Can data save Baltimore city?
At Groundwork this weekend, that’s what the Greater Baltimore Technology Council aims to find out. Armed with a cache of data sets made available by the federal, state and Baltimore city governments, GBTC and its volunteer force of tech hackers, data analysts and community activists plan to parse through the numbers looking for answers to some of Baltimore’s seemingly intractable issues: vacant housing, substance abuse and a lack of educational opportunities in neighborhoods out-of-towners reflexively liken to scenes from The Wire.
“By bringing the technologists and creatives together with the people who can make sense of the data,” says GBTC’s Jason Hardebeck, “[we’ll] provide some insight as to why something may or may not be.”
Data with a purpose. It’s not enough, for instance, to plot treatment centers for mental health patients on a Google map without asking why their relative locations are (or are not) significant. And therein lies the rub — oftentimes data collected by the government delivers a depiction of what’s wrong with a city or region. Groundwork participants plan to use the data to identify what neighborhoods in Baltimore already have available to them, and then figure out how to improve people’s lives with existing resources.
It’s an end goal first presented by Hardebeck and his GBTC compatriots during August’s UnWIREd event, at which city leaders (like city CIO Chris Tonjes), educators (like Andrew Coy of Digital Harbor Foundation) and technologists banded into groups to think up such tech-driven solutions as a community-run business school in the Barclay neighborhood, or a mobile app cataloging all of the city’s social-service providers.
GBTC has cobbled together a formidable list of open data sets, made accessible by Baltimore city and the state of Maryland. Added to that list in recent days are four data sets from the federal Department of Health and Human Services that “no one has seen before,” says Sharon Paley of GBTC.
“If you’re doing some community activist work, working on some issue in Baltimore … but you just don’t have the tools to do it, then this is the event for you,” says Paley.