Exploring the New York City 311 Dataset

October 16, 2012

Data insights can come from many places, of course, and previously unexplored sources can be well worth pursuing. Open-source-project blog Enthought[s] informs us of a novel data wellspring in “Explore NYC 311 Data.” Inspired by this year’s Datagotham talks on “urban science,” writer David Kim and colleagues wondered what insights they could glean from NYC 311 data. NYC 311 is New York City’s information line, but it also serves as a repository of residents’ complaints. Through the city’s Web site, they were able to access data on about four million 311 calls between January 2010 and August 2012. Kim writes:

“NYC 311 calls are categorized into approximately 200 different complaint types, ranging from ‘squeegee’ and ‘radioactive’ to ‘noise’ and ‘street condition.’ There are an additional ~1000 descriptors (e.g. Radioactive -> Contamination). Each call is tagged with date, location type, incident address, and longitude and latitude information. . . .

“Simple aggregations can help analysts develop intuition about the data and provide fodder for additional inquiry. Housing related complaints to HPD (NYC Dept of Housing Preservation and Development) represented the vast majority of calls (1,671,245). My personal favorite, ‘squeegee,’ was far down at the bottom of the list with only 21 complaints over the last two years. I seem to remember a crackdown several years ago. . . perhaps it had an impact.”

Perhaps. Not being a big-city dweller, I cannot comment on the importance of squeegee crackdowns. However, Kim’s observation on that matter is just one example of the sort of hypothesis one can draw from the litany of New Yorkers’ complaints.

The article goes on to discuss the team’s efforts at visualizing the data, their aggregation techniques, and their desire to add in more data sets. Kim makes a point of crediting the open source tools they used– PostGIS, Psycopg2, Pandas, D3, QGIS. If you are interested in tapping the possibilities of datasets, the article is worth checking out for the details.

Cynthia Murrell, October 16, 2012

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