Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a new website Saturday loaded with information on how the city works, including numbers tracking stray animals, bicycle lanes, graffiti cleanup and other services.
The website is part of a broader push to make city government more open and accountable through technology.
The website was unveiled at the start of a buzzing technology conference that drew more than 1,500 registrants for seminars on “big data,” the tech economy, self-driving cars and the digital divide between Angelenos with and without Internet access. Mayoral aides billed the event as the first technology conference ever held at Los Angeles City Hall.
As part of the weekend event, Los Angeles officials threw open their newly accessible data to teams competing in a “hackathon.” Challenges included creating new apps to boost economic development, transform underserved communities and make Angelenos safer, with thousands of dollars in prize money up for grabs. Techies and students huddled around laptops on the 10th floor of City Hall, strategizing about how to battle local problems.
“A lot of families will pick a home that’s really cheap and then overspend on transportation,” said Jasmine Dahilig, a 21-year-old who just graduated from Loyola Marymount University. She and her teammates were exploring how to use an “affordability index” to help families balance those costs.
Down the hall, a team of teenagers was strategizing about how to coordinate more help for homeless shelters. “Churches have volunteers who want to help. Restaurants want to donate food … But there’s a lack of coordination,” said Zach Latta, 16, as he and his teammates planned their new app and website.
Earlier Los Angeles hackathons have dreamed up apps to track how politicians are performing on their campaign promises, match volunteers with nearby nonprofits, and show people which Boyle Heights grocery stores accept food stamps, said Catherine Geanuracos, a cofounder of Hack for LA.
Other cities have already seen their data put to use: In Philadelphia, one app allows shelters to post when they have space so that social workers don’t have to make dozens of calls to find help, said Todd Khozein, whose firm cofounded the National Day of Civic Hacking.
“We’re just starting to see how it will positively impact the city,” Geanuracos said.
City officials said the new website was a work-in-progress that would continue to be updated with new information for Angelenos to explore. As of midday Saturday, more than 200 data sets were available on the website from a range of city departments. The website comes less than six months after Garcetti directed city agencies to make “raw data” publicly available in “easy-to-find and accessible formats.”
Armed with such data, “your job is also to bother us, to prod us, to poke us, to disrupt us, and to shake us up,” City Controller Ron Galperin told the crowd at the start of the event. “This is a magnificant building full of history – and we need to take that and move it into the 21st century.”
During the conference, Garcetti also held the inaugural meeting of his new council on technology and innovation, bringing tech movers and shakers to the table to talk about attracting startups, branding L.A.’s “tech ecosystem,” and how Los Angeles could use technology to improve life in the city. Outside experts lauded his efforts, saying that Los Angeles had lagged behind other cities too long.
“Los Angeles has very much been in the open data wilderness,” said Jack Madans, government partnerships manager for Code for America, a nonprofit focused on using technology to solve community problems. “Today, we’re seeing them join a movement of cities opening up data.”
The new website follows some earlier efforts to make Los Angeles municipal data more accessible: Last year, Galperin released Control Panel LA, a website that allows the public to search data on city spending and employee salaries. It has garnered more than 4.8 million page views since September.
In October, Garcetti unveiled a “beta” version of a government performance website, which got mixed reviews and lured much less traffic. The website released Saturday is linked to an updated government performance website that is more extensive than the earlier version.
“We don’t want to overhype it,” deputy mayor Rick Cole said at the Saturday event. “It is a beginning. But it is a robust beginning. And it will prove itself.”