the public and city employees to explore, analyze and build on the data.

“On its own, data gives us important insights into how our city works, and now we are putting open data to work,” Mayor Eric Garcetti told the press on Jan. 29. “The GeoHub provides real-time access to all the data we need in one convenient place, allowing us to improve everything from pothole repair to 311 call times, make smarter urban planning decisions and make it easier for emergency responders to get to their next location.”

Three things make GeoHub special.  First, the data being offered in the portal is very broad -- more than 500 different datasets from more than 20 city and county agencies, including real-time traffic data, road obstructions, the inspection status of nearby buildings, business activity and even the nearest fire hydrants.  

Second, recognizing that much community data is inherently geographical, the city designed the portal from the ground up in partnership with Esri, the Redlands, Calif.-based geographic information systems company.

Third, the aim of GeoHub isn’t just to offer data -- it is to infuse the community with data and applications, generated both by the city and others.  It is, in short, to “datify” the community.

The portal offers application programming interfaces and software development kits, as well as map templates, configurable apps and app builders to quickly develop, customize and deploy your projects. According to Brian Cross, director of professional services at Esri, an app development challenge is planned for the first quarter of 2016.

Ordinary citizens who aren't building apps can still download the data or view it via the map interface.  Los Angeles employees can use their city ArcGIS account to leverage additional features on GeoHub.

Accompanying the launch of GeoHub, the city also unveiled Street Wize, a web application that uses GeoHub to show activity taking place on the city’s streets, including road work, capital projects and special events.  The app shows the expected duration of each activity. 

In addition, the city announced that it was currently developing two other apps: The Road to 2400, a dashboard tracking road-surface conditions and a history of paving projects, and Vision Zero, a story map tracking efforts to curb fatalities and serious injuries on the city’s streets.

GeoHub runs on Esri’s ArcGIS platform with data hosted on Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services.

As for managing the data, Cross said, “the core of the platform is built on a robust and flexible sharing model, which allows administrators to be as restrictive or open as they choose. Ideally the maintainer of the data is the one who oversees the changes, but they can enlist other members to assist if needed.”

According to Cross, while the data available in GeoHub is primarily from the city and county of Los Angeles, private-sector and other non-governmental organization data will be added soon.  “The private sector can combine this data with their information to create apps and maps that blend content into new capabilities,” he said.

GeoHub is already attracting attention from other municipalities interested in building similar portals.  According to Cross, inquiries have already been received from Boston; Austin, Texas; Long Beach, Calif.; Pittsburgh; and Miami. 

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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