New York

Big feet: Walkonomics wants to crowdsource the friendliness of the world’s streets


Walkonomics founder Adam Davies shares the vision for crowdsourcing street friendliness.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

The new Walkonomics mobile app rates and maps the pedestrian-friendliness of every street in San Francisco, Manhattan and England!

What problem does it solve for government?

Local and national governments are increasingly becoming aware of citizens and businesses demand for walkable streets and areas. Walkable streets bring many benefits including increased home values, higher footfall for business, reduced CO2 emissions, healthier residents, lower levels of obesity, less crime and fewer road accidents.

Identifying, measuring and improving a streets walkability is not always easy, and it can be hard to know where to start. Unlike other walkability apps that just measure how many destinations are within walking distance, Walkonomics uses open data and crowdsourcing to rate each street for eight categories that actually affect how pedestrian-friendly a street is.

These categories include:

  • Road Safety
  • Crossings
  • Sidewalks
  • Hilliness
  • Navigation
  • Fear of Crime
  • Smart and Beautiful
  • Fun and Relaxing

Users can add their own reviews and even suggest ideas for improvement. With more cities being launched soon, Walkonomics provides a great tool for government to analyse, engage and improve walkability in their city or region.

What’s the story behind starting Walkonomics?

Walkonomics was founded and launched as a web-app in 2011, by Adam Davies, a sustainable transport consultant based in the UK, the Android App was launched in October 2012, and the iPhone App has just launched. The idea behind Walkonomics is to harness the power of open data and crowdsourcing to rate the walkability of every street in the world. It came out of a frustration with existing walkability apps and the lack of real information about which parts of different cities are walking friendly, particularly when looking for somewhere to live or a holiday location.

What are its key features?

Users can:

  • Check the walkability of nearby streets and areas;
  • Search by location, place name or post code;
  • View search results on a map with colour-coded markers;
  • Discover new walk-friendly areas and streets;
  • Instantly get detailed walkability reviews and ratings of streets based on real data and people’s views;
  • Add your own ratings, reviews and ideas for improvement;
  • Undertake walkability audits and crowdsource local people’s ideas for improving streets.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

The Walkonomics App is free to download and use.

How can those interested connect with you?


Gov 2.0 strikes a pose



Congratulations to New York City Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne on her Vogue magazine profile.

I like this:

“She’s an intellectual heavyweight who’s as smart as—or smarter than—any guy in the room,” Sklar says. “And she’s ambitious, but she’s also really nice and gracious and poised. She’s a lady.” Half-joking, she adds, “She’s kind of our Kate Middleton.”

and this:

Sterne shares Bloomberg’s vision of turning New York into a tech hub that rivals Silicon Valley, but she understands that it won’t happen by opening factories that make computer chips. What matters now, she says, is the code—the digital language—that is quickly becoming the foundation of the city’s financial and cultural infrastructure. “Rachel is part of the generation that understands that code is literally the architecture of the future,” Rasiej says. “Code can solve problems, save money, make money, and advance humanity.

Full story.

2011 GovFresh City of the Year: New York City

Mayor Bloomberg unveils Road Map for the Digital City with Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne on May 16, 2011. (Photo Credit: Spencer T Tucker)

Mayor Bloomberg unveils Road Map for the Digital City with Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne on May 16, 2011. (Photo Credit: Spencer T Tucker)

New York City was honored as the ‘City of the Year’ in our  2011 GovFresh Awards. We asked NYC Chief Digital Officer Rachel Sterne to highlight the work done in 2011, what made it happen, and share what’s to come in 2012.

What happened in NYC this year?

2011 has been a thrilling year for technology in New York City. Last January Mayor Bloomberg created NYC Digital and we hit the ground running with a focus on improving the way we serve New Yorkers through digital technology. Our first order of business was publishing the Road Map for the Digital City, which gathered information about the state of the City’s technology initiatives and outlined our plans to realize New York City potential as the leading Digital City in the world. Shortly afterwards, we hosted the City’s first-ever hackathon, Reinvent NYC.GOV. Thanks to the over one hundred individuals who participated, it was a great success and attracted developers from across the country who built innovative prototypes re-imagining the City’s website. With our Engage NYC initiative, we’ve developed workshops and training sessions for communications staff across City government. We unveiled NYC Open Data, a repository of over 850 government datasets, and an accompanying Tumblr for striking data visualizations to make our data more accessible to the broader NYC community; we grew to over 200 social media channels with more than 1.5 million followers across City government; we’re constantly reaching out to the city’s burgeoning start-up scene and getting input from entrepreneurs; we’ve joined the Mayor to recognize homegrown startups Foursquare, Tumblr, and Etsy with official visits, and to open new offices with Facebook, Twitter and Yelp– the list goes on and on.

And of course there’s the Applied Sciences NYC Initiative which heralds the creation of a brand-new engineering campus in New York City. Just this week, Mayor Bloomberg announced that Cornell and Technion were chosen to develop the campus on Roosevelt Island, which will be a game-changer for both the city’s tech scene and its economic future.

