Kinder Institute Nears Launch of Transformative Urban Data Platform

Bill Fulton | @BillFultonVta | July 1, 2016

Image via flickr/Matthew Musgrove.

Image via flickr/Matthew Musgrove.

This item originally appeared in the Kinder Institute’s monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

Sometime this summer, the Kinder Institute’s Urban Data Platform will be up and running. We’re hoping it will be a game-changer for the Institute, Rice and especially metropolitan Houston.

Houston has never seen anything like the Urban Data Platform before. Constructed under the direction of statistics professor (and Kinder Fellow) Kathy Ensor, the platform is a data warehouse that will bring together a wide range of datasets with geospatial information from many different sources covering many different topics. The goal is to get a clearer picture of Houston – and create a clearer path to solving urban problems – by conducting cross-disciplinary research using structured (and possibly linked) data.

For example, the Urban Data Platform is likely to be the location where the massive Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) dataset resides. It contains data on 300,000 Houston Independent School District students over a 10-year period. We’ll also place a great deal of data from the Harris County Appraisal District on the platform, such as construction and demolition permit data that formed the basis for our recent “Houston In Flux” report (www.houstoninflux.com).

The platform will also host our Kinder Houston Area Survey data, as well as datasets from a wide variety of other sources, including the City of Houston, its Department of Health and Human Services and the Houston Housing Authority. We expect to add many more datasets over time.

The Urban Data Platform will allow researchers at Rice and the Kinder Institute to conduct sophisticated and detailed urban research like never before. Over time, we expect to make the data available to researchers at other institutions in Houston and elsewhere. And eventually we hope it will be used to inform a wide variety of government agencies and community groups interested in tackling Houston’s urban problems.

Obviously, managing all this data and overseeing how it is used is a big job. For example, the HERC data, understandably, cannot be used or even viewed by anyone without HISD’s permission. Imagine managing security on a wide variety of datasets from multiple sources with different data sharing protocols and documentation. You can get an idea of just how big a job we are talking about.

Fortunately, being part of the Rice community is a huge asset. Not only is the university undertaking a major improvement in IT infrastructure thanks to our Chief Information Officer Klara Jelinkova, but the Urban DataPlatform is being built in conjunction with the great staff at our sister entity, the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative, a research center next door to our office directed by Rice Provost Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda.

Our goal at the Kinder Institute is to conduct research on the most pressing urbanproblems in Houston and other Sun Belt cities – and then translate that research into solutions that will make Houston and those other cities better. The Urban Data Platform is the most powerful tool we’ve created yet to achieve our mission.

Bill Fulton is an urban planner and director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.

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