Uncovering UncoverYourCity.com

So last week, Wendy, Jill and I unveiled UncoverYourCity.  This is a site that we put together as part of the NYC Big Apps competition (you can vote for us here; you’ll need to create an account).  We want to share a bit of background on what the project is and why we did it.


There’s a nascent movement called Government 2.0 which seeks to apply the principles of the web to government and make it more open and efficient.  One of the first steps in governments becoming open is making their data available online for any citizens who want to use it.  The government has some of the most interesting data out there – everything from demographic info to build permit locations to school scores – and they’ve got more information than just about anyone else.

This movement has gained a lot of traction at the municipal level and San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto and New York are some early cities to start putting municipal data online.  New York has gone a step further by creating the Big Apps competition to get people to showcase what could be done with the data.  We decided that we wanted to create an app to support the the city and also learn what could be done with the data.

So What Is It?

We wanted to create an app that would compare the quality of life in different New York neighborhoods and help people find the neighborhood that was perfect for them.  If you know this city, you know that there are 8 million people that exhibit remarkable diversity.  It’s what makes the city magical but also makes it hard to grasp.  We wanted a tool to help people grasp it.

However, we quickly realized that this was way too hard to do (more on that in a future post) and that we weren’t comfortable placing a “quality of life” ranking on different areas.  Instead, we decided that the right thing to create was an app that would let people learn more about the neighborhoods they live in and compare them with others.

The result is UncoverYourCity.  We’ve combined almost a dozen different data sets (sounds easy, but it’s not) so that people can see how their neighborhood squares with others.  You can use it to discover the leafiest streets in NYC, compare the neighborhoods with the highest and lowest murder rates (bet you don’t guess either one)  or see interesting relationships like that between poverty and renting.

This isn’t a gimmick, rather, we believe it’s got the potential to help you see the challenges facing the city in a new way.  Take the Mayor’s plan for making the city greener.  I’ve no idea how the city is thinking of making the city greener, but one hypothesis might be that if we increase population density we might be able to increase recycling rates (if you live in condos, etc. they usually have recycling designed into the building).  However, our stats suggest that there’s no relationship between recycling and population density:

However, there’s a pretty strong relationship between education levels (% population holding bachelor’s/graduate degree) and recycling rates (graph below). This suggests that making the city greener may need to include elements to improve education. It’s a similar story if you compare recycling rates with medium household income or poverty rates.

The tool can also show us outliers that may represent opportunities to learn new approaches to apply elsewhere in city.  One of my favorites is the relationship between Median Household Income and Family Poverty.  There’s a big outlier in the bottom left of the graph: Brooklyn Community 13 – if it was like other districts, based on its income it should have a poverty rate of about 28% but instead its holding out at 18%.

Is this due to the housing projects of Coney Island working as planned?  Maybe it’s the tight Russian community of Brighton Beach taking care of their own and making sure that everyone’s doing okay.  Or maybe Sea Gate’s population is so affluent that it skews the poverty level down.  I don’t know, but if I were trying to reduce poverty in the city I’d try to find out.

So give the app a try.  It’s not perfect – the site’s a bit slow (we’re not great programmers) and the navigation can be awkward (we ran out of time to get it polished) – but there’s something there for everyone.  If you want to learn more about how we built it and why the Gov 2.0 movement is important, stay tuned to this blog (we’re also open sourcing all the code; stay tuned for links to code and data).  And, when you’ve got a moment free, vote for us.