Complementing Harvard’s Map of the Month series, each week, Map Monday highlights a data visualization that enhances understanding of or helps resolve a critical civic issue.
Many governments, non-profits, and private companies have developed maps that seek to resolve specific issues—from food insecurity to affordable housing to emergency preparation. Others have taken a more comprehensive approach, designing visualizations that seek to enhance citizen understanding more generally and enable users to tackle a host of civic issues.
That is what the City of Nashville has sought to do with its NashView visualization. The map offers an in-depth look at city government activities in Nashville’s neighborhoods, displaying information from the city’s open data portal about resident service requests, property violations, building and right-of-way permits, and metro facilities across the city landscape. In addition to a map, the visualization highlights trends in these datasets over time.
NashView is intended first and foremost to engage residents in the decision-making process. “You shouldn’t have to be a Metro employee to gain insight into what is happening around our community,” said Mayor Megan Barry in a press release. “NashView provides information that neighbors can use to work more closely with their council members, metro departments and agencies to address trends and take full advantage of the benefits that already exist.” By viewing the map, residents can determine trends in local development, service delivery, and more, and work with local leaders to improve outcomes for their communities.
In particular, the map promises to increase transparency and engagement around two of the city’s major priorities: expanding affordable housing and improving local transportation. With information on building permits across the city, residents can better understand which developers are moving into their neighborhoods and whether there’s a danger of gentrification, and hold leaders and developers accountable for promises of affordable housing. And, with data on property violations, users can spot potential blighted properties ripe for redevelopment and advocate for new affordable housing projects.
With respect to transportation reform, service requests for road maintenance and right-of-way permit data allow users to audit how well the government is responding to infrastructure needs. If there’s a glut of pothole requests in a neighborhood but few street repair projects, that may be a sign the city needs to change the way it prioritizes repairs.
However, the insights offered by NashView are certainly not limited to these areas. By analyzing geographic patterns in responses to service requests, users can spot underserved neighborhoods and advocate for change. By plotting public schools and parks, residents can understand the effect of green spaces on educational outcomes. By viewing trends in service requests over time, cities can adjust staffing in certain departments to meet peak demand. The possibilities are nearly limitless, and tools like NashView show off the versatile potential of data visualization.