Headless in NY: On NYC Open Data

The skills I’ve been learning at The Flatiron School have undoubtedly heightened my understanding and perspective of how the world (the internet) functions. My curiosity has always made me question how something works or is made, but I now have the ability to really comprehend and actually build what I see. This is powerful.

I recently became aware of the exhaustiveness of the NYC Open Data Initiative and the potentials of its data to demonstrate interesting things about the city or inform the public in meaningful ways. The problem with this data set is that it is completely raw, so it has to be interpreted in order to be useful. There are over 1300 data sets available, including everything from to 311 call to land use, property tax, and even job demographics.

The fact that every tree in NYC is counted, mapped, and readily displayed in a map is incredible to me. I found one interesting website below that compares species, density, and cover throughout the city. I’ve started thinking about an application that locates you and the tree in front of which you are standing, however, in looking at the data, the trees are stored using latin species abbreviations, and spatial data are stored as shapefiles, so a fair amount of primary manipulation is necessary.


Of course, the variability and breadth of these data allow for an incredible range of interpretations, but one thing I appreciate and find most beneficial about looking at such data is when it exposes you to new perspectives. While a rat heat-map of NYC is interesting, everyone already know rats are everywhere.


One of the most interesting interpretations I discovered was by an internet art collective that culled the list of 311 calls over 10 years for all the reports of decapitated or dead animals in public spaces. http://uselesspress.org/things/decapitated-animals-dataset/

Almost any interesting question you have about the city can be quantified using this data set, and understanding how these projects are produced is incredibly empowering. Visualizations of this vast data set are amazing; I was particularly impressed by this visual designer’s representations of different data: http://chriswhong.com/category/data-visualization/ .