I find urban studies fascinating, which is perhaps why it was a concentration back when I was in school. To me--perhaps because I have lived in big cities most of my life--finding ways to reform city government, bring transparency, better deliver services and improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas is a passion, because I think there are so many possibilities (especially with today's technology) for making people's lives better by rising up to meet these challenges.
This is why I am thrilled to be working with the City Forward initiative. What is City Forward? It is a tool that pulls public data from urban centers on different issues (user specified) and displays it in customizable graphs.
For example, users can create an ‘exploration’ for important environmental issues such as water usage in multiple cities, and then have it displayed in charts that will visually present the data in a way that people can understand it. These charts allow anyone to make a case or tell a story about what one city or many cities are doing to improve in an areas such as this one, and what others are neglecting.
In other words, in addition to being groundbreaking in its potential applications, its a pretty cool tool for improving government transparency and letting people access public records in a useful, understandable way.
You can go to the site and see what explorations have already been done in cities across the world, and come up with some of your own. And you can encourage your city to share data with the initiative, to fight for the kind of improvements we all need, and quite frankly, deserve.
This is just provides another way to bring some light into the often dark corners of government, while improving our everyday lives. Not a bad thing in today's world, for sure.
Follow Cliff Schecter on Twitter: @cliffschecter