Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web

New Federal Open Data Policy Conference in DC

This is a slightly modified cross-post from the Data Transparency Coalition’s blog.

Data Transparency conference banner

Azavea has been a huge supporter of the open data community for years now, and Sarah Cordivano and I are excited to announce we will be exhibiting at the first ever Data Transparency 2013 conference on Sept. 10th in Washington, DC. Quality data is at the forefront of almost every geospatial analysis project and software product we release, and open data makes our work that much easier and more powerful. As the federal government transforms information currently locked in static documents into open data – standardized, structured, and freely available – we are be able to use that data to create new platforms that deliver geography-based insights for citizens, business, and policymakers. As a B Corporation, open data is also important to our company’s civic mission because we believe it contributes to better government and a more engaged citizenry.

We frequently participate in and sponsor open data and civic hacking events like NASA’s Space Apps, the Sunlight Foundation’s TransparencyCamp, and Random Hacks of Kindness. Years ago, we took it upon ourselves to build, which is still used by our hometown City of Philadelphia as its official open data catalog, and was part of an “Open Data Race” effort to get more organizations advocating for open data. The underlying OpenDataCatalog open source project has been adopted in cities like San Diego and others.

Key products of ours that we will be showcasing at the Data Transparency conference both use and create open data. OpenTreeMap is our open source crowdsourced tree inventory and public engagement platform for urban forestry, which lets ordinary citizens with smartphones map trees in their city, creating open data that can be analyzed for environmental benefits and help us visualize and understand the importance and value of trees and green infrastructure.

Our Cicero API allows advocacy groups and other organizations to easily match the addresses of their constituents with the districts of elected officials and contact information essential to our democracy. And DistrictBuilder also aims to make the process of political redistricting more open and collaborative. The more levels of government that open key political data and information in machine readable formats, the easier it is for us to improve our Cicero and DistrictBuilder tools for use by advocacy groups and citizens themselves.

We look forward to joining other members of the growing federal open data community at the conference in two weeks. See you there!

Beyond Legislative Redistricting: The Next Ten Years with DistrictBuilder

The nation-wide push to redistrict local, state, and congressional district boundaries is beginning to wind down and will continue to do so over the course of 2012 (and in some cases, even into 2013).

We’ve had several questions from users about what will happen to DistrictBuilder – our open source software for collaborative redistricting – over the next several years, prior to the next round of redistricting. Our answer is A LOT!  DistrictBuilder provides users with tools to draw, edit, and analyze plans for other district types that are built on census or municipal geographic units.

Essentially, this means that DistrictBuilder can be used to redraw any administrative or political boundaries – as long as they can be drawn using a base geography like Census blocks, voting precincts, etc.  Some examples of these boundaries might include:

  • Legislative redistricting in other countries
  • Police Precincts
  • School district and catchment boundaries
  • Municipal Service Areas
  • Voting precincts

The DistrictBuilder software was developed by the Public Mapping Project with software engineering and implementation services provided by Azavea.   With generous funding by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Amazon Web Services, and Christopher Newport University, Azavea and The Public Mapping Project have been able to continue adding new, powerful features to the DistrictBuilder software. As funding allows, we will continue adding new features to the software over the next several years.  We encourage others in the open source community to contribute features and code to the project as well.

A quick rundown of the features we’ve recently added or are in the process of developing:

Additional Help Documentation and Tools for Users (coming soon):

  • Tooltips on all major components of the editing and reporting features
  • Video tutorial demoing use of the software
  • Updated written tutorial including all the most recently released features

Print Plan to PDF:
Users are now able to print their plans to a PDF format for inclusion in reports and presentations or to submit to the media or other organizations for publication.

Export to shapefile: Users can now export a district plan (district polygons or blocks) as a shapefile that includes district id’s, population, and geounit id (block id’s or community id’s).

Add/delete/modify data: We have added ability for administrators to add, delete or edit demographic and election data to an implementation of DistrictBuilder. This new or edited data can be added to the database at any point after implementation.  This is useful if, for example, the census issues a correction to data they’ve already released or if an adjusted set of population data is issued mid-redistricting cycle (as in the recent case of New York State’s release of prison adjusted data –

Re-aggregation tools: When new data is added to an existing implementation of DistrictBuilder, the statistics calculated for each existing user-generated plan must be re-calculated.  This feature will support easy re-aggregation of the data for user plans.

Internationalization: Administrators of each implementation are now able to set a default locale for an implementation and choose to make other locales available for selection by the end user. What might change depending on the locale selected? Language, symbolization, number formatting, time zones,  and locale-aware sorting.

Regionalization: Within an implementation, a country or state can be decomposed into regions, each with its own set of redistricting criteria, targets and default statistics.

  • Each region can be assigned a different district target population and other scores as well as a different number of districts.
  • When a user picks a region for editing, the target scores and statistics assigned to that region will be displayed in the user interface and used as criteria to measure the success of each plan.

If you have any questions about the new DistrictBuilder features or how DistrictBuilder can be used for creating other types of district plans, please contact me at

GovFresh Awards Announced – DistrictBuilder and OpenDataPhilly are Winners!

GovFresh 2011 logoThe Annual GovFresh awards for civic technology were announced today, and I’m proud to announce that a couple of Azavea projects (and several other Philadelphia efforts) were among the recipients.  The awards (skipping the unrelated ones) included:

Congratulations to all of the award-winners.  While I think there were many cities nominated, among both the winners and top vote-getters in the public voting, I thought there were particularly strong showings for:

  • New York City
  • Austin
  • Chicago
  • Philadelphia
Are these the centers of civic innovation?


DistrictBuilder: Affordable Redistricting

DistrictBuilder is open source so you don’t have to pay a license fee. If you have the expertise on hand, you can build your own redistricting application. If not, we have experienced software developers standing by to help you build the perfect application to meet your needs. Furthermore, DistrictBuilder was developed in partnership with redistricting experts at the Public Mapping Project.

Learn more by joining our DistrictBuilder webinar on Wednesday, November 30th at 2 PM EST.

DistrictBuilder: Engage the Public

Voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. In the past, we’ve supported redistricting competitions for city and county councils, state legislatures and congressional districts. Users can submit plans to be scored based on demographics, compactness and voting district splits. Since it’s completely customizable, you can choose what the most important ranking factors should be. DistrictBuilder is the perfect way to engage the public in the process of redistricting.

Learn more by joining our DistrictBuilder webinar on Wednesday, November 30th at 2 PM EST.