The Limits of Big Data in the Big City | Innovation & Institutions, Will it Blend? | Scoop.it

Why high-tech “solutions” can’t solve many of our most pressing urban problems.  ...and what did work for complex city issue.


...many problems require a decidedly different approach. Take the seven-acre site in Lower Manhattan called the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, where 1,000 mixed-income apartments are set to rise. A working-class neighborhood that fell to bulldozers in 1969, it stayed bare as co-ops nearby filled with affluent families...


In 2010, with the city ready to invite developers to bid for the site, long-simmering tensions between nearby public-housing tenants and wealthier dwellers like me turned suddenly — well, civil.


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“So those who couldn’t be there had their voices considered and those who were there could see them up on a screen and adopted, modified or rejected.”

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What changed? Was it some multimillion-dollar “open democracy” platform from Cisco, or a Big Data program to suss out the community’s real priorities? Nope.


According to Dominic Pisciotta Berg, then the chairman of the local community board, it was plain old e-mail, and the dialogue it facilitated.


“We simply set up an e-mail box dedicated to receiving e-mail comments” on the renewal project, and organizers would then “pull them together by comment type and then consolidate them for display during the meetings,” he said. “So those who couldn’t be there had their voices considered and those who were there could see them up on a screen and adopted, modified or rejected.”


Through e-mail conversations, neighbors articulated priorities — permanently affordable homes, a movie theater, protections for small merchants — that even a supercomputer wouldn’t necessarily have identified in the data.


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