Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Making Sense of Urban Complaints from 311 Calls

What a Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York (Wired, Nov.1, 2010)

Also discussed here: The Future of Sustainable Urban Mobility: Switch to IT Networks (The City Fix, Dec. 9, 2010)

New York City, like many other large cities, has a special number (311) for its citizens to register complaints – at a rate of 50,000 a day and 100 million in 7 years. Today‘s review article looks at the nature of these complaints over 7 years by time of day and type. What is striking is the relatively large proportion of complaints about noise and streetlights with the former peaking not surprisingly in late evening and early morning and the latter (perhaps surprisingly) in late morning. Would be interesting to see how complaints work in other cities- if any of those who read this blog know of other analyses, please do let us know. The other striking aspect to this article is the way that complaints are followed up and linked- whether this be the smell of maple syrup and national security or something else.

Key Quotes:

“The first reports triggered a new protocol that routed all complaints to the Office of Emergency Management and Department of Environmental Protection, which took precise location data from each syrup smeller. Within hours, inspectors were taking air quality samples in the affected regions. The reports were tagged by location and mapped against previous complaints. A working group gathered atmospheric data from past syrup events: temperature, humidity, wind direction, velocity.. the data formed a giant arrow aiming at a group of industrial plants in northeastern New Jersey

“After the first survey of 311 complaints ranked excessive noise as the number one source of irritation among residents, the Bloomberg administration instituted a series of noise-abatement programs, going after the offenders whom callers complained about most often”

“There are 13,000 cabs pinging back data on location, travel speeds, whether they have customers,”

“By making all complaints and queries public, these services let ordinary people detect emergent patterns as readily as civil servants can”

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