Blog: February, 2011
The Datablog Takes to the Road
When I entered Stamen’s offices in the Mission district of San Francisco, I saw four people gathered around a computer screen. What were they doing? Nothing less than “mapping the world,” not as it appears in flat dimension, but how it reveals itself. And they weren’t joking. Stamen, a data visualization firm, has always kept the concept of “place” central to many of their projects. They achieved this most famously through their crimespotting maps of Oakland and San Francisco, which give geographical context to the world of crime. This week they are taking on a world-sized challenge as they host a conference focusing on cities, interactive mapping, and data.
This conference is part of Stamen’s Citytracking project, funded in part by a Knight News challenge grant. The project is an effort to provide the public with new tools to interact with data as it relates to urban environments. The first part of this project is called dotspotting, and is startling in its simplicity. While still in the early beta stage, this project aims at creating a baseline map by imposing linkable dots on locations to yield data sets. The basic idea is to strike a balance between the free (but ultimately not-yours) nature of Google Maps and the infinitely malleable (but overly nerdy) open-source stacks that are out there.
With government agencies increasingly expected to operate within expanded transparency guidelines, San Francisco passed the nation’s first open data law last fall, and many other US cities have started to institutionalize this type of disclosure. San Francisco’s law is basic and seemingly non-binding. It states that city departments and agencies “shall make reasonable efforts” to publish any data under their control, as long as the data does not violate other laws, in particular those related to privacy. Passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, no small feat in this terminally fractious city, departments have been uploading data at a significant rate to our data clearinghouse website, datasf. While uploading data to these clearinghouses is the first step, finding ways to truly institutionalize this process has been challenging.
Why should we care about open data? And why should we want to interact with it?
While some link the true rise of the open data movement with the most recent recession, the core motivation behind this movement has always active citizenship. Open data in this sense can mean the right to understand the social, cultural, and societal forces constantly in play around us. As simultaneously, the largest consumers and producers of data, cities, have the responsibility to engage their citizens with this information. Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association), and I wrote more about this in our 2010 year in review guide.
Stamen’s Citytracking project wants to make that information accessible to more than just software developers but at a level of sophistication that simultaneously allows for real analysis and widespread participation. Within the scope of this task, Stamen is attempting to converge democracy, technology, and design.
Why is this conference important?
Data and Cities brings together city officials, data visualization experts, technology fiends, and many others who fill in the gaps between these increasingly related fields. Stamen also has designed this conference to have a mixture of formats, from practical demonstrations, to political discussions, and highly technical talks. According to Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen’s founder and CEO, “This is an exciting time for cities and data, where the literacy level around visualization seems to be rising by the day and we see huge demand and opportunity for new and interesting ways for people to interact with their digital civic infrastructure. And we're also seeing challenges and real questions on the role that cities take in providing the base layer of services and truths that we can rely on. We want to talk about these things in a setting where we can make a difference.”
Data and Cities will be held February 9th, 10th, and 11th and is invitation only. For the inside scoop, follow my coverage from the conference on PBS Media shift, SPUR’s blog, and Stamen’s blog. We will also be live tweeting from @spur_urbanist and @stamen.
Jen Pahlka from Code for America - inserting developers into city IT departments across the country to help them mine and share their data.
Adam Greenfield from http://urbanscale.org/ and author of Everyware
Jay Nath, City of San Francisco
Your thoughts on Ocean Beach
At our open house and workshop on January 15th, we presented a series of presentation boards and invited your feedback. Below you can download the original boards, and high-resolution images of the boards annotated with your comments.
Image + character
Uses + activities + program
Access + connectivity
Coastal dynamics / climate change
Management + stewardship
Let’s Not Miss the Boat on What the America’s Cup Could do for San Francisco
When it comes to global sporting events, almost as intense as the competition between star athletes is the competition between cities to play host.
That’s because hosting a major international sporting event presents a unique opportunity for a city to redefine its development goals, stimulate investment and boost tourism.
Just last month it was decided that San Francisco would host the 34th America’s Cup. There is no doubt that the San Francisco Bay will provide a breathtaking venue for yacht racing, and no doubt that there will be an infusion of spending in the city tied to the event.
But the real opportunity comes from leveraging the America’s Cup to make some major long-term investments in our city.
SPUR calls for the City to come together to make some important public realm improvements before the race happens; and to make sure we get high-quality private development that will stand the test of time.
