Posted on 04/02/19 by LA Counts
Meet Bond Harper. She fulfills the role of GIS integrator for the City of Beverly Hills, overseeing the city’s utility location data (eg. water pipes, stormwater drains, etc.) for the asset management system. Bond is also very active in the local GIS data community. She serves and co-organizes for MaptimeLA and serves on the California Geographic Information Association (CGIA) board.
How’d you get into data?
I originally went to college to study cartography. This started out as solely cartography, but in the process of getting my degree the field of study changed to become much more digital and computer-based. What ended up happening is that a GIS-focused program sprung up in the middle of my time at college, naturally progressing from paper mapping to digital mapping. The biggest difference I saw was that cartography was more about the design and the graphics as they pertain to a map. With GIS, the program became more data-centered having to manage, analyze, and visualize data.
In your opinion, what gives a dataset value?
What people can derive from a dataset is what determines whether or not the dataset is valuable. If a person can form a high-level question and answer that question using a dataset, then that dataset clearly provides value to the end-user. What I find most interesting about open data is that local agencies will collect a lot of data but don’t often know what insights people could derive from this data. By opening themselves up and providing that data in an open and accessible way, it provides a great starting point for people to ask questions and to find answers and glean insights using open data.
What issue in Los Angeles do you think has the most potential for a data-driven solution?
There are so many issues in Los Angeles that just lack the data, like housing or homelessness. These are big problems, but there isn’t much data available to the public. Transportation, on the other hand, has so many problems and there’s a lot of data that can be accessed. Transportation is such a huge issue and it impacts everyone’s life in LA.
And it’s not just one agency or organization providing the data, but there are many providers and sources. For instance, if someone’s looking for bus or rail data, they’d use Metro’s API. And if a person wants to look up traffic data, ride-sharing data, or scooter data, the data would originate from completely separate sources.
Just by having access to all these data sources and datasets, people need to begin to think and ask questions about building a sustainable future in Los Angeles. Everyone needs to start asking questions like, “Should we invest our money in more bike lanes / scooter lanes / sidewalks?” or “Should we invest in micro-transit, bus lines, or rail lines?” There’s a lot of data out there that can help people safely travel across Los Angeles and can spark public interest in how cities are investing in transit.
Share and walk through an example of your work related to data.
My day-to-day work pertains to editing and maintaining utilities data for the City of Beverly Hills. One example of my work is updating our asset inventory to reflect when changes are made, such as utility rerouting due to site development.
The biggest development at the city is that we’re moving towards a unified asset management system. An asset management system is put in place so there’s a single source of truth for the data (assets). It’s a much better process than asking planners, data managers, and construction crews to send modified data back and forth. Often times in those situations, changes in the data can get lost and people lose track of the most recent changes. Now with our asset management system, construction crews can utilize data at their desk or in the field from a single source that is known as the most updated source of truth.
One of my other projects at work pertains to the development of the city’s open data portal. Currently, the city has a beta website to access the open data. My involvement with this project is to develop the website and build out the processes that aggregate and extract data from other city departments into the publicly-accessible portal. It’s not much day-to-day work, but it’s an interesting opportunity to interact with various departments and build in automation to export their data into the open data portal.
What’s your favorite “data-story”? Why?
Preparing visualizations for public meetings to help folks understand project impacts to their communities has been my most satisfying use of data. In my job at Arup (an engineering consulting firm), I worked on the California High-Speed Rail Palmdale to Los Angeles section. Our team prepared a variety of visual aids to help members of the public interpret engineering analysis and proposed routes. During my time at the City of Austin, I worked on data analysis and visualization for floodplain buyout projects. In both cases, these visualizations of engineering data were critical so that the public could make informed decisions and comments.
Often our role as data analyzers and visualizers is to help those impacted tell their stories. It’s not a responsibility I take lightly and although the debates are often heated, I feel I’ve done my job when people are fully informed about the projects that impact their communities. I can still remember public meeting attendees I’ve talked to and the stories they told me while we looked at a map together. I learned about the history of neighborhoods nestled up against the Verdugo Mountains and the wildlife sightings along Williamson and Onion Creeks in Austin.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start using LA Counts datasets to tell their own stories?
Just do it. I’d also recommend learning the tools, whatever tool you may choose. Frustration can be inevitable anytime anyone learns something new, so a good place to start is to learn something (like a tool) and then to apply your knowledge to a dataset.
Whether it’s R, QGIS, or Python, find a tool that interests you and learn it because you can always find data to work with that will align with the tool you’ve learned. To learn tools and languages, I think tutorials are the best at showing you how to use datasets. Once you’re well-versed in the tool, then you can go out and find the data.
You can look for data using a portal or aggregation site like LA Counts or a city’s data portal. For example, if you’re interested in the environment, you can go to LA Counts and search for datasets on animals or water. When searching, you’ll want to keep an eye out for datasets that are related to something you’re interested in.
Lastly, I’ll say that making friends in the community is a big help too! There are many local groups in the Greater Los Angeles area like MaptimeLA who regularly host meetings where people can come together and learn a new tool or expand their networks. Going to these meetings, you’ll quickly realize that you don’t have to learn how to do everything or how to use every tool because other people in the community can help you figure it out. The other added benefit of these local skills communities is that you can find people collaborating on similar ideas, like finding a group of people who are interested in housing and who want to analyze housing data.