3 August 2016

Open Seattle meeting July 2016: Seattle City Clerk & UW research about diversity in neighborhoods

Seth opened the meeting, which was recorded by the Seattle Channel.

Project Demos

Seattle Boundaries Project. Seth Vincent is developing the Seattle Boundaries Project. Users type in their address to identify which legislative district, city council district, school district, etc. that they live in. Seth would really like people to take a look and give him feedback.

Legislation is open data: Nomos.us. Andrew Sullivan gave a brief presentation on his research into legislation and other policies, etc. based on the premise that legislation is open data. Seattle’s recent executive order made city data open by preference, but focus has remained on traditional forms of data, like Excel sheet data. Andrew’s definition expands that to include documents and speech, which are currently not being made accessible. Most government documents are published as PDFs, and scanned PDFs can have OCR issues. Also, some municipalities have prevented open laws/legislation – policies, cease and desist orders, and lawsuits have all tried to prevent this. The codifier of the Seattle Municipal Code even has language that looks on the surface to be not friendly to open data. Even attempts to make legislation more easily available, such as Seattle’s Legistar, are not easily searchable.

Andrew’s project, Nomos.us, has legislation across multiple jurisdictions, and soon will be able to send alerts to users based on legislative topics. He has a public API, friendly UI, and export in a couple formats. Opening legislative data will allow researchers to track bills as they get adopted from one state to another, and allow legislators to find “hidden” legislation inside larger documents. Difficulties going forward are: very few cities are publishing this information in a standard format; there are few APIs; scrapers are hard to write and maintain.

If you’d like to learn more or help, please contact Andrew on the Open Seattle Slack channel: @andrewsullivan.

The Office of the City Clerk

Monica Martinez Simmons, Seattle City Clerk and Janet Polata, Legislative Information Services Supervisor

Monica is the Seattle City Clerk, which is a non-political appointed public office. One of the essential functions of the City Clerk’s Office is to organize, retain, and makes available many types of public records, including Seattle’s agency records and City Council records. They comply with the Open Meetings Act, the Public Records Retention Act, and public disclosure laws by establishing policy and standards which meet or exceed compliance. It is their responsibility to be transparent, accessible, and accountable to the public on behalf of the City organization. Monica’s vision is for this public office to go beyond these basic principles, to ultimately promote civic awareness and engagement, and help citizens become more knowledgeable in their local government and legislative processes.

One of Monica’s significant challenges is that the City Clerk’s Office maintains so much information, and such varied information, that in general people do not know the wealth of what is available. The Legistar website, as Andrew mentioned, is more of a workflow website with a public portal, and it can stand to be improved. She agrees with Andrew that having agreed-upon standards across municipalities would be very helpful.

The City Clerk’s Office receives thousands of requests on an annual basis, and it can be a challenge to meet the deadlines of their core work as well as improve the process and information sharing. Major responsibilities include:

  • Managing Seattle’s legislative process in coordination with 9 City Council offices and providing operational support to the Legislative Department.
  • Training others about Citywide Records Management Services – making sure that all offices understand their public records responsibilities – from creation through disposal (archival, destruction, etc.).
  • Maintaining the Seattle Municipal Archives to ensure accountability in the future.
  • Maintaining the Legislative Information Services. This includes resolutions, ordinances, appointments to boards and commissions, audio recordings, meeting agendas, meeting notes, director’s rules, Seattle municipal code, Campaign finances disclosure reports, and consultant contracts.

The City Clerk’s Office documents have been full plain text (searchable) since 1996. After they put the first documents online, they created minimal-content database records for every ordinance and resolution that the City of Seattle has acted upon since it was formally established. Searchable full text – accessible to screen readers. Post pdfs of the signed legislation because some people need to see the signature.

