Photo Credit: Jenny Liu / Cornell Tech

By Jess Campitiello

“It’s been a few minutes since we’ve last done this. It’s actually been 1,048,320 minutes since we were all together.” 

This data nugget from Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC, served as an apt way to kick off Open Data Week 2022’s School of Data, held at Cornell Tech.

Featuring more than 20 sessions and nearly 50 expert speakers across the fields of technology, data, and design, participants gathered to build connections and learn new skills through a series of data-centric panels and workshops — as well as celebrate the 10th anniversary of the NYC Open Data Law.

“This is about taking information that’s used to make government work and making it accessible to people,” said Zachary Feder, who works on the NYC Open Data team. “Because it really is your information. It’s information about your parks, your schools, your streets, your communities — and everyone should be able to see this information and have better access to it.”

The data exhibited throughout the day wasn’t just gathered out of idle curiosity — it’s being actively used in city planning. The MTA, for example, recently launched a program to install subway platform screen doors across city stations, despite having been resistant to the idea in the past.

BetaNYC, in collaboration with the Manhattan Borough President’s office, helped to shift the perception that it would be too difficult a task. Their teams combed through a dense 4,000-page PDF of information from the MTA — evaluating the feasibility of adding this technology to each of the 472 stations across New York City. They were able to identify over 100 stations where, by the MTA’s own data, it would be possible to implement screen door technology, and presented all of their findings back on an easy-to-understand map.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that within a week of that, the MTA announced a pilot to do this at three stations,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “This is huge, and I think that data played a big role in shifting the public conversation on that. When people could see that there are stops in their neighborhood where the MTA has already concluded that this is feasible, they’re not going to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Other topics discussed during the event included using data to improve public health and safety, diversity and equity, city sanitation, data literacy, pay transparency, urban planning, and even the tracking of squirrels in Central Park.

“The data is transparency,” said City Council Member Gale Brewer. “That’s what’s so exciting about the work today.”

School of Data is organized by BetaNYC, with programming support from the NYC Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA), and hosted by the Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech

Jess Campitiello is the Digital Communications Assistant at Cornell Tech.