I have been thinking and writing for quite some time about how to use civic data— the type of info found on data portals like data.cityofchicago.org— to tell real stories. That’s why I’m psyched to be attending two events— Knight-Mozilla-MIT “Story & Algorithm” Hack Day on Saturday and the MIT – Knight Civic Media Conference, where I’ll be on a panel called, “Turning Data Into Narrative“.
Currently, turning data into narrative is a highly hand-sewn effort. Take, for example, this post about a neighborhood building being turned into a Walgreens I compiled this from ten databases, including building permits, business licenses, historic preservation lists, Sanborn maps from 1929 and 1950, county assessor, and county recorder of deeds. None of these databases are in one place, and none of them know how to consume or interpret information from the other. I also pinched info from five news sources, including an article from the New York Times archive about a bank run at this location in 1931.
What if there was a machine where I could enter a piece of information (the name of a lobbyist, the address of a building, the name of a construction project) and pick from a list of data sources (like those listed above) and teach the machine what the data means? Why can’t I get that machine to bring me back a list of businesses that used to be in that building (from municipal business license records and private landlord rent rolls) or the number of babies born there (from birth certificates) or what those babies grew up to do in this world (from the obituaries of the future)? OK, that last item might be hard. But I want this machine.
I’ve got some ideas on specific manifestations of this machine, and I hope to write about them this week as I prepare for Boston.
Here’s some posts wherein I drill down into data and tell a cohesive narrative about the place:
- Wrigley Field Work: New Banners Out Front, Refreshed Scoreboard, New Billboard in Left Field, Batting Cage Improvement, New Umpire Dressing Room, and Redone Restrooms for Opening Day
- New Restaurant/ Bar: George Street Pub at 2858 North Halsted Street
- SCREENCAST: Stop Work Order at The Wrigleyville Hotel, 3469 North Clark St., Chicago
- New Restaurant? Sprout at 1447 West Fullerton in Chicago
- An Annotated Look at the San Francisco Port-a-Potty Arsons
- Chicago Demolition Hold List Update
- Logan Square Land Use: Mega Mall Block Through Time — Emptiness, Movie Theaters and Auto Dealerships
The grand-daddy of all of my efforts in this regard is a screed called, “New Walgreens in the Old Noel State Bank Building at 1601 N. Milwaukee (corner of North, Milwaukee, and Damen in Bucktown/ Wicker Park)“. It’s still not completed– a narrative in progress!