[This post was originally published in the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog on January 25] IBM estimates that 2.5 quintillion, that’s 2.5 billion billion (2.5 x 1018) bytes of data are created every day. The bulk is from social media, machine data (e.g., coming from automated sensors like the ones on the Capitol Hill Community Solar project), and transactional data from when we buy stuff. Companies like IBM are racing to improve their ability to sift, interpret and sell this data as a commodity. In
2015 the market for data analysis services will reach $16.8B and is expected to grow exponentially into the foreseeable future. The promise of big data, according to Steve Lohr at the New York Times, “is smarter, data-driven decision-making in every field.” The private sector is cashing in. Community activists are catching on and seeking ways to access and analyze data for the public good. Maurice Mitchell, a community organizer in Manhattan, claims that “prescriptions for our most pressing social issues emerge from the patterns found in the bonanza of collected data points.” He points to how analyzing data from the NYPD’s stops and arrests helped to uncover the racially disproportionate application of stop-and-frisk. On Capitol Hill, we will use publicly available data to help track progress in meeting the goals of the EcoDistrict. Last month we launched the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict Index, a set of performance metrics backed by data from a variety of sources, from local street counts to the U.S. Census. Performance targets are set for the year 2030. We aligned the timeframe with our partners at the Seattle 2030 District, in part because we share a commitment to reducing the water and climate impacts of buildings, but also because 15 years seems long enough to make real progress and short enough to express urgency in addressing serious challenges related to climate change and neighborhood health. With help from community advisors and partner organizations, we selected performance metrics relevant to real social and environmental issues on the Hill, can be tabulated and updated each year, and are easy to communicate. The current iteration of the EcoDistrict Index tracks data in seven performance areas: equity, health, water, energy, habitat, transportation, and materials. We will add metrics for culture in the next round. We’ve calculated baselines and set ambitious targets for reducing waste, ensuring affordability, increasing transit use and cycling, preserving trees, and improving public safety. The building energy use and water goals align with the Seattle 2030 District. Other Index targets are extrapolated from City planning goals. For example, the target of 21% tree cover is drawn from the City’s 2013 Urban Forest Stewardship Plan and adjusted for Capitol Hill based on current land use patterns in the neighborhood. The target of 70% waste diversion, i.e. diverting waste away from the landfill into recycling and composting, is from the Zero Waste Resolution adopted by the City Council in 2007. This waste reduction target is very ambitious for Capitol Hill where most people live in apartments, a segment of the residential sector that has lagged far behind single-family homes on recycling. Aligning with the metrics of partner organizations like Seattle 2030 and the City makes sense. The metrics have been vetted and the data is available. It also helps to share a common language across multiple urban scales so we can compare our progress against other neighborhoods and the City as a whole. The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict Index is a work in progress. Do we know how Capitol Hill will meet these targets? Not entirely, but we know it’s going to take an effort from every resident, business, and building owner. Do the indicators cover the breadth of issues the EcoDistrict needs to address? No, but they’re a start. The Index will continue to evolve with help from neighborhood stakeholders. We welcome community input to the current and further iterations of the EcoDistrict Index. Beginning in February, Alex Brennan, Capitol Hill Housing’s Senior Planner, will publish a series of blog posts about the Index here on the EcoDistrict website. He’ll do a deeper dive on the individual baselines and targets, and outline plans for incorporating feedback and additional metrics over the next several years. Like data? We’d love your thoughts as we work on the next version. Come geek out with us.