Visualizing San Francisco’s Urban Growth With Open Data

A new online map using data streams from the city charts the last decade of growth and the change in neighborhoods that the growth brought with it, from parks to public safety.

Visualizing San Francisco’s Urban Growth With Open Data

This week, San Francisco announced that it is expanding its DataSF repository of open city data to include private data sources. It’s a big deal, but endless streams of data are useless without entrepreneurs, private companies, and civic-minded citizens to do something with all the information. Cloud mapping company Esri collaborated with the city to create the San Francisco Urban Revitalization Map, an animated map that tracks urban growth over the past 12 years using open data sources. The result is a visualization of the city’s explosive growth, and how it has affected different neighborhoods.


“This is an area we excel in–the idea of taking raw data and creating maps and visualizations to tell a story,” says Jim Young, who helped put together the project for Esri. “The story we’re telling here through the data is a city that’s blossoming.”

Some of the trends in the data are obvious: Housing prices dropped after the recession hit, SOMA (the city’s startup central) has transformed from a dangerous place to one that’s booming with residential and commercial construction, and the downtown/Civic Center area–a spot that traditionally has had lots of low-income housing and social services–has also grown in recent years.

“In terms of anomalies, something happened in the downtown Civic Center area in 2011. Obviously there were a ton of problems being improved, but [it would be interesting to] look at social services programs and what was being changed; what type of housing got approved in 2011,” says Bronwyn Agrios, a project manager at Esri.

The map’s “citizen sentiment” ratings, based on surveys that the city conducts every year, could also be useful to organizations trying to figure out which parts of San Francisco need to be better served by public transportation, safety services, and more.

The “Dominant Lifestyle” section is helpful in gauging the changing character of neighborhoods–my neighborhood apparently has a medium age of 39.8, consists mainly of married couples and families, and has a well-educated populace that likes to buy Apple products and shop at Costco.

The map doesn’t venture outside San Francisco, but there’s no reason why other cities with open data policies can’t do similar projects. For Esri, this is just the beginning. The company is considering doing a mapathon or maphacking event where data scientists and cartographers get together to see what they can do with open data. “We want to show that web mapping is growing up,” explains Young.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.