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New Tool Tracks Blight in New Orleans

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, October 12 2012

Code for America New Orleans has released an online application to track the spread of blight in the city, incorporating data from across multiple city departments.

Blightstatus.nola.gov aims to help city residents fight blight by "merging live data from across multiple city departments into a simple interface that tells clear stories about individual properties, and what is being done to deal with them, in a way that anybody can understand," Serena Wales from Code for America writes in a blog post.

The application brings all the city's property information into one place, the blog post explains. A progress bar displays in a simple way to what degree a property has passed through the blight process, while a detailed log of a property's entire case history is also available.

Users can also add properties to a watchlist, which Code for America says could be useful for organizations tracking multiple properties.

Code for America explains that the city uses a legal process to prosecute blighted properties, sell them or demolish them with the eventual goal of putting them back on the market. Engaged residents, neighborhood groups and non-profits that work to develop properties, track down absentee landlords or work on improving buildings often spend hours attending city meetings, conducting surveys or doing research on city and county websites, and then organize that information and spreadsheets, Code for America notes. That data is actually, however, already available from City Hall sources, but so difficult to access that many groups feel the need to resurvey a neighborhood themselves, the blog post notes.

"BlightStatus didn’t require the city to upgrade underlying software or restructure the city’s entire data supply chain," Code for America writes. "Instead, it sits on top of the existing systems and makes them work together. This means that for the first time, everything that the city knows about a property, citizens will know as well, in real time."

Code for America is encouraging other communities who think such a tool could be useful to reach out and also take a look at the code on Github.

LocalData, a Knight News Challenge project to help gather neighborhood level data, began as a Code for America project to track blight in Detroit.