Commentary

07/03/2013  by Alexandra Bjerg

San Francisco’s health analyzed neighborhood by neighborhood with new mobile app


(Photo Credit: Glen Scarborough)

If you’ve ever moved to a new city, you want to know if the neighborhood has good schools, a growing economy, and access to public transportation, because where you live has a profound impact on your overall health. A lack of supermarkets limits access to healthy food, a high crime rate can trigger mental stress, and dilapidated public recreation facilities can discourage physical activity leading to obesity. However, this information is often hard to find, that is, unless you live in San Francisco.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee announced the launch of a mobile application that uses open government data to rank the health of each of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, block-by-block.

Neighborhood Score combs through 20 open data sets from federal, state, regional, and local governments to compile a neighborhood’s overall score from 1 to 100 based on the following categories: community cohesion, economy, education, environmental quality, health, housing, public facilities, and transportation. Each measure is also scored on a scale from 1 to 5, as are its several individual metrics.

For the first time, residents, through the app, can easily  see how their neighborhood, down to their city block,  ranks in terms of quality of local schools, crime rates, pollution, walkability and more, all in one place. 

Putting this government data at the public’s fingertips can obviously inform consumer and real estate market decision-making, but it also has the potential to improve public health by making government more effective and increasing accountability.

“From a public health perspective,” explained Cyndy Comerford SF’s Public Health Department’s Planning and Fiscal Policy Manager for the Environmental Health Section, “we want to raise awareness about these issues and place-based health disparities and find an innovative way to try to engage citizens and decision makers.”

The app shows where the inequities are better equipping residents to advocate for changes in their neighborhood. “San Francisco residents will be able to see how their neighborhood stacks up against others and help elected officials better evaluate policies and programs block by bock,’ said California Lieutenant Governor and former Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom.

The app, created by civic startup Appallicious, San Francisco’s Mayor’s office and Department of Public Health, demonstrates the potential for partnerships between entrepreneurs and government leaders to improve performance and help restore the public’s trust in government.  

“The application will also help increase accountability by allowing residents and local leaders to see how programs are performing and resources are being utilized in their neighborhood.” said Yo Yoshida, co-founder of Appallicious. “Neighborhood Score makes it easy to see which neighborhoods are thriving, and how elected officials can better serve target areas that need improvement or more resources.

California Forward has long touted the benefits of open government, believing transparency fosters accountability. But, as demonstrated by San Francisco, open data initiatives can also spur innovation that can lead to a more inclusive form of government and lead to social and economic benefits. 

Categories: Californians, Transparency

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