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Open Survey Data from Mayoral Transition Initiative Helps Interpret State of NYC

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, February 12 2014

Talking Transition data on housing in NYC

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his State of the City address Monday, but coders and developers have the chance to present alternative takes on the State of the City with the help of data now provided by Talking Transition, a community engagement effort that sought to crowdsource New Yorkers' opinions about the future direction of the city on the occasion of the mayoral transition.

Among the organizations and foundations sponsoring the initiative were the Open Society Foundations, the Ford Foundation, Precision Strategies, the Control Group, HR&A Advisors and OneCounts.

The most visible manifestation of the effort was a large tent in Lower Manhattan open to the public in the two weeks following Election Day that hosted a wide range of events and discussions on issues ranging from Arts and Culture and Civic Engagement to Housing, Management and Budget, Jobs and the Economy, and Transportation. The initiative encouraged visitors to post messages on a wall with their ideas for the future of New York City.

But as part of the most ambitious data collection aspect of the project, visitors could also answer an interactive survey on tablets and give personal feedback on the state of housing affordability, public education, the environment and other aspects of their neighborhood. Altogether the initiative gathered nearly 70,000 responses to the interactive survey, including through 100 canvassers who collected survey responses from New Yorkers and visitors across the five boroughs, and responses to the survey on the Talking Transition website. The data from that effort is available through PediaCities, though Talking Transition has also offered its own initial analysis.

According to Talking Transition, just under 40 percent of the respondents were between the ages of 20 and 34. While 39 percent of the respondents said they voted in the mayoral election, 55 percent said they did not.

The most unambiguous result concerns New Yorkers views on housing affordability, with 68 percent saying housing is getting worse, a view echoed across all neighborhoods, as a completely red Talking Transition map indicates.

Views were mixed on other subjects, with regional variations in responses on public safety, the environment, transportation and other subjects. The survey found that New Yorkers were most positive about fire safety services and most concerned about police-community relations. While 75 percent of respondents citywide were positive about their feelings of personal safety, 40 percent of Bronx respondents had negative responses.

In general, environmental issues did not prompt strong negative or positive feelings for most New Yorkers, although negativity was strong on disaster relief issues in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

"Public transit questions also elicit the most counter-trending of any issue surveyed," Talking Transition notes. "That is, this issue included the very few questions where, in some neighborhoods, there were significant numbers of people who thought that while the situation is currently bad, it is getting better, or vice versa, suggesting the need for a dive into the issue on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis."

Talking Transition also offered exemplary neighborhood profiles of responses in neighborhoods including Elmhurst in Queens, Park Slope in Brooklyn and Staten Island's North Shore.

New York Magazine noted that Carl Weisbrod, de Blasio's recently named head of city planning, was a partner at HR&A Advisors, one of the companies sponsoring Talking Transition, and according to the article, he briefed de Blasio's chief of staff on the survey results last week.

Talking Transition says it is interested in collaborating with policy makers, academics, advocates and other members of the public on digging deeper into the data, combining it with other sources and using different approaches to analyzing it.

The relaunched Talking Transition website also includes recaps and video of the events held at the tent, including one hosted by the New York Tech Meet-up and the Control Group on the social impact of data and technology on the 21st Century city featuring Personal Democracy Media's Andrew Rasiej, Andrew Nicklin, director of New York State's Open NY platform, and formerly of the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Mark Headd, chief data officer for Philadelphia, Carole Post, former DoITT Commissioner, Scott Anderson, partner at the Control group, Noel Hidalgo, co-founder of New York City's Code for America brigade betaNYC, and Stefaan Verhulst, co-Founder & chief research and development officer at the Governance Laboratory at NYU.