Here are some ways you can help: The Clerk’s Office is planning for a website redesign, as the current site is very text heavy. Can Open Seattle members advise on what is the best way to lay out the website and effectively define and categorize information? Also, is there anything that they can do now, ahead of the redesign? If Open Seattle members have other input on work to share the City Clerk’s materials, Monica and Janet would like to hear from you and welcome your feedback. Janet also welcomes questions about what documents/data they have and in what formats, as well as input on what datasets are of interest to the open data community.

To learn more or offer help, please contact: Seattle.gov/clerk, clerk@seattle.gov, or 206-684-8344

Segregation Within Integration in Seattle

Tim Thomas, UW PhD candidate, Sociology Department

Tim’s research is on “Segregation Within Integration”. He studies how neighborhoods impact your opportunities. Where you live and grow up brings opportunities, or not. How do we measure segregation? Is diversity as diverse as we think? He uses US Census data to help evaluate the answers to these questions, finding that our city’s “diverse” neighborhoods are in fact often very segregated at the block level.

Tim gave a history of residential segregation by race in Seattle. Using archival maps from 1920’s from the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, he showed historical residential locations for Seattle’s Japanese and African American population. Japanese Seattleites were concentrated just south of downtown, while the African American population was more diffused.

In the 1930’s, FHA loans allowed buying a home, but with several restrictions. Many Seattle neighborhoods created housing covenants that forbade non-Caucasians from buying houses in them. The Japanese internment during WWII removed residents from their homes in a once highly segregated neighborhood, opening housing opportunities to African Americans, and displaced Japanese Americans across the Rainier Valley after internment. Post-WWII, a large African American community grew near the Central District, where it stayed highly segregated until the 1980’s. This community became more diffused by the 1990s/2000s, and by 2010, where many African Americans had moved South – creating diversity. But did it?

To determine the level of diversity in these new neighborhoods, Tim and his co-author, Ryan Gabriel, trained undergraduate researchers to evaluate three diverse neighborhoods located in Greenwood, the Central District, and Columbia City, purportedly among the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. A more granular look at the population found that racial groups, such as Caucasians and African Americans, were often concentrated in particular blocks or tracts, and that different businesses, churches, and residential areas catered to the different racial groups. This kind of hidden segregation, often associated with low-income housing, led to different experiences and different opportunities for citizens of different ethnicities.

A helpful source of demographic maps is available through the Cooper Center.

For more information on Tim’s research, please contact him at: t77@uw.edu, or visit his UW page.


Luke Swart runs HeyDuwamish, a data hub for the toxic waste cleanup of the Duwamish River. Contact: luke@heyduwamish.org, @lukeswart on Slack, or heyduwamish.org - click “Get involved”.

Candace Faber announced a Save the Date for September 10th and 11th, when there will be a Twitter Bot Hackathon at the Institute for Systems Biology. More information will be available as we get closer to the date.

Debra Rhinehart from Seattle Human Services Department is currently developing Seattle’s Assessment of Fair Housing, a report to be turned into the federal government by April 1, 2017. She is doing a wide-ranging community engagement process and, as part of that, is trying to engage people who are blind, vision impaired, deaf, and/or hearing impaired. This is a fairly unprecedented type of outreach, as very few jurisdictions have tackled this type of engagement head-on. She is looking for elegant solutions that get the word out, ideally with people who understand the communication and language difference specific to those audiences. Anyone who has input is asked to connect with Debra: debra.rhinehart@seattle.gov or 206-684-0574.

Matihas Burton is working with the Office of Planning and Community development on localbrainstorm.org to determine how to engage communities in the planning process. He is developing an interactive application, which can capture information as data. He would like help and input. This is an opportunity for people who might be commonly left out of the public engagement process – people with inflexible jobs, who are renters, or who don’t have the ability to easily attend public meetings – to engage. If you would like to help, please contact Mathias at Hello@mathiasburton.com.

Dan Milton presented on CTAB, where a reverse pitch concept was discussed for the otherly-abled, folks with multiple non-English languages, and their ability to give input. This is a clearinghouse for certification. Dan is looking for geospatial expertise and help with prototyping.