Connecting state and local government leaders

In Los Angeles, All Data Is Sustainability Data

Downtown Los Angeles, California

Downtown Los Angeles, California


Connecting state and local government leaders

L.A.’s holistic open performance approach is driven by its chief data officer’s desire to build a truly “smart city” that integrates data from all sectors in real time for faster and more intelligent decisionmaking.

OXON HILL, Md. — Officials at Los Angeles City Hall have come to see all municipal data as sustainability data since Mayor Eric Garcetti released L.A.’s first-ever Sustainable City pLAn in April 2015.

The subtle but fundamental shift in mindset comes as city employees prepare to evaluate whether or not they met the plan’s 2017 environmental goals: adding more green jobs and installing more electric vehicle infrastructure than any other U.S. city.

Housing, transportation, walkability and air and water quality data all play into L.A.’s expanded definition of sustainability.

“How does the data drive new services or create new services?” asked Lilian Coral, the city’s chief data officer, during an interview with Route Fifty at Socrata Connect conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center outside Washington, D.C.

That’s the question city employees are trying to answer three years after L.A. launched its first open data portal.

Having already improved transparency and accountability and increased the city’s capacity to leverage its own data, Coral now wants to make L.A. a truly “smart city” that uses Internet of Things initiatives to boost sustainability, livability and mobility. She sees being a smart city to mean integrating citizen, city and private sector data to make intelligent choices in real time about L.A. conditions.

In December, members of the L.A. City Council approved an ordinance to measure water and energy consumption in municipal buildings. Water conservation and sustainability are two of the mayor’s top policy pushes, and the ordinance allows the city to lead by example while paving the way to better track commercial and residential water use data down the road. The city has held off on the residential monitoring due to privacy concerns.

Just as water quality is tied to aging infrastructure, high asthma rates are tied to air quality and transportation equity is tied to economic development. By framing sustainability issues in that way, Coral said, L.A. takes the politics out of business cases.

“You can’t address greenhouse gas emissions in your city without addressing transportation data,” said Conor Riffle, director of cities and data products for the global non-profit group CDP.

A study in Chicago, Riffle said, found wind blowing in air pollution from the freeway caused a 3 percent uptick in violent crime in impacted neighborhoods. Poor air quality is also connected to lower home values, he said.

In Los Angeles, the city even considered what’s been dubbed the “Internet of Trees”—where sensors are added to trees to monitor their health—because they’re known to improve air quality, Coral said.

In addition to water consumption data, L.A. recently released a greenhouse gas inventory—data that’s in demand across U.S. cities. The problem: The data is from 2014, highlighting the challenge cities have collecting data in a timely fashion when citizens want the most current information now.

Shortening the lag in L.A.’s data acquisition and figuring out how to integrate public data with data from academic institutions and third parties is high on Coral’s to-do list.

This year, the city also aims to boost analytics around crime trends to better understand how communities are impacted by government public safety programs and what programs are still needed.

L.A. is building out a mechanism enabling citizens to collect and analyze data using surveys to put in the city’s open data portal, Coral said, in addition to continuing education programs on data literacy.

While parking data is readily available, discussions with vendors about data availability and publishing are trickier matters.

Currently L.A.’s IoT sensor pilots are isolated, but the city is working with an undisclosed university to enable the accumulation of that data.

“It’s not just about releasing data for us,” Coral said, pointing out L.A. launched a Socrata-based sustainability dashboard at the same time its plan was announced.

Monthly performance updates have created a culture of accountability, which Socrata seeks to foster by helping government employees get better insight into their data while producing open data as a byproduct—which can more easily be circulated between citizens, agencies and jurisdictions.

“The departments that have a role that includes a title with word ‘analyst’ in it usually are on frontlines of using data,” Kevin Merritt, Socrata’s founder and CEO, said in an interview.

Think public safety departments with their crime analysts or treasurer and comptroller departments with their financial analysts. That’s who Socrata and L.A. are targeting with open performance.

As the city puts more data in both its employees’ and residents’ hands, their behavior will change. For instance, Chicago’s health inspectors now target restaurants using predictive analytics.

But that also means sustainability in L.A. can be optimized.

“The way things work is going to change as a result injecting data into this process,” Saf Rabah, Socrata’s chief product officer, said in an interview.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY Regional Plan Association Prepares for N.Y.C.-Area Resilience Overhaul