What’s your secret? How does a large city like NYC inspire and maintain civic innovation?

Listening to public needs and taking a metrics-based approach to innovation is at the core of our strategy. The Mayor often remarks that New York City is the intellectual capital of the world. We’re fortunate to benefit from the phenomenal input, ideas and efforts from the public, from the tech community, and from inside City government.

We make it a priority to connect government folks with technology partners, to bridge those sectors, and to provide New York City government employees with the support and freedom they need to be effective communicators and innovators.

An important part of our mission is to provide the resources needed to help City agencies realize their own digital media goals and leverage technologies to achieve their objectives.

We know that New Yorkers who engage with their government through these digital channels will feel empowered and want to get involved even further – that’s the most satisfying part about all of our efforts, and it really speaks to Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to the power of technology and innovation within government.

Who all deserves a shout-out?

Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership has fueled innovation in City government. New York City is the greatest city in the world, and the Mayor decided that we needed to have the most innovative City government, too. And the hard work of the many talented digital and communications staffers across New York City government has been crucial. The Social Media Advisory and Research Taskforce (, a group of digital pioneers from across City agencies, has been instrumental in embracing new technologies and evolving policies. And we all know there is still so much more we can do.

We’ve also been fortunate to partner with some of the greatest tech companies in the world, many homegrown in NYC, including Bitly, Buddy Media, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Soundcloud, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube. We use their tools and products all the time, and their help has made a world of difference. In addition, we are hugely appreciative to devoted technologists who have helped us innovate, both virtually and in person, at the Reinvent NYC.GOVhackathon, and by creating applications using NYC’s OpenData platform.

But above all, the New Yorkers who engage with the City online every day deserve the biggest shout out of all. They are playing a huge role in New York City government and helping us to improve our own efforts every day.

We’ve also been fortunate to partner with some of the greatest tech companies in the world, including Bitly, Buddy Media, Facebook, Foursquare, General Assembly, Google, Soundcloud, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube. We use their tools and products all the time, and their help has made a world of difference. In addition, we are hugely appreciative to devoted technologists who have helped us innovative both virtually and in person, at the Reinvent NYC.GOVhackathon, and by creating dozens of applications using NYC’s OpenData platform.

But above all, the New Yorkers who engage with the City online every day deserve the biggest shout out of all. They are playing a huge role in New York City government and helping us to improve our own efforts every day.

What can we expect in 2012?

As great as 2011 was, 2012 will be even better. We’re going to completely relaunch nyc.govand make it the best government website across the globe. Our goal is to make it as convenient and quick as possible for residents to get the information and services they seek.

We’re going to increase and improve our social media channels too – there are a lot of interesting projects and campaigns in the pipeline. We will introduce a new Citywide social media management platform, in addition to the launching and relaunching of Citywide social media verticals including a Foursquare badge, Facebook page, Tumblr, and our great @nycgov Twitter feed. Stay tuned, because it’s going to be very exciting.

Bloomberg: How cities can ‘Moneyball’ government

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has a blog post on how cities are collaborating to better leverage data analytics and maximize taxpayer return on investment. The post cites examples from major American cities and how they’ve leveraged data, especially 311 logs, to realize efficiencies.


Data-driven analytics is the systematic use of information to find patterns of interest. For cities, this means looking inwards at the detailed data that city agencies continually collect – citizen complaints, licenses and permits, transactions, violations – and identifying new areas of high risk and high cost.

Cities can then respond to these findings by prioritizing the high impact areas appropriately. In the past, individual agencies have been limited in their ability to conduct large-scale analytics by mandate, scope, and organizational structure. City agencies across the country, which each already have a prescribed list of duties they must fulfill to keep the city running smoothly, often do not share data with one another, nor are they equipped analyze it. In an era of shrinking budgets, however, many cities, including New York, have made new efforts to solve this problem by creating teams existing specifically for the purpose of data investigation that can cross agency boundaries, with promising results.

My recommendation to Bloomberg and other mayors would be to open the analytics to the public so that everyone has access and can contribute solutions. Perhaps a lesser concern, keeping this type of information private gives incumbents insider information when assessing what issues voters are most concerned about.

For those unfamiliar with the “Moneyball” premise and have’t read the book or seen the movie, here’s a two-minute overview:

Full post: Expanding the Use of Data Analytics in City Governments

The 411 on the 311: Q&A with Commons founder Suzanne Kirkpatrick

Suzanne KirkpatrickWe asked new 311 iPhone app Commons co-founder Suzanne Kirkpatrick to share her thoughts on the new venture, 311 and trends in open government and Gov 2.0.

What inspired you to create Commons?