Some specific ideas:
1.Build the F-Line extension to Fort Mason. Cup organizers expect 200,000 to a million visitors per day to the events. To deliver effective public transportation services to the on-shore spectator areas, we must invest in rail. There simply is no way to add enough vehicle volume to accommodate those numbers. The extension of the historic F-line streetcar to Fort Mason would serve the anticipated spectator venues from Crissy Field to Aquatic Park. With support, creative financing, and expedient action, it is entirely possible for the project to be completed in time. For proof, one need only look to Seattle, whose streetcar line went from a policy decision to construction to operation in less than two and a half years. And it covers four times the distance of the proposed San Francisco extension.
2.Implement the “Embikeadero” plan proposed by SPUR in the 2009 Piero Patri design competition.Creation of a separated two-way bike path alongside the Embarcadero would enhance the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike. Promoting multimodal connectivity along the Embarcadero will help ensure that the public can access and enjoy its waterfront for the duration of the America’s Cup and beyond.
3. Build out the Jefferson Street public realm improvements to “Europeanize” Fisherman’s Wharf.The Jefferson Street redesign will transform an aging destination into a place that San Franciscans and visitors alike will find beautiful and compelling, while investing in the one of the city’s most important economic generators. In place of the current auto-centric street will be a shared space that will feel more like a public plaza, with outdoor cafes, space for strolling, and places to enjoy the dramatic views of the Bay, tied together by a quality of design unique in San Francisco. And while this will be the place where more race spectators will visit before and after events than any other along the waterfront, the Jefferson Street redesign also offers us the opportunity to create an exciting destination for San Franciscans.
4. Work with the Blue Greenway blueprint to link existing open spaces in the south waterfront. This project aims to make green infrastructure more accessible for exercise, recreation and enjoyment of art and open space in the City’s park-poor Southeastern Corridor. The final America’s Cup deal shifted focus to the northern waterfront, yet Larry Ellison has made it a goal of the 34th Cup to expand interest in sailing. Let’s broaden the appeal of sailing by funding swimming lessons, keeping rec centers with swimming pools open on weekends, and taking seriously the opportunity to invest in water-based recreation opportunities, as the Neighborhood Parks Council has called for. The Blue-Greenway already has some GO bond funding, which should be fast-tracked.
5. Start the conversation now about achieving excellence in the private development that happens after the race. The Event plans call for the team bases at Piers 30/32, team support uses at Seawall Lot 330, Piers 26 and 28, the public Race Village at Piers 27/29, regatta operations on Pier 23, and the media center at Pier 19. The Host and Venue Agreement calls for private development at Seawall Lot 330, Piers 30/32, with options at Piers 26 and 28. The final blueprints have yet to take shape, but development must be conducted with an eye to long-term sustainability and public usability.
In a 2007 report, SPUR noted that the major obstacles to saving the waterfront are money and time. The America’s Cup has delivered the boon of major investment and sense of urgency. But we must ensure this dividend is spent in the short term in ways that enhance long-term usability for San Franciscans and future visitors.
There are many options for funding the public improvements, from the F-line extension to the Embikeadero. But time is of the essence.
"Residents of Transit-Oriented Development Say 'No' To Transit"
What happens when a neighborhood is transit-ready, but it's residents aren't? Not much, if the community doesn't see the benefit of TOD, argues Kaid Benfield.
An article by the New York Times looks at the economic reasons behind a sharp decline in carpooling; mainly that as automobiles become more affordable, there is less incentive for commuters to share rides.
In his speech at Penn State on Thursday, President Obama highlighted the importance of increasing energy efficiency in commercial buildings, a move he said would create more jobs and save billions in utility bills.
Is New Orleans joining the league of shrinking cities? According to the U.S. Census, the Louisiana city has a lost third of its population in the past ten years, due in a large part to its struggle to repopulate after the devastating hurricane Katrina.
The addition of D.C.'s Bikestation, a 1,750 square-foot, elegantly designed bike storage facility, represents yet another step in the city's infrastructural makeover.
SPUR POPOS Guide Now in Google Maps!
Update: our POPOS guide is now available as an iPhone app, too!
A year and a half ago SPUR revealed some of San Francisco's best kept secrets: a rich network of privately owned public open spaces (POPOS) scattered throughout the city's downtown urban area. These are great spots around downtown to eat lunch, hold an informal meeting, or simply soak up some nature. Our web version of the POPOS guide will lead you to these many spaces from your desktop or phone. Big or small, park or "snippet," north or south of Market: know your city's POPOS and swear to never eat lunch in your cube again!