Back in 2010, five years after Hurricane Katrina, blight was still a seemingly intractable problem in New Orleans. With an estimated 43,755 dilapidated properties and overgrown lots, the city was suffering from one of the worst rates of blight in America.
This prompted Mayor Mitch Landrieu to set an audacious goal of cutting blight by 10,000 units by 2014. The city achieved that goal a full year early and now is down to fewer than 28,000 blighted properties, according to city officials. One crucial tool in this effort was BlightStat, an analytics program that uses data from the Department of Code Enforcement and other agencies, presented and discussed in monthly public meetings, to identify solutions, set priorities and evaluate performance in the city's campaign to get troubled properties under control.
New Orleans is one of the leaders in the use of data analytics to transform how city hall works. The city demonstrates how a government can use data to achieve striking results, even with tight resources.
When New Orleans started using BlightStat, for example, the city saw the rate of property inspections multiply fivefold in just 10 weeks, thanks to the knowledge it extracted from the data, says Oliver Wise, director of the city's Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA). "We saw eye-popping returns from simply shining some light on a service area where there previously had not been light."
Wise's office runs the city's data analytics initiatives. Along with BlightStat, they include ResultsNOLA, which evaluates the performance of city departments, and NOLAlytics, which helps those departments conduct their own analytics projects to support their missions. NOLAlytics's role is almost like an in-house analytics consulting unit for city agencies. "You're there to provide those departments with some edge so that they can work smarter, not necessarily harder," explains Wise.
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