Sometimes moving to a new place gives you a fresh perspective on routine activities. When I moved to NYC two years ago, I was surprised to see so many opportunities for neighborhood improvements near my home and school, and I was fascinated by NYC’s highly utilized 311 citizen reporting system. It was clear to me that NYC citizens care about improving their city, and that our City government is committed to listening to its citizens.

But one thing that struck me about these analog and digital methods of reporting was that people were not reporting as a community — they were reporting as individuals — many people reporting in parallel without any shared awareness of one another’s activities. I then thought about designing a virtual social system that mimics the town hall meeting, where one person reports a problem or suggests an improvement, and 49 people “vote it up” (or in today’s terms, “like” it). In today’s super connected world, we need a civic engagement system designed to support conversation among many people at once – and that is how I came up with the initial idea for Commons.

Then I started thinking about the ways that I could connect to my new neighbors on the issues that I care about in our neighborhood, while on the go and in short bursts of focused time and energy, kind of like playing a game that is on-going over time and is something that you keep coming back to check and make a move. Citizens are now used to having a digital presence that is de-coupled from our traditional notions of time and space.

We have apps for citizen reporting of problems and complaints, like 311, SeeClickFix, FixMyStreet, and we have apps for sharing ideas for improvement, like Give A Minute (Local Projects), but I have this notion that these two worlds should be united in one as they seem like two sides of the same coin to me. I believe these two methods complement each other for a more complete civic engagement experience, and Commons aims to fulfill this vision.

I’m a graduate student at ITP in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where I study interaction design, social software, and creative technology, a graduate researcher at the NYU Polytechnic Social Game Lab, spring intern at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Digital Coordination, and summer intern at Apple doing mobile user experience design, so I spend a lot of my time these days thinking about the intersection of these things.

Aren’t there enough 311 apps out there? How is Commons different?

We think Commons is one of the first in a new genre of “civic gaming”, a new approach to take citizen reporting social. It’s a mobile, location-aware civic media app for urban communities that merges methods from traditional citizen reporting tools, with gaming mechanics and social voting.

We hope that Commons will challenge the ways in which people think about their role in their communities, and in civic life in general. We hope it will transform the way that we as citizens engage with one another about the issues and places we share in common, and how we approach solving many of our own problems before government even gets involved.

Commons provides a fun and constructive outlet for what is usually a frustrating experience of complaining about how broken your city is. And it goes way beyond reporting a pothole — in fact, if you report a pothole in the game, you most likely won’t win very many votes or kudos from your fellow neighbors because the game is designed to reward creative solutions and collaborative problem-solving. We already have apps and websites for reporting potholes, like SeeClickFix and FixMyStreet in the UK, and like the NYC Daily Pothole, so we’re not aiming to create another one.

In our 3 playtests and on actual game day, players said they really liked the positive social mechanics and voting aspect of the game, and how ‘community leaders’ seem to naturally emerge from the streams of activity.

I don’t think people need attractive game mechanics to want to get involved in community service or town hall meetings, or any other sort of activity. On the other hand, elements of fun and competitive play introduce opportunities for serendipitous social interactions and competing to do good, which I love. Doing activities with a thematic approach, or mission-centered perspective, helps keep people focused on the objective while having fun and making each individual’s input count.

How do you hope to officially integrate Commons with municipality 311 centers?

Commons is a social platform that leverages crowdsourcing and location-based reporting techniques to improve city services and standards of living. This civic engagement game is a way to connect citizens through the places they share in common, and to enable the government to fix the right problems, faster. Through Commons, local government can 1) receive accurate and timely information, 2) identify priority areas, 3) efficiently allocate resources, and, ultimately, 4) demonstrate accountability to its citizens.

Our goal is to build the next version of Commons as a cross-platform app on iOS, Android, (and possibly RIM in cities where it makes sense), with SMS integration and interoperability with Open311 technologies and read/write APIs for each city, so that 311 teams can integrate with Commons on the backend to pull its incoming data into their current operating centers and visualize trends from the data in realt-time.

It is our hope that the data gathered from Commons will be valuable to city governments and municipality 311 centers, whose mission it is to enable citizen-centric, collaborative government and to expand civic engagement through new digital tools and real-time information services.

What trends do you see occurring in open government / Gov 2.0 that you’re most excited about?

Commons is definitely Gov 2.1+, combining the powers of serendipitous social interactions, mobile crowdsourcing, and game mechanics.

Some of the rad trends in Gov 2.0 that I’m digging right now are: 1) cities supporting open data initiatives with read/write APIs, 2) mobile and location-based services, e.g. mobile banking, m-health, and m4d (mobile for development), 3) open standards for 311 services, like Open311, 4) citywide grassroots innovation contests, like NYCBigApps and DataSF App Contest, 5) open sharing of dev tools and code so we don’t all re-invent the same apps over again for each city, e.g. Code for America. I am also a huge supporter of bottom-up projects like Open Street Map, where citizens can collaboratively edit geographical data about their cities and neighborhoods and build useful and relevant maps from scratch.

Download Commons on iTunes.