Visualizing Pittsburgh’s Property Data
Built as a “one stop shop” for residents and community groups to access and view City datasets published on our regional open data platform, Burgh’s Eye View is a responsive mobile web application that has allowed Pittsburgh residents, for the first time, to gain visual insight into a broad range of citywide and neighborhood data — including crime and other public safety incidents, building permits and code violations, and 311 service requests. To date, over 28,000 individuals have used Burgh’s Eye View to access and view City data.
Developed by the city’s Digital Services team, housed in the Department of Innovation & Performance, Burgh’s Eye View features a simple, catch-all search bar and date range search, a map that responds and updates as users select the data they want to see, and a mobile-optimized layout for use on smartphones. Users can click checkboxes to turn dataset filters on or off, filter by area (by neighborhood, police zone, City Council district, or Public Works division), or select from dropdown options to display more specific results. Residents looking to see crime in their neighborhood over the past month, for example, can select the date range, keep just the “Police Blotter” layer on, and filter according to where they live.
Throughout the development process, the team focused on building an application that would increase and diversify the current audience for civic data, improve data access, and reduce technical barriers. The result is an intuitive and attractive user interface, and a commitment to continuing to design for inclusivity.
To ensure privacy, sensitive data — such as the locations of arrests — has been generalized to the block or neighborhood level. “What we want to encourage,” says Geoffrey Arnold, an analyst for the city and the application’s primary developer, “is the thoughtful use of data.”
The team worked with the City’s Office of Community Affairs to visit and get feedback from over 30 neighborhood groups and a host of community development corporations. The team is also focused on reaching individual city residents who may feel disconnected from the operations of city government.
Burgh’s Eye View was developed through an iterative and agile process, in which the development team worked through multiple versions of the application, with user and departmental input informing changes throughout.
By building the application internally, the development team was able to take the application in multiple new directions, pursuing requests as they came up and proactively including features and datasets. The development team thus formed an agile product shop, and grew the City’s internal capacity and expertise. Rather than purchasing a product “off the shelf” at cost, the development team used freely available, open-source tools to achieve the same result.
In 2017, Burgh’s Eye View was recognized by South Korean-based WeGo as one of the best open data applications in the world.
To aid neighborhood-level efforts and make our property data truly accessible to practitioners and residents alike, in July 2017 the City of Pittsburgh unveiled Burgh’s Eye View: Parcels. The Parcels map allows public users to view, by neighborhood, delinquent properties, city-owned properties, and properties in a tax abatement program.
Users can also view information about any specific parcel, including type of owner, property class, sale information, county land value, and liens and tax delinquencies. While much of this data was previously available on the region’s open data platform, data on delinquencies, abatements, and city-owned properties was released for the first time. The new parcel map is also much more accessible and user-friendly than data in the prior formats.
With a modern interface and connection to a broader suite of tools that have gained notoriety in the city, the application also doubles down on the City of Pittsburgh’s commitment to agile, in-house product development. A companion, internal version built for the city’s Department of Finance reaffirmed the Digital Services team’s strategy of cultivating strong inter-departmental relationships.
Public Value: Driven By Expressed Need
“This tax and real estate data has been one of the main things requested by citizens, community groups, and community development practitioners,” said Laura Meixell, Assistant Director for Digital Services in the Department of Innovation and Performance.
“The public-facing version of this tool reflects that we’re prioritizing requests that are a priority for our partners.”
Aside from excluding the names of property owners, the public version is similar to the internal one. “It gives our partners updated information about what parcels are owned by the city, which might be up for public sale, and which have the potential to be put in that pipeline,” said Meixell. “This information was previously scattered over multiple sources and levels of government; it’s the first time it’s available to the public in a central way. We think it can be useful for folks looking to do neighborhood planning or fight blight.”
In addition to filtering to view an entire neighborhood, users can search for specific parcels using a Parcel ID, perform a keyword search of all data, or click on any of the displayed parcels in a neighborhood to see information about that property.
To build awareness around the tool, shape a constituency, and take suggestions for improvements, the Burgh’s Eye View team plans to attend a series of community development corporation meetings and work with practitioners and convening organizations — an approach mirroring the public outreach strategy used for earlier maps.
Next up for the team is the development of Burgh’s Eye View: Paths, which will visualize mobility data, as well as continued partnership with City departments to build operations tools. “We hope to not only build constituency around these tools,” said Max Cercone, the map’s primary developer, “but an active community of public and internal users.”